Canada, U.S. to battle for Olympic women's hockey gold

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - Canada is a win away from another gold in Olympic women's hockey.

The two-time defending champions advanced to the final at the Vancouver Games with a 5-0 semifinal win over Finland on Monday.

Canada and the U.S. meet Thursday for gold. The American women beat Canada in the last two world championship finals and in the 1998 Olympics, when women's hockey made its debut at the Winter Games.

The defending champions got a pair of goals from Haley Irwin of Thunder Bay, Ont., while Toronto's Cherie Piper, Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., and Montreal's Caroline Ouellette added singles. Jayna Hefford of Kingston, Ont., had two assists.

The crowd at Canada Hockey Place broke into a spontaneous rendition of ``O Canada' with just over three minutes left to play.

Edmonton goaltender Shannon Szabados stopped 11 shots for a shutout in her second start of the tournament. Finland's Noora Raty, who plays for the University of Minnesota, was pelted with 50 shots and kept her country in the game with 45 saves.

With her ninth goal of the tournament, Agosta broke Danielle Goyette's record for goals in a single Olympics, set in 1998.

The U.S. defeated Sweden 9-1 in an earlier semifinal. The Swedes upset the Americans in the 2006 semifinal en route to a silver medal.

It was the third straight Olympic semifinal meeting between Canada and Finland. The Finns have never beaten Canada, although they eked out a 6-6 tie on Jan. 20, 1999.

Finland sacrifices almost all their offence for defence when they face Canada. They attempt to impede Canada's speed with a hard forecheck and high trap and then try to score on their rare opportunities. But they rarely penetrated Canada's zone Monday and didn't get a shot on goal until 16:25 of the first period.

But their pressure on the defensive side of the puck kept the score respectable and made Canada work to get up ice. Head coach Melody Davidson could be heard yelling ``come back' on a couple of occasions for more support on her team's breakouts.

The Canadians patiently chipped the puck up ice and off the boards until they made it into the offensive zone, where they cycled the puck along the walls and stretched out Finland's defence. It was a game of keep-away in the first period as Canadians had the puck on their sticks for most of it.

Ouellette put an exclamation mark on Canada's win with a short-handed goal at 18:57 of the third period. She slid the puck past Raty's outstretched pad on a feed from Marie-Philip Poulin.

Irwin scored her second of the game at 4:23 of the third period. She defected a shot off the back of Raty's pads and in.

Agosta scored her record-breaking goal going backhand to forehand and over Raty at 16:21 of the second period to make it 3-0 for Canada.

Sarah Vaillancourt drove the net and left the puck at the corner for Irwin to poke through an opening at 14:36 of the first period to make it 2-0.

Canada got on the scoreboard at 5:22. Agosta circled behind Finland's net and backhanded the puck over for Piper to beat Raty glove side.

Notes: Canada is 47-0-1 all time versus Finland . . . Agosta leads the tournament in scoring with nine goals and five assists in four games.

Organizations: University of Minnesota

Geographic location: Canada, Finland, U.S. VANCOUVER Thunder Bay Toronto Ruthven Montreal Kingston Edmonton

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