We didn’t learn a ton about either of these teams in their respective semifinals. The Finns lost 5-0 to the United States, a pretty surprising margin considering how they played Team USA to within one goal earlier in the tournament – and competently, too, not just in general upset fashion. OAR also fell 5-0 to Canada, and though they skated pretty well against Canadians through two periods, it was an obvious mismatch that makes it difficult to judge them.
For Finland, the most crucial task for them may be to just get back basics and play the way they’ve been successful playing. To be sure, they ran into a motivated USA team that finally capitalized on its talent, but I think the Finns made a mistake in sitting back and giving them space. They need to find their groove again against OAR, especially when it comes to moving through the neutral zone; if they can force turnovers and transition quickly, it’ll be a difficult pace for OAR to play at.
OAR, on the flip side, will obviously want to prevent that from happening. If they can keep play to the outside, I think they stand a good chance of frustrating the Finnish attack. A low-shot game likely benefits the Olympic Athletes from Russia, too; they have the goaltending to keep it a close one, but when it comes down to it, they want to keep a skilled Finnish roster from getting into high-scoring areas and setting up plays there.
Based on their meeting in the preliminary round, Finland has the obvious edge here after taking that game 5-1. Michelle Karvinen broke out in that game with two goals and the rest of the offense got going as well, generating 37 shots on net. The Finns will be hoping for more of the same; I’d say a key player for them is Jenni Hiirikoski, who is no doubt an all-world defender but hasn’t fully made her mark yet in this tournament. If she dictates play from the blue line, which she does better than anyone else in the world, this will be a tough one for OAR.
A key player for OAR is Anna Shokhina, who was outstanding for her team during their big quarterfinal win against Switzerland and also scored their lone goal against the Finns. She wasn’t alone in scoring against the Swiss, however, and I think if they can get another line to be just as opportunistic again, they’ll stand a much better chance in this one than they did in their 5-1 defeat.
Gold Medal Game: Canada vs. United States
We’ve been building towards this one for the last four years, really, ever since Marie-Philip Poulin’s overtime goal ensured victory for the Canadians in Sochi, and if there’s ever been a hockey game that doesn’t need an introduction, it’s this one. Team USA is trying to avenge a heartbreaking loss against their bitter rivals. Team Canada is trying to win their fifth straight Olympic gold medal against their bitter rivals. We’re all just going to try and survive watching it. What could be better?
Canada got the best of the United States in the preliminary round, winning 2-1 but getting outshot 45-23. But Team USA played their best game of the tournament by far against Finland in the semifinals, finally getting back to the things that make them such a good team: pushing the pace, buzzing on the forecheck, and making the plays needed to not just get the puck on net but do it from spots where they’re going to score. They need more of the same, and I think they’ll also badly want to score first in this one. It feels like so many of the highs and lows for this team have come from confidence, and an early lead would be a huge spark for that.
Canada definitely needs to build off of their win in group play and slow down that attack a bit. The United States has a strong offense, and no one’s expecting them to go the entire game without controlling it for stretches, but the Canadians need to make sure they limit second- and third-chance opportunities, and get pucks out of the defensive zone quickly. These are obvious goals for any team but I think it needs to be more of a focus to gain the advantage in this game, and it’s something Canada did well in the December series, too. This Canadian team has gotten stronger all season long, and they’ve really come together, with players like Sarah Nurse, Laura Stacey, Emily Clark, Jillian Saulnier and Renata Fast all growing into noticeable roles. Those depth forwards have been huge already in this tournament and will be key factors again in the gold medal game.
Important match-ups to watch: goaltending, as usual. It looks like Maddie Rooney will get the start for the United States, and Shannon Szabados started Canada’s semifinal against OAR. The special teams match-up will also be huge; Team USA has a power play clicking at 25% while the Canadians are at 17.4%, and one or two power play goals in this game is sure to swing things for one team. Last match-up to watch for: the defensive units. The U.S. defenders will be tasked with moving pucks up quickly to limit zone time for the Canadians, and leading the passing attack. While transitioning well is also a focus for the Canadian D, I think for that group it starts with keeping the U.S. forwards to the outside and making sure they have no time to make plays when they carry the puck into the Canadian zone.
Players to watch for Team USA: The Dani Cameranesi, Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel line was great against Finland, and they’ll need to have another big game here to give the Canadians all they can handle. Captain Meghan Duggan was also huge in the semifinal. D Megan Keller still has so much potential to tap into as a high-risk, high-reward player and while you want to see her play it safe, she can make a big difference on the breakout.
Players to watch for Team Canada: Brianne Jenner is someone who’s had a bit of a quiet tournament so far, but she does so many things well to push Canada’s offense forward. She’s also won 80% of her faceoffs at these Olympics. Defenders Jocelyne Larocque and Laura Fortino will also have a big impact on this game. Canada relies on them heavily in all situations, albeit for very different reasons, and their play could give their team a big edge as the game goes on.