U.S. women's hockey team refuses to look beyond its semifinal matchup with Sweden Monday. Canada plays Switzerland in the other semi. (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP/Getty Images)
Sochi, Russia — All of the talk during practice in advance of Team USA’s women’s hockey semifinal was about Sweden, their opponent.
It wasn’t until the players stepped off the sheet and the team met reporters did the topic come up of facing you-know-who for you-know-what.
“We’re not looking straight to the gold medal game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. “We have a huge semifinal game against a great team and we’ll worry about that one and then we’ll go from there.”
The U.S. and Canada remain on a collision course but still have some business each team must attend to before that game can happen. Sweden stunned Finland in the quarterfinals to set up its date with Team USA today; Canada faces Switzerland.
“We’re all fired up,” U.S. coach Katey Stone said. “The main thing is that our kids play their best hockey the next two games, individually and collectively.”
There is a history between the U.S. and Sweden. The Swedes defeated the Americans, 3-2, in the semifinals at the 2006 Turin Games, the only time in 12 international meetings Sweden has topped the U.S. Sweden’s Pernilla Winberg (two goals, three assists) scored the winner.
Stone said she doesn’t plan to use that loss as motivation.
“Some of these kids are too young, that stuff is in the past,” Stone said. “It’s a different team.”
Instead, the focus is on a Sweden team that came out of Group B, which featured the lower-ranked teams in the tournament.
“They’re strong,” Stone said. “They play a great game through the neutral zone. They stretch kids, they handle the puck well, they’re patient and their goaltender has done a good job.”
Canada has cruised through the tournament, including a 3-2 victory over the U.S. in the preliminary round. The only potential stumbling block to an opportunity to play for a third consecutive gold medal is Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling, who has the ability to steal a game.
“They have a great goaltender so we will have to work around her,” Canada forward Hayley Wickenheiser said. “If we can do that, we have great speed and the defensive ability and can capitalize on anything they throw at us.”