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U.S. Women's Hockey Team Heads Into Semifinals at Worlds, With Eyes On Canada

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At the ongoing Women’s World Hockey Championship in Switzerland, the U.S. women’s hockey team is racking up some formidable statistics: 27 goals scored and only two let in.

But as the U.S. heads into the semifinal round this weekend with the hopes of meeting Canada in the championship game on Monday, the women know all too well from last year’s Olympics that two goals can be the difference between gold and silver. Last year in Vancouver, with home court advantage, the Canadians beat the Americans 2-0 to secure their third-consecutive Olympic Gold.

So far the American team has had little trouble handling their opponents: On Sunday, the women bested Slovakia 5-0 in their lowest scoring game; the next day they beat Russia 13-1; and on Wednesday they breezed through Sweden with a 9-1 win. But the preliminary blowouts give little indication how the U.S. will fare against their only true competition.

The world championships -- and the world of hockey itself -- have historically belonged to the Canadian women. They have won nine of the 12 tournaments since 1990. But the U.S. women’s team has recently gained ground. It won for the first time in 2005 and then followed up a few years later with back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.

American players to watch this weekend include newcomer Brianna Decker, a University of Wisconsin sophomore who has three goals and five assists and was named U.S. Player of the Game against Slovakia, and Hillary Knight, another Wisconsin player who is leading the team in scoring so far with four goals and has seven assists. Julie Chu, the first Asian-American women to play for the U.S. Olympic team, has also been turning heads: She’s scored one goal, six assists and was named U.S. Player of the Game after the Russia-U.S. game.

On the Canadian side, goalkeeper Shannan Szabados, who blocked all 28 U.S. shots during last year’s Olympic match up, is back in net and has yet to let in a single goal during worlds. And they’ve been racking up points, as well. The women kicked off the tournament with a 12-0 win over Switzerland, including a hat trick from Cherie Piper, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who scored 60 goals during her four years playing for Dartmouth. Marie-Philip Poulin, the 20-year-old who scored both of Canada’s goals during the Olympic game against the U.S., is another player to watch. She’s posted three goals herself during the preliminary rounds. In total, Canada’s scored 21 goals without letting in one.

Of course, first the U.S. and Canada have to make it to Monday’s gold medal game. On Saturday, Canada will have to beat Finland in the semi-finals to advance. The team already beat Finland on Tuesday 2-0 in a low-scoring game that head coach Ryan Walter said would help prepare the women for the Americans.

“I thought a couple of our girls were a little frustrated after two periods or a period and a half and we can't get frustrated,” Walter said. “These are the games we're going to win a gold medal with."

The U.S. will play the winners of Friday evening’s Switzerland-Russia match up. Neither team should pose too great of a challenge; Canada crushed Switzerland 12-0 last Saturday, while the U.S. beat Russia 13-1 on Monday.

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