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WWHC: Team Canada vs Team Finland – What a Difference a Day Makes

April 9, 2012

For Team Canada, playing their second game of the tournament the next day after being stunned in a blow-out by the rival Team USA was a blessing.  The game against Finland provided an opportunity to immediately return to the ice without any time to stew over the loss.  Given the tournament format, it also meant that another loss could force Canada to play a quarter-final match for the first time.

Last year, Finland relied on the stellar goaltending of 2011 Championships star Noora Raty and this year was no different. With a young team, Raty was again the key to keeping her team in the game.  In previous years, Team Finland  would do their best to simply keep the puck out of their net, leading to a fairly boring style of game.  In the years since, their skill and confidence level have risen to the point where they still rely on goaltending, but are now very opportunistic on the offence. And rarely are the Finns outworked.

This game was a perfect example of such a game.  As expected, Canada came out and jumped all over Team Finland, but while they outshot the Finns 14-4 in the opening frame; they came away with only a 1-0 lead after the first period. Finland had few but significant opportunities and received the usual game-saving stops from Raty.  As game plans go, Finland was winning.

The second period was similar, with Canada scoring a goal only 13 seconds in and instead of taking advantage of a bodychecking penalty, they gave up a short-handed breakaway goal. Team Finland was staying in the game and Canada was unable to cash on their myriad chances.  The third period had Canada in the unenviable position of being only a goal up on a tenacious Finnish team.

Veteran Gillian Apps would go to the net and be rewarded when the puck deflected off her past Raty to briefly provide a 2 goal cushion. Briefly because the ever opportunistic Finns would edge within a goal when Finnish veteran Karoliina Rantamaki tipped in a powerplay goal just over a minute later.  Canada would manage to fend off Team Finland despite a dangerous hooking penalty assessed to Hayley Wickenheiser with only 22 seconds left in the period and the Finnish goal empty for a sixth attacker.

Although they registered their first win and played significantly better than they had in game 1, based on the looks on their faces at the end of the game; Team Canada realizes they still have a lot to work on if they expect to finish with the gold.  Too many good chances either didn’t make the net or were stopped.  Discipline was also an issue again as penalties in a close game gave the opposition opportunities while they were unable to score on their own powerplays. And there were still instances of standing around watching the play develop instead of making themselves available for breakouts or being aggressive.

Game 2 was an effective rebound from their miserable opening game, and Game 3 against Team Russia will be an opportunity to continue to build on that improvement.  Canada will have to want the puck more and want to win more than the other team – two aspects that appear to be lacking in consistency.  The drive and skill are there, we know they don’t want to lose and are in a position they’ve never been in before. I expect that drive to show up in the next game. In spades.

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