HALIFAX, N.S. — The U.S. has had nothing but positive results on the ice so far. The only catch is the team is starting to run out of bodies at the forward position as it approaches Tuesday night’s gold-medal game with Canada.
Captain Cammi Granato returned from her injury to take a few shifts in the 9-2 U.S. win over Sweden Monday night, but Minnesota sophomore Krissy Wendell took a scary spill into the boards in the second period and did not return. She’s questionable for the gold-medal game. Harvard sophomore Julie Chu took the night off but is expected to return Tuesday. Shelley Looney remains sidelined.
Despite the disruptions, the U.S. is still loaded with talent at forward. Minnesota sophomore Natalie Darwitz had another hat trick against Sweden to match Canada’s Jayna Hefford for the tournament lead with seven goals. Darwitz, once thought to be lost all season with ligament damage, has been scoring as much as ever as of late.
“I don’t think I played that well tonight,” Darwitz said. “I think I’m just getting a few bounces here and there.”
Potter earned Player of the Game honors for the U.S., and Erika Holst earned the same honors for Sweden, making it a mini-UMD reunion at center ice after the game. It was a big day for UMD players and alums as Nora Tallus scored the game-winner in Finland’s 2-1 win over Russia that clinched her team’s date with Sweden in the bronze-medal game.
Now all attention has turned to the matchup with Canada. One of the toughest tasks for the U.S. will be finding a way to shut down the Canadian top line of Hefford, Harvard alum Jennifer Botterill, and UMD’s Caroline Ouellette, the most prolific scorers of the tournament. The three have found instant chemistry despite not having a long history together.
“I think all of us are a little different in our styles of play and we complement each other well,” Botterill said. “Jayna has incredible speed and ability to break into the open ice. Caroline is strong, physical, and quick and she has great hands and can bury that puck. So I think we’re all really enjoying it, leading each other well, and creating openings and opportunities through our different styles of play.”
Saturday, the U.S. did keep Canada off the scoreboard except for a Botterill power-play goal, but Tuesday will be a greater challenge.
“We’ve just got to keep forechecking them and not give them enough time to make a play,” Potter said. “They have a lot of good players on their team, and so do we, so it’s going to be a battle.”
While Pam Dreyer has stymied Canada so far in international play, allowing two goals in three appearances, Botterill is one player who has found a way to beat her at every level. While at Brown, Dreyer never beat a Harvard team with Botterill on it, and in her final career start against Harvard, she lost 10-3 with Botterill scoring a hat trick against her in the first period. She was pulled at the second intermission.
On Saturday, Botterill was at it again, beating her with a pretty top-shelf shot on the power play. Of course, not everyone on Team Canada can shoot with Botterill’s accuracy, so the Canadians will have to generate shots and get traffic in front of Dreyer to get through.
The biggest question many are asking of the Canadians, aside from beating Dreyer, is whether they can start strong. They trailed after the first period against both the U.S. and Sweden. Botterill thinks the team has learned its lesson. The key, she says, is simply doing the little things right — playing together as a team, supporting each other, moving the puck well, and winning the one-on-one battles.
“If we needed two wake-up calls, we got them,” Botterill said. “I feel pretty confident our team is going to come out ready and realize that we need to play a full 60 minutes of hockey. We’re going to be ready when the puck drops on Tuesday.”
Canada has come out on top in each of the previous seven world championships, and an eighth could be most special of all because a 10,000-strong home crowd is expected for Tuesday’s game.
“The crowds have been phenomenal,” Botterill said. “This is the biggest venue that [Canada] has held it in. It’s been really special to be in a city that really embraces the tournament and our game. We’ve had lots of great tournaments in the past that have been fantastic for different reasons, but this one’s been pretty neat because we have home soil and the number of people supporting it.”
Canada will have plenty of pride to play for, but don’t expect the U.S. to be intimidated by the passionate Canadian fans with their maple leafs and thunder sticks.
“I’m always up for a challenge whether it’s 10,000 people rooting for me or against me,” Potter said. “I just love playing.”