“They skated much faster than us, passed much better, and had better shooting—they were completely better in all moments of the game,” Swedish coach, Peter Elander, said after last night’s game at UBC Thunderbird Arena. His team—which actually beat Canada 15 months ago—was “really pissed off” with their lacklustre performance, he added.
Canada simply danced circles around his squad.
Both Hayley Wickenheiser and Meghan Agosta had five-point nights, and landed in the record books.
Wickenheiser went first, tucking an ugly goal past Kim Martin (the top goalie at Turin—but off her game last night) and picked up the crown for most goals in Olympic history: 16.
Agosta—the next Wickenheiser, might as well start saying it now—logged a hat-trick, sending the riotous crowd of 5,483 into a tizzy; it was her eighth of the Games, equalling Danielle Goyette’s record for most goals in a single Olympic tournament. The 23-year-old from Ruthven, Ont., has “exploded” onto the world stage, forward Gillian Apps said after the game.
But Agosta, like the rest of the team, seemed to ease up in the third, cycling and passing—perhaps on the advice of coach Mel Davidson, who started rolling her third and fourth lines. (Canada’s lone third-period goal went in off Apps’s skate.)
It was the mercy some have been calling on Canada and the U.S. to show their weaker opponents, while others say the women’s game should be altogether eliminated from the Olympics. Hockey’s bigwigs, however, have told everyone to just calm down.
“I am not so happy, I must say,” IIHF head René Fasel said, the day after the U.S. pummeled the Chinese, 12-1. “But that’s the beginning of women’s hockey. In the 1930s, Switzerland was beaten by Canada, 20-0. And in Torino, Switzerland beat Canada, 2-0. It took nearly 70 years to come on the same level, and the women are growing fast now.”
For more than a decade, Hockey Canada has been pouring money into women’s hockey; its under-18 and under-22 are churning out talent like 18-year-old phenom Marie-Philippe Poulin, who went backhand, top-shelf tonight for her second—frickin’ beautiful—goal of the tournament. The American squad, meanwhile, has benefited from Title IX legislation, which forced schools and colleges to launch women’s hockey programs.
The leadership in European hockey federations need to start giving their girls the same opportunities, Wickenheiser told Maclean’s after the game.
And Canada and the U.S. have another huge advantage over the rest, she added. Both centralized their squads for the nine months leading up to the Games (and played exhibition series against boys’ teams—which kicked-up their level of play). The Swedes did not. No one else here did.
While the Swedes were spread out across the NCAA and on rag-tag club teams back home, Canada’s women practised together in Calgary daily, fine-tuning their lines and play.
You saw the result last night when, at the end of the second, Caroline Ouellette found Jana Hefford alone in front of the net—with her back turned. It’s the kind of sixth-sense that comes from playing together over and over again—and, says Wickenheiser, is “key” to their success.