The heavyweights start their competition today

USA vs Finland

First period

The first question for this game was: who will start for the US? The answer is Maddie Rooney, who goes up against Noora Räty. Rooney’s the youngest of the three American goalies, she put off her junior year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth to compete.

Riikka Valila is the starting centre for Finland, the only player in the competition older than me.

Early power play to the US, who knew Jocelyn Lamoureux could draw penalties as well as take them? Finland gets the puck out fast, and the Americans spend the first minute without a shot. They get called offside twice in quick succession and only get off three shots, the best opportunity by Amanda Kessel.

Six minutes in and still no shots for Finland, who haven’t spent much time in the offensive zone. As in the Sweden-Japan game, there’s contact going on that isn’t getting called. Venla Hovi gets the first SOG for Finland about 7:30 into the game.

Considering how much they have the puck, the Americans are passing more than they should. I know it’s difficult to score on Räty, but it’s harder if you’re not shooting.

Quick offensive flurry by Finland just past the halfway mark, featuring  Annina Rajahuhta, who spent time in the CWHL this season with Kunlun Red Star, but Rooney has it handled.

Monique Lamoureux is totally the person I’d expect to have one of the better opportunities on Räty (mostly kidding, despite the Lam twins’ violent reputations Monique Lamoureux is actually third all-time among active players in Olympic points per game).

Megan Duggan and Emily Pfalzer combine for a dangerous chance but Räty smothers the puck.

Players seem to be quite spread out. Not sure if it’s the Olympic-sized ice playing tricks on me or if the Finns are making sure the Americans have to work to connect. The Finns are getting more offensive zone time as the period ticks on and Rooney has looked a little awkward on a few shots, although most of them have been from a distance and not very dangerous

In a complete reversal of how the period started, Venla Hovi scores with 5.8 seconds in the period, putting Finland in the lead 1-0. Linda Välimäki and Petra Nieminen get the assists. It’s a quick, low shot under pressure that makes it over Rooney’s pads. The US outshot Finland 11-9 but it’s not the shot clock that counts.

Second period

Finland gets in some offensive zone time early and this period looks to be much more even than the first. Amazing what having the lead can do.

The Finns clearly want to follow up on that first goal quickly and they’re pressing.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall declares that the Lamoureux twins and Amanda Pelkey have been the best line so far for the US. That’s their fourth line. That’s not good.

Finland is called for interference and the US has their second power play. This is a better power play than the first one, with most of the play in the Finnish zone, but the Finns get a shorthanded 2 on 1 near the end.  Kelly Pannek gets a great chance right after the penalty expires but Hovi checks her stick from behind.

The male commentator (Mike Lee, I think?) has developed the habit of calling Räty “Rootoo” about half the time and it’s getting annoying.

Michelle Karvinen gets a breakaway for Finland but loses an edge before she can shoot. The US really is not dominating this game the way they were hoping.

The Americans get some sustained zone time, they’re still ahead on the shot clock, but nothing doing and the Finns break out again.

The tying goal finally comes and it comes from Monique Lamoureux. A battle for the puck in the corner ends with the puck on her stick and she puts her own rebound into the net. 1-1

Both teams turn on the pressure in response and Finland gets their third penalty of the game as Linda Välimäki goes off for tripping. The Finns get a nice shorthanded chance very quickly, headed up by Riika Valila. The US get it back, have some trouble staying in the zone, but then Hilary Knight gets the puck to Kendall Coyne and finally the big line scores for USA. 2-1 on a beauty of a shot by Coyne. Brianna Decker gets the secondary assist.

The Finns are still getting chances but it’s clear the Americans smell blood. They’re currently outshooting Finland at a rate of 3 to 1.

The pressure results in yet another Finnish penalty as Knight goes down, and it’s Mira Jalosuo to the box for tripping.  First mention of “Phil Kessel’s sister” when Amanda Kessel gets a couple of chances on the power play.

Shots on the period were 23 to 5 for the US. It seems like the Americans are figuring it out and that’s bad news for the rest of the group.

Third period

The Americans start things where they left off, putting pressure on the Finns. Finland clears the puck a couple of times but this is all the US.

Välimäki gets the first Finnish shot on goal almost five minutes into the period.

Brianna Decker gets the first penalty for USA, interference on Välimäki. The Finns are enthusiastic but can’t get one past Rooney.  Still, they seem revitalized and spend some more time in the American zone at even strength.

8:00 left in the game and the Finns get the puck behind Rooney... but not behind the goal line. Luck is with the Americans. Unfair, really, it’s not like they need it.

Jenni Hiirikoski is getting a lot of ice time in the third and showing why she’s one of Finland’s best players, leading whatever offense they can muster.

Noora Räty stops Kendall Coyne one on one with just under six minutes left, keeping things close even though the US has passed the 40 shot mark in the game.

Hannah Brandt gets a delay of game call with 4:40 left when she flips the puck out over the glass. Finland calls a time out. Reference has been made to Worlds when head coach Pasi Mustonen pulled the goalie for a 6 on 4 with eight minutes left in the semi-final against Canada but he doesn’t opt to do that this time.

The Finns hit a couple of posts, they’re doing everything they can. The US gets it out with 40 seconds left in the penalty and the Finns don’t really get set up again.

Räty is finally pulled with 116 seconds left in the game. The US miss one empty net and get called for icing. Räty ends up back in the net for a neutral zone faceoff and has to make a couple more saves. She doesn’t get back out until 30 seconds are left.... and then Dani Cameranesi (because it’s a question every time she’s mentioned, yes she has a brother spending time between the ECHL and the AHL) puts the game away for the US with the empty net goal, assist to Megan Keller for finding her instead of icing it.

US wins 3-1, outshot 10-8 in the final period but up 42-24 in the game.  Couple of good signs here for the Americans and not the performance Finland was hoping for.

Canada vs Olympic Athletes of Russia 5-0

Olympic Athletes of Russia (heretofore known as OAR, or just Russia) go with Nadezhda Morozova, and in a slight surprise, Canada starts Ann-Renée Desbiens in net.

First period

A nice save by Morozova on Meghan Agosta to start the game. That Marie-Philip Poulin line with Agosta and Mélodie Daoust is lethal.

Angelina Goncharenko takes a cross-checking penalty about a minute in, putting Canada on their first power play. Rebecca Johnston’s backhand attempt on the power play is an example of why I adore Rebecca Johnston. Canada’s puck control while up a player is phenomenal, as would be expected—Russia doesn’t manage to clear the puck past the red line until there’s about fifteen seconds left in the power play.

The first real test on Desbiens comes from Valeria Pavlova off a turnover—she takes a shot that Desbiens bobbles a bit before smothering. Desbiens has had problems with nerves on big stages before, so we’ll see how she does on the biggest of stages.

Poulin cuts into the OAR zone like a hot knife through butter. God, she’s good.

First episode of shoving happens with Johnston and Jillian Saulnier crashing the crease. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of that this game. Canada’s got some sandpaper on their roster, and Russia is full of impulsive 20-year-olds (is that redundant?).

Canada looks to be dominating play early, but Russia is getting their chances.

Scary chance when Olga Sosina outmuscles a Canadian behind the Canadian net and is able to fling it into the slot for a scoring chance. Not long after, Nina Pirogova picks off a neutral zone pass and charges in for a chance on Desbiens. Canada needs to neaten up here.

Russia takes their second penalty, a tripping call on Lyudmila Belyakova. Canada’s power play continues to get scary chances—among others, I heard a Jennifer Wakefield shot hit post—but this time, Russia does a better job of clearing the puck down the rink and alleviating that pressure. For the second time, Russia kills it off.

On Canada, Laura Fortino is sparkling out there. She’s very good! Her ability to drive the play up ice is really helping Canada. I assume her ice time this game can best be summed up as “ginormous.”

A Natalie Spooner shot misses the far post by inches, and later on the same shift, she outworks three Russian players along the boards behind the goal with sheer physical strength and a nice little play off her skate. This leads to a scoring chance with Canada crashing the net, although Morozova is able to smother it after a scramble. Spooner’s one of the larger players on Team Canada, and she knows how to use her strength.

A lovely chance from Daoust, but Morozova doesn’t bite, instead employing excellent use of the poke-check to knock it off Daoust’s stick. I love a good poke-check. Morozova must have listened to Nafio and me on Back to Excited and taken offense at our opinions on the game-stealing capabilities of the Russian goalies.

Laura Stacey bails Jocelyne Larocque out of some trouble in the offensive zone, then her line has some time and chances. Stacey, Sarah Nurse, and Emily Clark are Canada’s youngest line, and the only line to contain a player still in the NCAA (Clark).

Pirogova tries a sharp-angle shot that Desbiens handles well. It is a reminder that Russia has offensive talent.

Second period

Renata Fast carries the puck into the Canadian zone, holds off a Russian defender, and gets it along the boards to her teammate to start some zone time. This is Good Renata. Her speed is an especially good asset against this Russian team, who don’t have a good counter for the Canadian speed in general.

Rebecca Johnston scores first! This is a great play by the Inferno line. Saulnier had the puck behind the Russian goal, and Brianne Jenner came in to help her out. Jenner threaded the puck through traffic to Johnston at the top of the crease, and Johnston popped it right over Morozova.

Russia immediately comes back for a scoring chance at the other end of the rink. If nothing else, they’re not going quietly.

Fabulous chance by Wakefield off a passing play, and an equally fabulous save by Morozova. Canada’s starting to get the speed and movement that’s threatening, and they’re looking more overwhelmingly dominant.

Another Russia penalty, after Yekaterina Lobova dumps a Canadian in the corner. This time, Canada converts quick. A Johnston shot from almost the blue line is tipped by Haley Irwin in front of the net, and before five minutes are up in the second period, it’s 2-0 Canada.

Daoust has a point-blank chance when she gets left all alone in the faceoff circle, and Morozova stones her. Morozova and Daoust are in a battle of wills this morning, and it’s one we all win.

After a not-great turnover by Canada, Poulin steals the puck from a Russian in the neutral zone with a delightful calmness, sending it the other way. I’m not sure there is an aspect of hockey that Poulin doesn’t excel at.

A quick shot by Sarah Nurse deflects off the goalie. I’ve enjoyed her line so far today, especially in the first period as Canada’s middle six took a little while to get going.

Pavlova gets a couple of shots off, including a really sweet backhand shot from the slot. Desbiens handles them, but I am impressed. Among the Russian forwards, Pavlova’s had the most

Pirogova flattens Brianne Jenner, which is not legal, and Canada gets a power play.

Lacquette gets stood up at the blue line by a Russian at on the PP, and that is...ungreat. This is a good penalty kill from Russia. Their penalty killing seems uneven, but they’ve handled a lethal power play better than most teams would—with a lot of help from their goalie. Morozova would probably thank them if they stopped taking so many penalties, though. They take seven total this game.

The announcer observes that Melo Daoust already has five scoring chances, and that matches up with the eye test. She’s not on the scoreboard yet, but she’s sparkling out there, looking perfectly at home on the first line. (Spoiler alert: the “not on the scoreboard” thing will change).

Questionable outlet pass by Renata Fast, it bounced off the stick of a Russian skater before it was collected by Natalie Spooner. Fast’s speed is an asset against this Russian team, and I’ve liked her play this game, but she also needs to make good choices!

There’s a goal for Daoust! Poulin manages a no-look backhand pass to Agosta while in the process of falling on her butt (it says something about how good Poulin is that the broadcast basically breezed right by that part of the play), Agosta carries it in and threads a stunning pass to Daoust, who buries the backhand. Beautifully executed.

Russia gets its first power play of the game after Johnston flattens Lyudmila Belyakova. The Canadian penalty kill does a pretty efficient job of killing it off, not allowing the Russians to generate much offense at all.

After a flurry of offense in the closing minute, Kadirova takes a penalty along the boards after a sharp kick save by Morozova off a Canadian point shot. Canada will have nearly a full power play to begin the third period.

One For, One Also For: Breaking down the Clarkson Cup’s two offences

Third Period

Russia’s penalty kill continues to look more organized. If nothing else, I suspect this is good practice for them to face Finland.

Yekaterina Smolina carries the puck in shorthanded, and OAR kills off the last fifteen seconds of the penalty in Canada’s zone, even getting a shot off on Desbiens.

Canada takes its second penalty, a tripping call on Sarah Nurse. OAR gets in and gets set up, and there’s a scary moment for Canada with Kadirova digging at a puck on the crease, but Desbiens holds firm. Canada forces the puck out and carries it into the neutral zone and beyond several times on this penalty kill—Russia’s power play seems to have difficulties holding the zone.

Russia takes another penalty, Maria Batalova cross-checking Wakefield behind their own net. They’re starting to look frustrated. Canada sets up quickly, and Morozova has to make several saves on Johnston, who turns the first shift of this power play into her own personal shooting gallery.

Halfway through the penalty, the puck goes out of play, and after a brief conference between the refs it’s determined to be a delay of game penalty. Russia is down 5 on 3, and after a bit of cycling that resembled a cat toying with a mouse it’s about to eat, Johnston gets the puck down by the goal line. She takes a second to pick her spot, and then does, scoring at a tough angle to beat Morozova.

Russia’s starting to look visibly exhausted as they go to kill off the rest of the penalty. They do manage it, but they’ve been run ragged this game.

Shortly after that, Poulin does Poulin things, and after working Beylakova in front of the net, fires a backhand right from the doorstep that Daoust is able to tap in. The Russian coach, in what I am assuming is a gesture of pity, promptly pulls Morozova and puts in Nadezhda Alexandrova.

Shortly thereafter, Alexandrova has to stop Agosta point-blank, which is a task that is even harder than it sounds, especially when dropped in a game halfway through the third period.

Russia’s in a scramble at this point, just trying to mitigate the damage. The Canadians are relentless—there’s no such thing as a mercy rule in women’s hockey. They will keep scoring until the game is over.

After contact in the corner in the Russian zone, Pirogova goes down hard and is down for several seconds before getting up and making her way immediately to the bench. Hopefully, she’s not seriously injured—that would be a blow for the Russian team.

Johnston really, really wants that hat trick, and it’s only a sprawling play through the crease by Yekaterina Nikolayeva that keeps her from getting it. Belyakova, looking for at least one for Russia, snaps off a shot in the dying minutes that looks dangerous. While the Russians look tired, and disorganized, they haven’t given up. Belyakova does it again with less than a minute left—I’d keep an eye on her in the next game.

As it is, Canada holds the Russians off, and the game ends 5-0. It’s an excellent start to the Olympics for Team Canada.