SOCHI, Russia - The last time the U.S. Women’s National Team faced off against Finland, Noora Raty was laughing to herself and had American players wondering what they had to do to score.
Raty’s 58-save performance powered Finland to a 3-1 victory at the 2013 Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., and sent ripples through the women’s hockey world, marking the first time the U.S. missed out on playing in the championship game in the 18-year history of the event. The U.S. did not participate in the 2001 tournament in Finland due to the 9/11 attacks.
A similar result here on Saturday in the opening game of the women’s Olympic hockey tournament would send seismic tremors through a sport that is desperate for parity at the international level.
“I just remember that I was extremely lucky, but I guess I earned my luck,” Raty said of her effort back in November.
“At one point I remember I was laughing ‘how am I making all these saves.’ It was one of those games where you get in a zone and nothing goes by you. I hope the same thing happens tomorrow because that’s going to be needed.”
One major difference, Raty said, is that this time Amanda Kessel will be in the lineup for the U.S. The two were teammates on the University of Minnesota squad that won back-to-back NCAA titles. They were also finalists, along with their Gopher teammate Megan Bozek, for the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award.
“She’s the best player in the world right now,” Raty said. “It’s a good thing for other teams that she hasn’t been able to play the whole year, she would be a rock star if she was able to play the whole year.
“We need to be aware that she’s on the ice or for sure she will find the back of the net. It’s going to be a lot of fun to go against her. We had some real good battles in practice the past couple of years and I think we made each other better players.”
While a groin injury sidelined her for all of the Bring on the World Tour, Kessel has declared herself as 100 percent and ready to go in her first Olympics. And she can think of no better way to kick things off than to face her friend and former teammate.
“I think it should be interesting to watch because I know her spots and she knows where I like to shoot as well,” Kessel said. “I guess I can give my teammates a few good tips.”
Getting to Raty early may be a key for the U.S. squad that still remembers the events in Lake Placid more than three months earlier.
“I don’t think there is any secret to beating her. If there is I haven’t found it yet. She’s a world-class goaltender,” said Megan Bozek, who led the U.S. attack with 11 shots on Raty the last time they met.
“She’s kept Finland in many games and was a big reason why they upset us at the Four Nations. Shots. Lots of shots early on, keep shooting and get people in front of the net.”
The victory in Lake Placid, which the Finns call their own “Miracle on Ice,” has provided the team with a shot of confidence heading into Sochi.
“We haven’t had much success against them in the past four years. I think the last time we beat them was before Vancouver so it was a confidence builder for our team and especially the younger players,” Raty said.
For their part, the Finns have spent hours watching the tape of the game and will look to exploit any weakness to gain an advantage.
“I remember that we killed a lot of penalties in that game so we can learn from what we did on the PK and what they’re going to try to do on their power play,” Raty said. “But we’ve played them quite a few times over the last few years so we know what to expect.”
As much as the victory was a shot in the arm for the Finns, it provided a kick in the pants for the Americans, who made some changes to their training regiment heading down the homestretch. Among those changes has been the implementation of small area games into every U.S. practice.
“Back in November I didn’t think we were a very good team so we went to condensing what we were doing, forcing them to make decisions faster, using better support, coming back to the puck,” said U.S. head coach Katey Stone.
And while they know that much of the focus will on the Finnish netminder, the Americans know that they need to worry about themselves and play their own style of attacking hockey if they want to be successful.
“She’s an incredible goalie, and she has a solid team in front of her, too,” said U.S. power forward Lyndsey Fry. “But we’re a different team now, and we’re going to throw everything at her. I think if we play our game we can put pucks behind her.
“We’ve just grown so much. The last time we played them was in November and here we are. Our goal is to get better every day and I think we’ve done that. We’re a better team than we were back then, and I’m sure she’s a better goalie so it’s going to be a great battle.”
March 27, 2017 | When USA Hockey implemented its American Development Model in 2009, one element of the nationwide age-appropriate training blueprint sparked more debate than any other: cross-ice hockey for 8U players. In the years since, an abundance of evidence, both data-driven and anecdotal, has proven the developmental advantages of cross-ice hockey.
This week, Hockey Canada announced that it too will introduce its players to the game through cross-ice play beginning in 2017-18.
“Re-sizing the playing surface to cross-ice or half-ice means more puck touches, which result in more chances to practice puck control and shooting, as well as overall more movement and motor skill-development – twisting, turning, balance, coordination, agility,” said Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada, in a release today. “Their field-of-play matches their size, and these players hone in on their skill-development in a way that larger ice surfaces just aren’t conducive to.”
The Grassroots Show on Ottawa’s TSN 1200 weighed in on the decision. Click the audio link below to hear how Canada is embracing cross-ice hockey for the coming season and beyond.
Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, appeared on the Grassroots Show to discuss the nationwide shift to cross-ice hockey, beginning this fall for 5- and 6-year-olds and expanding to all of Canada's Novice (8U) level in 2018-19.
“When you see 10 or 12 or 14 or 16 kids out on the ice in between periods and they’re playing 200-by-85 and 3 or 4 kids touch the puck in that whole six minutes, yet there’s people in the stands clapping and thinking it’s wonderful, I just can’t help but think about the 95 percent of the children that didn’t even touch the puck or get from one end of the rink to the other and I ask myself what are we doing when the opportunity is certainly there to have 30 kids on the ice playing cross-ice and everyone is having a much better opportunity to touch the puck, skate a shorter distance and really play. It just boggles my mind,” said Renney.
“We completely embrace, at the Initiation level and the Novice level, cross-ice hockey and we have mandated that in the Initiation program and we will mandate it across the country in Novice hockey.
“This is about the pure enjoyment of the game, and your first connection with it has to be something that’s pure fun, on a surface of play that is conducive to much more participation and joy.”