If there was any concern heading into the first women’s ice hockey competition of the Sochi Games, the United States made a point of alleviating it early.
Forward Hilary Knight picked up an unassisted goal 53 seconds into the first period to set the stage for a 3-1 U.S. victory against Finland at Shayba Arena on Saturday.
"To have the opportunity to score in the first minute of the game sets the tone and takes a little bit of the edge off the anxiety in the first game for many of these players," said U.S. head coach Katey Stone.
The last time Team USA faced Finnish goalkeeper Noora Raty was at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November. During that game, Raty made 59 saves as Finland bested the U.S., 3-1.
"It's a challenge from all angles on the ice," said Knight. "Great goaltenders break at some point. We needed to find that weakness and we did."
The U.S. found the back of the net on three of its 43 shots on goal. Kelli Stack scored Team USA’s second goal by batting an airborne puck past Raty at 7:42 of the second period. Less than nine minutes later, Alex Carpenter found the back of the net, giving the U.S. a 3-0 lead.
Finland came out strong in the third period, but a goal by Susanna Tapani wasn’t enough to get past Team USA.
"They're definitely a team you can't look past," said U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter. "We knew that coming into here and we were ready to go from the beginning. I'm excited we came away with the win."
At the post-game press conference, reporters asked Finnish head coach Mika Pieniniemi for his thoughts on the idea that the women's tournament is solely contested by two competitive teams: the U.S. and Canada.
He responded by praising the North Americans and adding that the European game is also growing. Referencing Finland's win in November, Stone said that not a single person on the U.S. team is looking past the Finns — or any of the tournament's other contenders.
"We believe very strongly that this is a world event that anyone can win," said Stone.
Smiling and responding sincerely, Pieniniemi said, “Thank you.”
A European player like Raty, a two-time NCAA champion for the University of Minnesota, has shared the roster with several players on the U.S. team.
Raty said she even cracks a smile when a teammate from Minnesota charges towards her with the puck.
"If we don't play in the gold medal game," Raty said, "I really hope the U.S. can win the tournament."