VANCOUVER – Displaying their trademark pit-bull aggression, Canada mauled Sweden 13-1 this afternoon at a sold-out, jam-packed Thunderbird Arena at UBC’s campus to clinch first place in Group A and set up a semi-finals date with either Finland or the United States on February 22.Click here for the photo gallery of the game.
Meghan Agosta had three goals and two assists while captain Hayley Wickenheiser had a goal and four assists. The two combined for 14 of Canada's 52 total shots.
It was one of the worst losses by the Swedes to Canada in international play, marginally better than the 15-1 score in the first World Women’s Championship in 1990 in Ottawa. The total number of goals for Canada in the preliminary round, 41, was also an Olympics record for a four-team, three-game group although still shy of the 50 scored by Canada in 1990.
"Our biggest focus coming in today was playing Sweden and not to look past them," said Gillian Apps. "I think things are really coming together with our team. We have a few days to prepare for the semis, and this is a really good environment to play in."
The game featured stretch passes and tic-tac-toe goals, a dominant and signature performance from captain Hayley Wickenheiser and Meghan Agosta, and an early warning call to the United States that the likely gold-medal matchup will be one played at high speed and skill. All Sweden could do at the end of this game was sigh, “wow” and head off the ice with overwhelmed admiration for Canada’s superior play this day.
"I don't think this [result] is good or bad for the sport," said Becky Kellar. "I just felt they were really off today. The key to our success is that we've put a lot of effort into our national team."
The inevitability of Canada scoring the first goal was undeniable. From the drop of the puck through the first 6:58 when Meghan Agosta got her tournament-leading sixth goal, the pressure on Swedish goalie Kim Martin was as effective as it was relentless.
Canada finally scored on a gorgeous series of plays. First, Caroline Ouellette made a superb cross-ice, saucer pass from blue line to blue line to Cherie Piper, who took the puck along the right boards in full flight to create a two-on-one with Agosta. At that critical moment when Agosta arrived at the top of the crease with stick down, Piper drilled a hard and perfect pass that her teammate had merely to re-direct past Martin, who was playing the shooter, of course.
A little more than three minutes later, Canada struck again, on the power play, on another magnificent passing play. Hayley Wickenheiser made a perfect stretch pass to Agosta on the fly, and this time Agosta fed Marie-Philip Poulin who walked in and roofed a backhand over Martin’s glove for a beautiful finish.
The Swedes were reeling not only from the speed and skill of the pace, but high-energy play and creativity they simply couldn’t match. At the 13-minute mark, the Canadians struck again, thanks to another long pass from Wickenheiser, this to Piper. Going at top speed, she took the pass at the Sweden blue line and walked in alone, her deke just squeezing through the pads of Martin.
The domination didn’t end there. At 15:27 Rebecca Johnston walked in off the right boards and fed a great backhand pass across the crease to Sarah Vaillancourt who beat the beleaguered Martin with another perfect shot.
Thirty seconds later, the game was already out of reach when Tessa Bonhomme followed her shot to the crease. Martin couldn’t control the rebound, and Bonhomme pushed it home for the ugliest goal of the period after four gems. The score was 5-0 after 20 of the most dominating minutes you’ll ever see between these teams. Shots were an incredible 23-2.
Nothing changed when teams came out for the second period. Just 66 seconds after the faceoff, all of which was played in the Swedish end, a mad scramble ensued and Agosta poked in a loose puck while all six Swedes tried to keep the puck out of the crease.
What could the Swedes do today? Caroline Ouellette made a sensational back-pass to the short side behind the goal and Jayna Hefford ripped it to the top corner with target-practise skill to make it 7-0.
And then everything Canada shot started to go in as if the entire team was Darryl Sittler playing in his ten-point game. Seconds later, they made it eight on a similar play except that Wickenheiser’s shot hit a defenceman, bounced off Martin’s glove, and dribbled into the net. Not many marks for artistic impression as with Hefford’s goal, but, as the expression goes, they all count.
The ninth goal came on another great pass, this from Haley Irwin to Gillian Apps. A distraught Martin remained in the net, but it was clear the Swedes had all but given up trying, a crucial mistake against a team they knew would never take the foot off the gas.
The tenth score came on a lucky bounce on a power play when Agosta’s point shot hit a defender and beat Martin to the near side as she moved to the far side to make the save. The goal was her third of the game—her second hat trick in three games—and eighth of the Olympics. Less than a minute later, coach Peter Elander mercifully pulled Martin and inserted Sara Grahn in the net.
Piper got her second when a Wickenheiser dash ended in a pass in front which went off Piper’s skate and past Grahn. The 12th goal, on the power play, was another borne of sheer luck. Irwin barely got her stick on a pass in the slot, but it deflected off the stick off Emma Nordin into the top corner with crazy accuracy.
The only consolation in this disastrous period for Sweden was successfully killing off a four-minute minor to Katarina Timglas which included 87 seconds of a 5-on-3 against the potent Canadian attack.
The third period began with Charline Labonte in goal for Canada after Kim St. Pierre played the first 40 minutes and faced a grand total of four shots (to Canada’s 43).
It took a while, but Canada added to the score line when Carla MacLeod’s pass in front banked of Apps’s skate and in. Sweden's only goal came from Timglas on a goalmouth scramble during a power play.
"It was a pretty rough one out there today," said Sweden's captain, Erika Holst, "but we stepped it up in the third period. To keep up with Canada you have to play a close game and get some bounces, but that didn't happen. It felt like every puck went in for them."
Canada has a lengthy break until it plays again, but the team isn't worried. "I don't think we're going to be complacent," Kellar said. "The coaching staff has reminded us that we have five days off, but we'll be ready for the semis, for sure."