GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team experienced some first-game-of-the-Olympics jitters in the first 20 minutes of their opening against Finland, but finished the game calm, cool and collected… not to mention victorious.
Team USA extended its undefeated Olympic record against Finland to seven as well as its perfect record opening an Olympic Games to six straight with Saturday’s 3-1 win. Despite their favorable history against the Finns, no one on the team expected an easy game.
In fact, they were prepared for one hell of a battle.
“Our players knew that Finland was going to play very hard,” said U.S. coach Robb Stauber. “We warned them. We told them. They were ready for it.”
Finland appeared intent on giving them exactly what they expected.
Hovi Venla put Finland on the board first with a mere 5.8 seconds left in the first period. The 1-0 deficit was the wakeup call the Americans needed while heading into the locker room for the first intermission.
“I think [the nerves] showed in the first period,” said Team USA’s now two-time Olympian, Kendall Coyne. “We were a little bit not ourselves, but I think after that we regrouped and everyone got their first Olympic shift under their belt and we were ready to go.”
The team came out for the second period with a new game plan that appeared to read something like this: shoot… and shoot a lot.
The U.S. outshot Finland 23-5 to be exact, and the rapid-fire nature of it all paid off. Three-time Olympian, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, tied the game up nearly half way through the second period. She was assisted by her sister Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and teammate Kelly Pannek.
Less than three minutes later, Coyne scored on a power play to take the lead 2-1.
“I mean, the objective is to score more goals than them and I think the way to do it is putting pucks on the net,” Coyne said. “Especially against a phenomenal goaltender like Noora is.”
Said Finland’s Noora Raty of the goal: "[Hilary Knight] got there out of the corner, I need to commit to her because she's the best shot in the world. So for once she actually passed, and hats off to Coyner. She went top shelf. Really nice goal."
For a team that thrives on momentum, the two quick goals were just what the women needed to hold the Finns in the final period, Lamoureux-Morando explained.
With 13 seconds left in the game, Finland pulled Raty in an attempt to tie it up. First-time Olympian Dani Cameranesi used the opportunity to break away with the puck and find an open net, scoring her first Olympic point and cushioning Team USA’s lead to 3-1 as the remaining time ticked away.
The Americans could not have asked for a better setup for their Olympic run. The win gave them confidence, but the grit required to secure that win reminded them that Olympic play is on a completely different level.
Not that the women ever forgot that, however. They’ve adopted a technique for handling the pressure of the Games that is completely opposite of that which most people advise them.
“It’s not like every other game like a lot of people tell us to treat it,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “You want to embrace those feelings and manage them. The Olympics are only every four years so it’s not like every other tournament. You try to treat it like that as much as you can.”
The U.S. will play the Olympic Athletes from Russia on Tuesday before meeting with Canada to complete the preliminary round.
“I’m very thankful for a hard-fought first game,” Stauber said. “Because it shouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t easy.”
Cat Hendrick is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.