Team USA drops Finland 3-1 in women's hockey opener
SOCHI, Russia — Noora Raty could not save Finland from an all-out American blitz this time around.
The U.S. women's hockey team breezed to a 3-1 victory Saturday at Shayba Arena to open its Olympic gold-medal drive, knocking off a goaltending nemesis in the process.
Hilary Knight scored 53 seconds into the game and added an assist as Team USA swarmed Raty throughout the afternoon and ultimately outshot Finland 43-15.
"We want momentum so scoring 50 seconds into the game, you can't ask for anything more than that," said defenseman Megan Bozek, a former University of Minnesota Gopher. "We stressed getting a lot of shots on Noora early and often, from any angle, so I think that really helped our confidence going forward."
Kelli Stack and Alex Carpenter bagged second-period goals for the United States to provide plenty cushion for goalie Jessie Vetter, whose only blemish was allowing Susanne Tapani's power-play marker with 4:38 remaining.
Ten Americans made their Olympic debut, including former Minnesota defenseman Anne Schleper and two Gophers who deferred their 2013-14 college seasons to chase Olympic gold — defenseman Lee Steicklein of Roseville and Amanda Kessel.
Kessel, the reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner as last year's best women's college hockey player, saw her first game action since having off-season hip surgery. She was shut out of the scoring but was plenty active, recording five shots and finishing plus-1.
Three months ago Raty punctured the United States' egos during the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., stopping all but one of 59 shots. The loss had a profound impact on the Americans, who responded by simplifying their game plan and rededicating to a more aggressive forecheck.
Scoring in the opening minute against the sport's most decorated goalie sanded off whatever nervousness Team USA had taking the ice for the first time in Sochi. It plays Switzerland Monday before facing archrival Canada Wednesday.
"I liked our team speed today," said U.S. coach Katey Stone. "We moved the puck really well. Came out flying. They were three hard-earned, sought-after goals for us today. We've just very happy to get the first game under our belt and looking forward to Monday."
During the opening shift, Knight pounced on a neutral-zone turnover and cruised in alone on Raty, beating her high to the blocker side. The United States kept coming, outshooting Finland 15-3 in the first period.
Stack doubled the lead 7:42 into the second with some nifty body and stick work.
Knight's centering pass deflected off Stack's chest. Before the puck fell to the ice Stack used a right-handed baseball swing to whack it into the net.
She recalled scoring a similar goal against Raty playing for Boston College against Minnesota during an NCAA regional playoff game.
"I kind of caught it out of my jersey and batted it out of the air," said Stack. "I just told my teammates, she's going to stop the first shot for sure, unless you're Hilary Knight and it's going to go in. The rebounds are going to go in and the deflections are going to go in."
Later in the second period Team USA caught another break on a power play. Carpenter's centering pass deflected off a Finnish defenseman past Raty to give the United States a commanding 3-0 lead.
"We were a little shy with the puck in the first period and was very unlucky in the first shift, first goal," lamented Finland coach Mika Pieniniemi. "We become better during the game but in the second period there was two 'oops' goals."
Team USA improved to 6-0 all-time against Finland in the Olympics and remained undefeated in tournament-opening games.