Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Knight gets Team USA off to fast start

U.S. women beat Finns, Swiss 3-1, 9-0

     If you look at the 2014 Winter Olympic women’s hockey tournament as a five-game competition, Team USA is skating with speed and power and now has its first two games successfully in the winning column.

     Led by Sun Valley’s Hilary Knight, the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team polished off Finland 3-1 and Switzerland 9-0 in its first two games of the tournament Saturday and Monday at Shayba Arena in Sochi, Russia.

     The latest success came Monday as outdoor temperatures reached 61 degrees on a sunny day besides the Black Sea. Six players including Knight scored goals and 13 skaters recorded at least one point to help the U.S. pound beat Switzerland 9-0.

     Team USA broke an Olympic record by scoring three goals in 55 seconds in building a 5-0 lead in the opening stanza. The second and third goals came in just eight seconds. The U.S. also set a team record for fastest five goals in an Olympic contest, scoring five times over a 6:22 span.

     With the win over Switzerland, Team USA guaranteed itself a spot in a semifinal of the eight-team women’s tournament on Monday, Feb. 17. The bronze medal and gold medal games will be Thursday, Feb. 20.

     Knight, 24, at 5-10, 180 pounds, is the dominant physical presence on the ice for Team USA playing on the top American forward line with center Kelli Stack, 25, of Brooklyn Heights, Ohio and 19-year-old Alex Carpenter of North Reading, Mass.

     On Saturday, Knight’s long reach enabled her to intercept a Finnish pass in the neutral zone and streak down the center of the ice—whipping a breakaway wrist shot over the right shoulder of Finland goalie Noora Raty only 53 seconds into the game for a quick 1-0 Team USA lead.

     Scoring so quickly against a goaltender that caliber of Raty was crucial for Team USA confidence. The Americans went on to out-shoot the Finns 43-15, but goalie Raty made the game competitive in front of 4,135 fans.

     Raty, 24, backstopped the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers to back-to-back NCAA Division 1 tournament titles in 2012 and 2013. Minnesota had a 41-0-0 record her senior year, with Raty (114-17-8 in four seasons at Minnesota) posting 17 shutouts with a 0.96 goals-against.

     Raty was Finland’s goalie in its overtime victory over Sweden for the bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics at Vancouver, Canada. And last November, Raty had posted 58 saves to beat the Americans 3-1 at the Four Nations Tournament.

     The Americans were concerned enough about their opening game against Raty and Finland that they opted not to march in Friday’s Opening Ceremony at Sochi. They wanted to be rested and fresh to face Raty.

     And University of Wisconsin all-time scoring star Knight showed that Team USA was ready with her quick goal on the first shot taken in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Then, in the second period, Knight assisted on Carpenter’s goal stretching the U.S. lead to 3-0. Stack had scored making the score 2-0 earlier in the second, meaning that the No. 1 Team USA forward line accounted for all three goals against Raty.

     “We wanted some early shots,” Knight told USA “Noora is a world-class goalie, so it was a surprise to get an early goal by her.”

     Knight added, “We are extremely fast and extremely powerful. We want to set the pace. We want to be the team that controls the game, and that’s what we did.”

     After a sluggish start Monday against Switzerland, Team USA controlled the game again. It was scoreless midway through the first period when television commentator A.J. Mleczko made the comment, “One goal would change the entire landscape of the game.”

     One minute later, Monique Lamoureux of Grand Forks, N.D. started the record-breaking scoring outburst. Knight set up Brianna Decker’s second goal, cleverly setting up the scoring play with a drop pass on a line change, and Amanda Kessel made a great individual effort from the subsequent center faceoff for a 3-0 lead eight seconds later.

     Knight made the score 4-0 with five minutes left in the first period, scooping home a backhand from the corner of the net just as a delayed penalty had been called on the Swiss in the crease.

     The U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team will conclude group play today, Wednesday, Feb. 12 when it squares off with three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Canada. Puck-drop is scheduled for 5:30 a.m. Mountain Time and can be viewed live on NBC Sports Network.

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