GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Long before any hockey teams touched down at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport or the puck dropped on a single game in PyeongChang, there was always a sense of inevitability surrounding the Olympic women’s hockey tournament. Ever since losing that overtime heartbreaker four years ago in Sochi, in fact, the U.S. women’s team has had just one goal: to return to the gold-medal game and finally topple their nemesis on the sport’s biggest stage.
There was little drama or suspense in the on-ice journey, capped by Monday’s 5-0 semifinal win over Finland. But still the American players said they’re relieved and excited for the chance to redeem recent Olympic disappointments and to possibly bring back the United States’ first Olympic title in women’s hockey in 20 years.
“It’s something we’ve all dreamed about since we were little kids,” forward Dani Cameranesi.
With Monday’s win, the U.S. team advances and now gets another crack at Canada, which beat the Olympic Athletes from Russia, 5-0, in the day’s other semifinal. Canada has won the past two Olympic titles, and this will mark the third straight Winter Games the two nations have squared off for gold. The tourmament’s final game is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in PyeongChang (11:10 p.m. ET Wednesday).
The United States will face the winner of Monday’s other semifinal between the Olympic Athletes from Russia and Canada, which was won the past four Olympic gold medals. The gold medal game is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in PyeongChang (11:10 p.m. ET Wednesday).
“It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re so excited,” said Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who was part of those Olympic runner-up finishes in 2010 and ‘14. “This is what we came here to do.”
While the U.S. players say they were focused entirely on Finland Monday, many have safely presumed since Sochi that the two North American countries were destined for an Winter Games rematch. Despite their Olympic struggles with gold on the line, the Americans have topped Canada at the last four world championships. They’ll enter Thursday’s rematch having dropped five straight to Canada, including a 2-1 loss in the round-robin round of this tournament last week.
The U.S. team had no problem shaking off that loss and refocusing on the semifinal against Finland. They had, after all, outshot the Canadians, 45-23, and felt they had plenty of chances.
“It came up as a loss on the scoreboard, but I think we felt pretty confident after the game,” said goalie Maddie Rooney. “We just focused on Finland today and now we’re moving on to the next game and we feel pretty good.”
Not that they needed it, but the win over Finland was a confidence-booster, the perfect game to propel the United States into the finale. The Americans put together their most complete, dominant performance of these Olympics, beating perhaps the tournament’s top goalie, Noora Raty, five times, including three times on power-play, and Rooney posted a shutout barely a week after allowing just one goal to Finland in the round-robin portion of the tournament.
Most importantly, after struggling to find the net against Canada in the earlier round, the United States’ offense was firing on all cylinders.
The Americans first found the net just 2 ½ minutes into the game when Meghan Duggan fed the puck to veteran forward Gigi Marvin, who was all alone in front of net and whacked in a short shot to put the United States on the scoreboard. Then with 1:22 left in the first period, Cameranesi stole a Finland pass and whipped the puck past Raty. The United States would add a pair of power-play goals in the second and another in the third, outshooting Finland, 38-14, on the day.
Cameranesi finished with two goals and an assist, and the Americans enter the gold medal-match having outscored their opponents, 14-3, through four games. Perhaps most impressively, they’ve spread that scoring among eight players, led by Cameranesi, who has five goals here, and Lamoureux-Davidson, who has four.
“I think any time anyone from Team USA can put the puck in the net, we’re all excited,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “If anyone watches our bench … we love it when our teammates score. We want the best for each one of us. We know that it’s a team. It’s not about the self, it’s not about one person over another. I think that’s why people love watching us so much.”
The women’s hockey team has proven to be most reliable piece of the U.S. Olympic team. It has won a medal at every Winter Games since women’s hockey was added in 1998: a gold, three silvers and a bronze.