The Canadian women's hockey team enters Sochi as the thee-time defending gold medalist, and it opened its defense in Sochi in fine fashion Friday by blowing out an over-matched Swiss team by a score of 5-0 in Canada's opening contest of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Canada entered its tilt against Switzerland as a 9.5-goal favorite, according to Bovada, and it was easy to see why from the opening faceoff. Canada didn't score in the first minute like the rival Americans did against Finland, but it took the Canadians just 1:25 to jump out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by first-time Olympian Jocelyne Larocque, per Joe Pascucci of Global News:
The goal was a culmination of an opening barrage by the black-clad Canadians who very nearly scored several times in the opening minute. Swiss goalie Florence Schelling of Northeastern University was up to the task, but she received no help whatsoever from her defense.
Switzerland's defense fittingly resembled Swiss cheese early in the first period as it failed to clear away a rebound 6:30 in, which allowed Canadian defenseman Tara Watchorn to capitalize, according to Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun:
Although Canada continued to pepper Schelling, Switzerland was actually able to settle in a bit after going down 2-0. The Canadians continued to generate pressure on a pair of power plays, however, Schelling was locked in and unwilling to allow her team to face an even larger deficit.
By the time the first period mercifully came to an end, the Swiss were somehow still in contention with Canada leading by two goals, but they had been out-shot by an incredible 29-3 margin, per Dan Seguin of CBC Ottawa:
The tide seemed to be turning a bit in Switzerland's favor at the start of the second period, especially when the Swiss went on the power play following a high sticking call against Canada's Lauriane Rougeau.
After getting a couple shots on goal, Switzerland made a fatal error by attempting a drop pass in its own zone. Canadian Olympic flag bearer Hayley Wickenheiser jumped all over that mistake and beat Schelling top shelf for a shorthanded goal to extend the lead to three, according to CBC's Mike Brophy:
The 35-year-old Wickenheiser is appearing in her fifth Winter Games, and she extended her career record for Olympic goals with her 17th marker.
At 22 years of age Marie-Philip Poulin has already proven to be a big-time player under pressure. She scored both Canadian goals in Team Canada's gold medal win over Team USA in 2010 when she was just 18, and she picked up where she left off on Friday.
Canada's deadly transition game was at work once again, and some nifty passing creating a three-on-one situation. After a perfect pass from Jayna Hefford, Poulin deposited the puck in the back of a wide open net to make it 4-0, per NHL on NBC Sports:
Switzerland took a timeout in order to regroup, but the floodgates had already busted open. Just a few minutes after Poulin's goal, she got into the act once again by setting up Rebecca Johnston, who was rewarded for going hard to the Swiss net:
That goal gave Canada a 5-0 advantage heading into the final stanza, having tested Schelling on 48 occasions to just eight shots for the Swiss. While Schelling was busy through two periods, Canada's potential record-breaking pace for shots on goal was slowed considerably in the second frame, per Dave Stubbs of The Montreal Gazette:
Although Canada continued to carry the pace of play in the third period, things were far more competitive in the closing 20 minutes. Neither team netted a goal, but Switzerland got a couple of opportunities and nearly got on the board.
Ultimately, Canadian goalie Charline Labonte came away with the most routine of shutouts having to make just 14 saves on the game.
The same couldn't be said for Schelling, who barely had time to catch her breath. Despite Switzerland's loss, it can be argued that Schelling was the best player in game, According to John Shannon of Sportsnet, Schelling faced 69 shots, stopping all but five:
Although Switzerland will almost certainly have to play a quarterfinal game in order to earn a shot at a medal, it is definitely a threat to take bronze due to Schelling's ability to steal a game.
Canada's showing against Switzerland was particularly impressive considering what it has gone through as of late. Former Florida Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen took over as Canada's head man in December, and Team Canada struggled to the tune of four exhibition losses to Team USA.
Hefford doesn't believe that Canada ever lost confidence, though, according to Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press:
It was challenging in a lot of ways. Confidence-wise as an athlete, you lose and you lose and you never want to be in that position where losing becomes OK and it becomes normal. I don't think we got to that point. Sometimes it comes down to the veterans saying, 'This has happened before and you're going to feel good and we've got to push through this and believe in that plan.'
Canada clearly had a great attitude during its win against Switzerland, and if it is able to keep that up moving forward, then a fourth consecutive gold medal may very well be on the horizon.
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