WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – For the 20th time in 22 years, the Four Nations Cup again boils down to two nations: The United States and Canada face off Sunday in the championship game.
Left wing Kendall Coyne scored two goals about 3 ½ minutes apart Friday night as the U.S. women’s ice hockey team shut out Sweden 5-0 to set up yet another rematch with their archrival from north of the border.
In previous games this fall, Team USA is 2-1 against Team Canada, including a 4-2 win Wednesday in the Four Nations Cup preliminary round.
Canada defeated Finland 4-0 in Friday’s first matchup. Team USA opened play Tuesday by beating the Finns 8-2 and is the only undefeated team in the tournament, which is part of The Time is Now Tour, presented by Toyota.
In the Four Nations Cup, Team USA has never lost to Sweden, improving its record to 18-0-0-0-0. The U.S. has shut out Sweden in seven of the last nine games, outscoring the Swedes 54-3 in the last nine years.
Despite that record, Coyne said Team USA approaches every game with the same mindset.
“We respect every opponent the same, never prepare differently for an opponent,” she said. “They’re a good hockey team and we obviously have their number right now.”
But with the ultimate goal the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, does Team USA have Canada’s number?
“That’s the ultimate goal,” Coyne said. “We’re so familiar with them and they’re familiar with us, so it comes down to execution and the will to want to win. It’s going to be exciting Sunday.”
Team USA has not won the Olympic gold medal since women’s ice hockey made its debut in 1998 while Canada has won the four golds since.
Coach Robb Stauber said the Swedes gave Team USA a good workout.
“Sweden went really hard, which quite frankly we’re happy about in the sense that when they play that hard you’ve got to work for it,” he said.
While he said Team USA had its best movement of the tournament, the team started slowly.
Kacey Bellamy scored on a power play 4:23 into the first period with an assist by Hilary Knight. For the third night, Team USA had balanced scoring, with four different players scoring goals and nine contributing points.
After Coyne’s two goals early in the second period – the first assisted by Cayla Barnes and the second by Kelly Pannek and Hannah Brandt, Brandt contributed her first goal of the tournament. She was assisted by Emily Pfalzer, who had a hat trick against Finland, and Megan Keller. Keller also assisted on the final goal, which was scored by Gigi Marvin in the third period.
“I think that everyone is playing with everyone and the camaraderie on our team has been great,” Bellamy said. “Anyone can score at any time and I think it’s just the style of play that we have. We find openings and whoever’s there, we give it to. And then it just goes from there. I think our biggest thing also is just shoot the puck whenever we get close to the net or in those tight areas and they either go in or they don’t.”
With about 1:45 left in the frame, goaltender Nicole Hensley had a crucial stop on a short-handed breakaway as one of her nine saves.
“Anytime a game’s 1-0, that’s a game-changing save,” Stauber said. “She came up big and had some other really good saves. And that’s not easy on a given night when you only face nine shots on goal.
“She didn’t give any ground.”
By comparison, Team USA had 44 shots on goal, including eight before Sweden had its first one at Florida Hospital Center Ice, the home base for the U.S. women’s national team leading up to PyeongChang.
“We missed the net a lot tonight,” Stauber said. “At the very least it looks like we probably had 10-15 shots go wide, that if you get those on net you’re going to get a couple more rebound goals. We’ve got to clean that up.”
Barnes, the 18-year-old who joined the national team in late October, has made an immediate impact by scoring a point in each of Team USA’s games.
“It’s a really good feeling just to come out here and really get moving with the girls,” Barnes said. “Obviously, I’m new here, but just to get out here and help this team win and move on in this tournament, it’s just a great feeling.”
Team USA will be seeking its eighth Four Nations Cup title in the 21 times it has participated in the tournament. Team USA did not compete in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11.
“Regardless of who we play, we focus on ourselves,” said team captain Meghan Duggan. “We’ve done that for the last three games, playing to our strengths. We’ve dictated the play the way we want the game to go. Even with ebbs and flows in the game, I think we’ve done a great job maintaining that, so that’s what we’ll focus on. We’ll see how it shakes out on Sunday.”