US Olympic Hockey Team 2014: Women Prove They Are Team to Beat in Sochi

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIFebruary 17, 2014

Members of Team USA pack into the opening of the net for a photograph before the first period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's semifinal ice hockey game against Sweden at Shayba Arena, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool)
Bruce Bennett/Associated Press

It's official: The United States women's ice hockey team is in the finals. Its opponent has yet to be determined—it will face either Canada or Switzerland—however, it may not matter. Team USA has already proven it is the team to beat after a decisive 6-1 win against Sweden on Monday.

This team has been on a tear since it arrived in Sochi. After starting off with a 3-1 win against Finland, the Americans demolished Switzerland by a score of 9-0.

They had a brief hiccup against Canada, losing by a score of 3-2 in a highly contested game, but immediately regrouped and showed their dominance once again on Monday against Sweden.

Through four games played, the U.S. women's team has scored 20 goals and has taken an amazing 193 shots. On the defensive side, it has allowed just five goals, as goalkeepers Jessie Vetter and Molly Schaus have combined to save a total of 60 shots—a save percentage of .933.

Offensively, this is a very deep team—10 different players have scored at least one goal during the tournament. Of those players, six have scored two goals or more.

On Monday against Sweden, this offensive depth was on display once again. Six different players accounted for the team's six goals scored. This team clearly doesn't rely on just a handful of athletes to get the job done; it has an enormous amount of talent on every line.

Not only does Team USA have a deep, talented roster, but these women have terrific chemistry. It is this rapport that allowed them to bounce back with a big win after losing to Canada.

During an interview with Shira Springer of The Boston Globe, forward Hilary Knight was reminded of the need to play fundamental team hockey after the 3-2 loss:

We didn't play Team USA-style hockey. 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.

Coach Katey Stone also spoke of the need for each player to be accountable for their actions:

At this stage of the game, at this level, you've got to be personally accountable for your own play. 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.

Stone rallied the troops, stuck to the game plan and watched has her squad flourished against Sweden.

There are two things to take away from this.

First, the Americans proved they can rally and flourish in the face of adversity. They proved that they can win on the largest of stages and work together as a team.

Second, the loss to Canada may have been a necessary one. It served as a wake-up call for this team. It reminded the women what could transpire if they lose focus. Needless to say, that previous performance will certainly be on their minds during the finals, especially if they face Canada again.

The taste of the United States' silver-medal performance in Vancouver is still strong in the mouths of many of these athletes. They are one step closer to obtaining the ultimate goal—an Olympic gold medal. They have not accomplished that feat since 1998 and will be aiming for a return to glory.

The final game of the 2014 Olympics will take place on Thursday, and no matter which opponent this team faces, rest assured the United States will be ready.