Both Team USA and Team Finland chose to sit out the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The belief was that, due to the early start time, it was best for each team to forego the ceremony and focus on the upcoming game. Both teams are believed to be strong contenders to medal this year and, in their minds, every advantage must be taken. For one team that plan worked out in the end. The US women defeated the Finnish women by a final score of 3-1.
Just 53 seconds into the game, on the first shot on net for the US, Hilary Knight scored to put the US up 1-0. She intercepted a turnover by Finland defenseman, Emma Terho, and fired a shot over the pads of Finland’s goaltender, Noora Räty. Shortly after that, Finland took a penalty to put the US on the power play. The US did not score, but the Finnish goaltender was kept busy. Not even five minutes into the game, the United States had already set the tone for the game. Given the way their last game against Finland ended, it was just the start the United States needed.
The Finland women defeated the US in the Lake Placid finals in November, backstopped by Räty, who made an astounding 58 saves in a 3-1 victory. Raty was also the goaltender in net when Finland beat the United States in the 2008 World Championships. She went undefeated during her final season at the University of Minnesota, earning 38 wins and a national championship. During her time at Minnesota, she was a teammate to many of the US women she faced Saturday morning when the Sochi Winter Olympics got underway. .
Amanda Kessel was one of those teammates. She has had a lot of practice against Räty, calling her “good technically” with the ability to “frustrate you all night.” She had a chance to end that frustration in the second period, beating the Finnish goaltender with a shot over the left shoulder, but the shot hit the post and stayed out of the net. Luckily for her and for her team, Kelli Stack and Alex Carpenter scored later in the period, increasing the United States’ lead to 3-0. Finland’s Susanna Tapani scored on the power play late in the third period to break the shutout of US goaltender, Jesse Vetter, but that was the only mark against the United States in an otherwise dominate performance.
Kessel, the sister of Toronto Maple Leaf forward Phil Kessel, hopes to use the Sochi Olympics to carve her own path and get out from her brother’s shadow. She has an impressive resumé in her own right, scoring 97 goals in 114 games during her time at the University of Minnesota and being a key part of two national championships for the team, but due to her brother’s stardom in one of hockey’s biggest cities, she remains bombarded with questions about her brother, even in Sochi. Amanda gave her support for her brother in a statement.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” she said, ” To be in the same games as him, I’m pretty excited.”
Winning a gold will do a lot to make the interviews more about her and less about her brother. With the defeat of Finland, the US women are on their way to reaching that prize. The next match for the United States is Team Switzerland on Monday, then a big match against Team Canada on Wednesday, another strong contender to the hockey gold medal in the Sochi Winter Olympic games. With the first game under their belt, the path to the finals is underway.
By Jonathan Gardner