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US women’s hockey sees chance to improve

The US women’s hockey team plays Sweden in an semi-final game Monday.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

The US women’s hockey team plays Sweden in an semi-final game Monday.

SOCHI, Russia — The film session that followed the US women’s hockey team’s preliminary-round loss to Canada was long and painful. Throughout Friday’s session coach Katey Stone and her staff pointed out the players’ uncharacteristic mistakes in the neutral zone and defensive zone, the turnovers that led to goals, the lack of discipline that resulted in penalties. There was a call for accountability and for coming to the rink ready to play.

“We didn’t play Team USA-style hockey,” said forward Hilary Knight of the 3-2 loss. “That was evident in the film that we watched and it was painful at times. You’re watching yourself and thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I did that.’ It was so uncharacteristic of what we’ve been working towards the last few months. It was a reminder of what we did and where we need to be and what we need to do.”

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With a semifinal matchup against Sweden set for Monday, the United States knows it must play a better brand of hockey. Sweden upset Finland to reach the semifinals here, and at the 2006 Turin Olympics surprised the US in the semifinals on its way to silver. While Stone said she was “a little bit” surprised to face Sweden on Monday, she credited the improving quality and depth of the women’s game and the Swedes’ ability to move the puck well and get strong play from goaltender Valentina Wallner.

Meanwhile, the Swedish coaches know they will have a difficult time matching up with Stone’s squad.

“This is the toughest opponent we could have gotten because Canada isn’t as fast as the USA,” said Sweden’s assistant coach, Leif Boork.

Jessie Vetter will be back in net for the Americans, getting the nod after Stone considered starting Boston College alum Molly Schaus. And after suffering a left hand injury at practice on Saturday, four-time Olympian and former Harvard star Julie Chu will be back on the ice, though she had the day off from practice Sunday.

So, the Americans plan to put a familiar roster on the ice, but with renewed focus and resolve. They know a gold-medal game against Canada is far from a given, especially if they suffer from the same troubling errors that proved costly when they last faced the Canadians.

“At this stage of the game, at this level, you’ve got to be personally accountable for your own play,” said Stone. “We needed greater accountability and people need to be more ready. You’re either going to take the moment or the moment is going to take you. You’ve got to make that decision . . . We like our team. We like our game plan. If we stick to that, we’re going to be in good shape.”

Coming out of the video session, US captain Meghan Duggan of Danvers made sure her teammates handled the critiques the right way. “You can’t take anything personal,” she said. Duggan and other players also saw an opportunity to convert the loss into an opportunity and make valuable adjustments before medals are at stake.

“You never want to lose a game,” said Duggan. “But a game like that, you take a lot away from that. We had that lengthy video session and we got so much better here in the last three days. Had we won that game, would we have watched the video session like that? Maybe not. You lose a game and I can tell we made a ton of strides in these last three days. We’re going to be a different team Monday and a different team on Thursday.”

Entering its semifinal, the US sounded determined to leave past disappointments behind. Duggan pointed out that only Chu played on the US team that lost to Sweden in 2006 and said, “Obviously, that was a great time in Sweden’s program, but we’ve moved past that.” The US players saw a fresh start ahead with elimination games on tap.

“This is a whole new starting point for us,” said Knight. “If we don’t win, we don’t advance to the game that we want to get to. Everyone wants a gold medal and that’s the dream and the hope that we’re chasing. But [Monday] is a 1-0 mentality and I’d hate to be the other team right now.”

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraspringer.
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