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U.S. edges Finns

Raty's brilliance can't stop Americans

Published 12.02.2018 12:22 GMT+10 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
U.S. edges Finns
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 11: USA's Monique Lamoureux-Morando #7 celebrates with Kelly Panek #12, Kacey Bellamy #22 and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson #17 after a second period goal against Finland during preliminary round action at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Finnish goalie Noora Raty made 39 saves, but it wasn't enough to stop the Americans. The U.S. won Sunday's opener 3-1 on Kendall Coyne's second-period goal.

Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Dani Cameranasi also scored for the Americans, who are seeking their first Olympic gold medal since women's hockey debuted in Nagano in 1998. Since then, Canada has won four consecutive Olympic golds.

"It's great to open the tournament with a win," said Hilary Knight, a two-time Women's Worlds MVP. "Obviously there are some things we can clean up, but I'm extremely excited with the W and extremely excited for the teammates who had their first Olympic game today."

Venla Hovi had the lone goal for Finland.

"It's always disappointing, but we know it's only the first game and points don't really count in this group," said Raty. "I think we had a good battle and fought hard in the end."

The U.S., which won the last four Women's Worlds (2013, 2015-17), has never lost to Finland in Olympic women’s hockey, posting seven straight victories. Here, Finland's Riikka Valila, who played in the very first confrontation in Nagano (a 4-2 loss on 11 February 1998), became the oldest woman ever to play Olympic hockey at age 44.

The Finns were seeking another big stepping stone for their program after earning their first win ever over four-time defending Olympic champion Canada at the 2017 Women’s Worlds (4-3 on 1 April). But despite a gutsy, go-for-it effort in all three zones, they just fell short.

"We need to clog the middle better and not let them crash the net," said Raty. "There are a lot of my friends on the team, so we know how they play. They control the puck really well, so we have to play smarter."

The goaltending duel was a study in contrasts. U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney got her first Olympic start and made 23 saves. The 20-year-old played once in the Women’s World Championship gold medal run last year in Plymouth, Michigan.

Meanwhile, Raty, appearing in her fourth Olympics, played her 15th game all-time, matching Swiss goalie Florence Schelling's Winter Games record. Raty, 28, has been named Best Goalie at the Women’s Worlds four times (2007, 2008, 2011, 2017).

It was the first Olympic game the Americans have played since the crushing 3-2 overtime loss to archrival Canada in the 2014 gold medal game in Sochi. It's still too early to decide whether the decision to exclude Alex Carpenter and Megan Bozek from this roster was wise. Carpenter led the U.S. with four goals in Sochi, while Bozek earned a tournament all-star berth on defence.

U.S. coach Robb Stauber has been experimenting with new line combinations, and the traditional top trio of Kendall Coyne, Brianna Decker, and Hilary Knight – who finished 1-2-3 in scoring at last year’s Women’s Worlds – was broken up to start this PyeongChang premiere. However, the line would reunite as the game progressed.

The U.S. got the first power play when Finnish defender Mira Jalosuo hauled down Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson cutting to the net. Yet the Americans, who boast the world’s most skillful and creative lineup, struggled to get in sync early on. Raty delivered back-to back big saves off Decker and Coyne off the rush midway through the first.

Finland opened the scoring with six seconds left in the first period. Petra Nieminen centered the puck from behind the net to Hovi, a third-time Olympian, who one-timed it home past Rooney’s left skate.

Of the first period, Coyne said: "There was a little bit of nerves, excitement, jitters. I think it showed in the first period. We were a little bit not ourselves. I think after that we regrouped."

The Americans hit their stride in a second period where they outshot Finland 23-5. At 8:58, they tied it up after the puck squirted loose out of a five-player scramble in the corner to Raty’s left. Lamoureux-Morando hustled laterally to the net and put it past past the Finnish goalie.

"I think the second period there was our best 20 minutes of hockey," Lamoureux-Morando said. "We want to build off that and bring it to the next game."

Coyne put the U.S. up 2-1 at 11:29 on the power play when she one-timed Knight’s deft cross-ice feed under the cross bar from the faceoff circle.

"Kendall has a knack for the net and she's a little speed demon," said Knight. "I just saw her there and passed her the puck."

Raty did her utmost to keep it a one-game game, stopping Kacey Bellamy, Knight, Decker, and Coyne in a sequence with under five minutes left in the middle frame.

"The second period was pretty rough for us," said Raty. "We have to clean up our line changes."

In the third period, the Finns couldn't capitalize with their first power play when Decker went off for interference at 7:55. A few minutes later, captain Jenni Hiirikoski's shot from right wing squeaked through Rooney's pads and just trickled wide.

Hannah Brandt, the sister of Korea's Yoonjung Park, was called for delay of game after she put the puck over the glass with 4:27 left in regulation, and Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen called his timeout. His players pressed mightily but couldn't find the equalizer. Raty was pulled three times in the dying moments, but that just allowed Cameranesi to notch the empty-netter with 13 seconds left.

"Today, we could create scoring chances in the last 10 minutes, and that’s not usually the case against the USA," said Mustonen. "That’s one of the best parts of our game."

At the Women’s Worlds, the only Finnish win over the U.S. in 17 tries was back in 2008. Finland's next chance for a PyeongChang win is Tuesday versus Canada. The Americans take on the Olympic Athletes from Russia that day.

"It’s the Olympic Games," said Coyne. "You want to play the best, and in order to be the best, you need to beat the best. It was a great start, and now our focus turns to the Olympic Athletes from Russia."