SOCHI, Russia -- The battle of North America has returned. The U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team reserved its spot in the 2014 gold-medal final against long-time rivals Canada after its win over Sweden in the semifinal Monday.
Team USA rolled over Sweden, pocketing the game 6-1 and putting Swede goaltender Valentina Wallner to work with 70 shots on net to Sweden's nine on U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter.
The U.S. scored three goals in the first period and skated circles around a physical Swedish team that couldn't out-muscle the skill and finesse of Team USA.
"We are building here and hopefully the best is yet to come," said U.S. head coach Katey Stone. "We are going to enjoy this up until midnight then get some rest and it is back to work."
Stone and her team will head back to work because the battle for gold will be rivaled by the only team the U.S. women have lost to at the Sochi Games – Canada.
The United States opened the tournament in Sochi with a 3-1 win against a formidable team from Finland. It followed that game with a whopping 9-0 routing of Switzerland before it lost 3-2 to the Canadians.
Wednesday's loss to Canada drove a frustrated Team USA to the videotapes.
The team suspended ice time for a film session where Stone and her staff pointed to all mistakes the U.S. made in the last game of the preliminary round. They looked at what went wrong in offense, in defense. They analyzed the mistakes in the neutral zone, in the turnovers and the reckless play that led to needless penalties.
"When things are going your way, you don't dive into the video as much," said team captain Meghan Duggan. "We went through a pretty intense video session, looked at all our mistake so that we don't make them again."
If the team had forgotten the sorrow in surrendering gold for silver in 2010, Wednesday perhaps came as a blessing in disguise for the team hungry for the win once more.
"We came out tonight as a different team. We got back to our game and a lot has to be said about, potentially, we got there because of the loss on Wednesday night," Duggan said.
Alex Carpenter broke scoring, making it 1-0 for the U.S., 6:10 into the first period. Kacey Bellamy made pulled the U.S. to 2 with a slapshot from the blue line a 1:16 later. Amanda Kessel – inspired from the three-goal hat trick her brother, Phil, pocketed for the U.S. men's team the night before – buried one of her own half way through the first period.
Monique Lamoureux, Megan Bozek and Brianna Decker also pocketed goals on the night.
Swedish forward Pernilla Windberg scored her team's lone goal on a powerplay that had otherwise seen the third period go 26-0.
"We knew coming in that they were one of the best teams in the world and they showed it tonight," said Swedish head coach Valentina Wallner.
Canada defeated Switzerland 3-1 later on Monday to join the U.S. in the final scheduled for Feb. 20 at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
Canada is the reigning Olympic gold medalist but the U.S. has won five of the last seven IIHF World Championships, including the 3-2 victory in Ottawa, Ontario, last year. The heated rivalry between the U.S. and Canada on the international circuit dates back to the birth of women's hockey in international competition.
The U.S. captured the first ever gold medal at the 1998 Winter Games but Canada has taken the gold at the three Games since.
When asked by a reporter if she believed Team USA would skate away with the gold medal, Duggan laughed, then she said, "In my heart – yes, I do."