TURIN, Italy -- Members of Canada's women's hockey team had anticipated they'd play the U.S. for the Olympic gold medal. The U.S. women's 3-2 semifinal loss to Sweden yesterday changed that, producing a mixture of pride and sympathy from the Canadian players after their 6-0 semifinal rout of Finland carried them into Monday's championship game.
"When we thought about playing for the gold medal, in our heads our vision was always playing against the Americans," forward Jayna Hefford said. "It was definitely a surprise. They've been a great team. But it's also an exciting game for Sweden."
Canada and the U.S. have had a stranglehold on women's hockey supremacy. The U.S. won the first women's Olympic tournament, at Nagano in 1998, but Canada prevailed at Salt Lake City four years later. Canada has won eight of nine world championships, the only exception a victory by the U.S. last year.
Here, Canada (4-0) has outscored its opponents, 42-1. That tally includes an 8-1 rout of Sweden last Tuesday, although standout Swedish goalie Kim Martin sat out that game because of a minor knee problem. Sweden is 3-1, having scored 18 goals and allowed 11.
"If we can win against the U.S., we can win over Canada, also," Swedish forward Pernilla Winberg said. The U.S. team will play for the bronze medal Monday.
Canadian forward Jennifer Botterill said she felt for the U.S. players, despite the fierce rivalry the teams have sustained over the years.
"It's tough," she said. "We know a lot of girls on the U.S. team. But for the game itself, women's hockey, it's a good thing."
Botterill said she and her teammates were focused on their own performance, but they had noticed stellar goaltending against the U.S.
"Kim Martin played really well for them, and I'm sure they're going to be gaining momentum," Botterill said.
Said Danielle Goyette of Canada, who carried her country's flag into the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony, "I'm happy for Sweden, but at the same time sad for the U.S. On the ice, nobody likes each other, but off the ice we have a lot of respect for pretty much everybody on that team.
"This is a great feeling, especially after all week everybody was saying that the gap after the U.S. and Canada is so big."
Helene Elliott writes for the Los Angeles Times.