SOCHI, Russia — The US gave Sweden fair warning.
To anyone who would listen, the Americans said to forget the team that partially showed up against the Canadians in a preliminary-round loss. The US players vowed not to repeat the mistakes that cost them last week. They would be ready and refocused for Monday’s semifinal game at Shayba Arena.
Or, as forward Hilary Knight said, “I’d hate to be the other team right now.”
Sweden was the other team. And it didn’t take long before the Scandinavians saw the truth in Knight’s words and the product of one intense film session and three days of practice by the US.
Team USA looked every bit the powerhouse that it is, easily advancing to the gold-medal game with a 6-1 win. The Americans scored early and often, and pounded Sweden with 70 shots on goal — one short of the women’s Olympic record set by the US in a 12-1 victory over China at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
“I’m happy with how our team played today,” said US coach Katey Stone. “This is the kind of team we’re used to seeing. We’re building here and I hope the best is yet to come. We’re going to enjoy this until midnight, then it’s back to work.”
With Canada’s 3-1 win over Switzerland in the second semifinal, the US will meet its north-of-the-border rival in the gold-medal game Thursday. The matchup gives the US a chance to avenge its loss to Canada earlier in this tournament, as well as two previous gold-medal-game losses (2002, 2010) to its frequent foe.
The US is aiming for its first gold since the 1998 Nagano Games, when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut.
Asked how much the US wants another shot at Canada, former Boston College standout Kelli Stack said, “A lot. I don’t think they can beat us two times in a row, especially with what’s on the line.
“It’s super competitive, and you’re working your butt off for 60 full minutes. Sometimes against other teams, you can take your foot off the gas a little bit and know they’re not going to score and it’s not going to be a close game.
“Against Canada, you’re really working hard for 60 full minutes.”
While Sweden upset rival Finland to reach the semifinals, it did not present the US with a challenge. With three goals in the first period, strong forechecking, and unmatched speed, the Americans knocked the Swedes off-balance and out of sorts almost from the start.
After Amanda Kessel poked a rebound past goaltender Valentina Wallner to put the US ahead, 3-0, with 8:41 left in the first period, Sweden called a timeout. Even partially covered by helmets, the faces of the Swedish players said it all. They were glassy-eyed and dejected, shocked by how easily the US kept scoring.
It was 5-0 by the end of the second period. In addition to Kessel, Alex Carpenter, Kacey Bellamy, Monique Lamoureux, Megan Bozek, and Brianna Decker all tallied goals for the US.
The lone bright spot for the Swedes came late in the third, when Anna Borgqvist scored their only goal.
Sweden finished with nine total shots, making for some interesting numbers. In the second period, Knight had six shots on goal, more than the entire Swedish team. She finished with 12, more than Sweden’s total for the game. Northeastern star forward Kendall Coyne (10) also had more shots than the Swedish team.
Given numbers like those, talk quickly switched to Canada.
“You didn’t see our best game the last time we played Canada,” said Knight. “We’ve been better [than Canada] all year, but that’s nothing to rest on. We’re just a fast, young, resilient, strong team. We’ve got a lot of skill, a lot of character.
“Canada is at the top of their game and we’re at the top of ours. It’s a great battle of the border there. It’s definitely a hot ticket.”
Stack sounded equally certain of an intense matchup and added, “I’m 100 percent confident in our team. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year. You wait four years or, basically, your whole life for this moment.
“So the veterans are trying to show the first-timers that losing in the gold-medal game is the worst possible feeling you could have in the world as a women’s hockey player. We’re going to be ready to go in that game.”
After the first semifinal, the prospect of another gold-medal match between the US and Canada raised the issue of parity in women’s hockey — or a lack of it. But even though the US brushed past Sweden into the final, Sweden assistant coach Leif Boork sees that rivalry as a positive.
“It can be a little problem for the world hockey that they are so powerful,” said Boork. “On the other hand, I think it’s something to help us improve our game. That’s not only players, but the organization, the planning, and the resources.
“It’s not the US and Canada’s fault being good. I think they should go on being good so we have something to look up to.”
With the gold medal at stake Thursday, the two powerhouses in women’s hockey should give the world a good game to watch, too.