By Lucas Aykroyd
On the strength of three-point nights from Danielle Goyette and Vicky Sunohara, Canada defeated Finland 5-0 Monday at the MTS Centre, securing a berth in Tuesday’s gold medal game (7:30 p.m. Winnipeg time) versus the defending champion Americans.
“The one thing I think we really did well this game was just working hard every shift,” said Team Canada Head Coach Melody Davidson. “That was really the only message the players were given tonight, apart from ‘chip the puck and outwit the goaltender.’”
As expected, the Finns will face Sweden in Tuesday’s early game (3:30 p.m.) for bronze. This was the fourth straight encounter with Canada in which they failed to score, dating back to the 2006 Olympic semi-finals in Turin (a 6-0 score).
“Even though we lost this game, I’m very proud of my team,” said Finnish Head Coach Hannu Saintula. “Today they did a good job and tried to do everything we had planned for the game.”
“The only problem was the Canadians,” Saintula added with a laugh. “I have met with this problem before! I really hope that the Canadians are number one tomorrow.”
Canada will be gunning for its ninth all-time IIHF World Women’s Championship. Previous triumphs came in 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2004. Heading into the gold medal game, Canada’s players have won a total of 55 IIHF World Women’s Championship titles altogether. The host nation will look to regain the title it lost to the USA in a shootout final in 2005.
“It’s a great rivalry, and they’re a great team,” said Sunohara. “We want [the title] back. I think if we come out, play our game, play hard, and don’t so much ‘watch them,’ we’ll be OK.”
Goyette, who entered action with a remarkable 54 career points versus Finland in 36 games, boosted her totals with a goal and two assists. Sunohara picked up three assists, and Kelly Bechard and Tessa Bonhomme added a goal and an assist apiece. Sarah Vaillancourt posted a pair of helpers, and Gina Kingsbury and Hayley Wickenheiser had the other goals for Canada. Wickenheiser tops the tournament scoring race with 13 points, and has lit the red light in all four Canadian games.
“So far we’re doing pretty well, but we still want to improve,” said Bonhomme. “We want to come out flying tomorrow and put on a little bit better of a show.”
In her second tournament start, goalie Kim St-Pierre recorded 22 saves for the shutout, becoming the first-ever goaltender to reach 50 all-time wins with Team Canada.
“We’re fortunate with our goaltending that we’re so deep,” said Davidson. “I thought she did a great job, and in traditional Team Canada fashion, we didn’t give up many shots.”
Finnish netminder Noora Raty took her second straight loss with her weakest performance in Winnipeg, making 39 saves on 44 shots.
“Today, they scored a few easy goals,” Raty admitted.
Attendance was 10,761.
For stretches in the first period, the Finns managed to slow the play down, disrupt Canada’s breakout patterns, and generate odd-man rushes. But they couldn’t sustain their defensive effort over 60 minutes, and their offensive flurries were brief indeed. Meanwhile, Canada capitalized on the chances it created, using its mobility and strength.
Forty-five seconds into the game, Raty was forced to make a great pad save on Gillian Apps’s cross-crease feed to Wickenheiser. A couple of minutes later, Raty foiled Bechard from the slot, and shortly afterwards, she came out to challenge successfully on Cheryl Pounder’s long-range drive.
At 10:25, Canada opened the scoring when Goyette circled the Finnish net and centered the puck to Bechard, who slid it under Raty’s left pad.
A couple of minutes later, Bonhomme scored her first-ever World Championship goal after accepting a feed from Goyette in the left faceoff circle and unleashing a wrister that hit Raty and flipped up over her and into the net.
The veterans came through with Canada’s 3-0 goal with 2:45 left in the first period. After Finland did some stifling forechecking in the Canadian end, Sunohara burst out down right wing and knifed a backhanded cross-ice pass to Goyette, who neatly tipped it home past Raty’s right skate.
Canada continued to press in the second period. During a mid-period power play, Sunohara hit the post and then nearly fooled Raty with a long drive. Wickenheiser cashed in at 9:45, just after the Finnish penalty expired, scoring on a partially flubbed one-timer from the slot after Sarah Vaillancourt stepped off the half-boards and fed her a nice pass.
The Finns got their first power play of the night late in the second period, but only managed one close-in chance. Later, when the fleet-footed Karoliina Rantamaki tried to break loose, the Canadian defence stayed right on top of her.
At 1:36 of the final stanza, Gina Kingsbury skated into the Finnish zone and launched a wrister that squeaked under the arm of Raty, who reached back helplessly and ended up gloving the puck into her own net to make it 5-0.
With the victory salted away, Canada’s pace slowed, as the focus shifted to avoiding injuries and getting ready for the Americans.
Finland’s Kati Kovalainen was injured late in the third period after crashing into her net and was taken off for medical attention. With about two minutes left, St-Pierre made two of her best saves back-to-back on Rantamaki and Saara Tuominen.
The result lifts Canada’s all-time record versus Finland to 40 wins and one tie.
Canada’s starting five included defencemen Gillian Ferrari and Delaney Collins, plus forwards Vicky Sunohara, Kelly Bechard, and Danielle Goyette. Finland countered with defencemen Emma Laaksonen and Saija Sirvio, plus forwards Nora Tallus, Katja Riipi, and Karoliina Rantamaki.
Sunohara was Canada’s Player of the Game, and Laaksonen was chosen for Finland.
A pre-game ceremony commemorated the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and Canada’s war dead from World War I.
During the second intermission, another ceremony featured representatives for four outstanding Manitoba teams: the 1920 Winnipeg Falcons (Olympic gold), 1931 University of Manitoba Grads (World Championship gold), 1932 Winnipegs (Olympic gold), and 1935 Winnipeg Monarchs (World Championship gold). Banners were raised to the rafters of the MTS Centre to recognize their achievements.