SOCHI, Russia -- Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho) and Anne Schleper (St. Cloud, Minn.) scored and goaltender Jessie Vetter (Cottage Grove, Wis.) turned away 28 shots, but the U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team fell to Canada, 3-2, in its final game of group play in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Shayba Arena. With the loss, Team USA will be the No. 2 seed in the medal round and learn its opponent for Monday's (Feb. 17) semifinal this weekend.
Knight scored the game's first goal with a power-play marker at 17:34 of the middle frame. After working the puck around the perimeter, Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.) sent a pass to Schleper at the right point. Schleper fired a high shot through traffic in front, where Knight redirected the puck past goaltender Charline Labonte.
The United States carried the 1-0 advantage into the third period, but Team Canada responded with a pair of goals in the first 3:54 of the frame. On the power play, Meghan Agosta evened the score at 2:21 when she buried a net-front pass from Hayley Wickenheiser. Then, 1:33 later, Wickenheiser wristed a shot from the right circle that ricocheted off of Vetter and a U.S. defender before trickling over the goal line to give Canada a 2-1 edge.
Agosta made it 3-1 Canada on a breakaway goal at 14:55. With Vetter pulled for an extra attacker, Schleper narrowed the deficit to one goal with a slapshot from the left circle at 18:55. Team USA gained a power play with 31 seconds left, but could not tally the equalizer.
The U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team will be off until Monday (Feb. 17) when it will play in the semifinals of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Team USA will learn its opponent following Saturday's (Feb. 15) quarterfinals.
In any game, from 12U to pros to adult hockey, a single turnover can change the complexity of the competition, especially in crunch time. Make a poor pass at neutral ice, lose focus on a line change, get outworked on the forecheck or backcheck, and quite often the end result will be the puck in the back of your own net.
Simply put, a key for any team that wants to be successful is to be on the “right” side of the puck possession battle – to avoid losing the puck and excel at stealing it. It only makes sense that if you possess the puck more than your opponent, your chances of winning will increase. According to former NHLer Lance Pitlick, creating turnovers and regaining puck possession is a skill and one that can be learned, regardless of your age or stage of your hockey-playing career.
“If you don’t have the puck, you can’t score,” said Pitlick, who played 12 seasons in professional hockey, including time with the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers. “A point I try to drive home to players is that we want to get out of the defensive zone as quickly as possible because those are hard minutes. Let’s get into the offensive zone, where the minutes are easier. Once you create those turnovers and spend more time with the puck on offense, it’s a better return on your (physical) investment.”
Pitlick is currently an off-ice stickhandling, shooting and puck possession guru, who has worked with over 1,000 players of all ages and skill sets, through two websites – onlinehockeytraining.com and sweethockeycoach.com. His web-based programs provide a step-by-step teaching model, with a library of video drills organized into instructional modules that can be accessed on any digital device.
Pitlick offers the following tips for adult players to get better at creating turnovers and regaining the puck as quickly as possible:
Take away time and space – For a less experienced player, an easy first approach is to try to take away time and space on the ice. Work on trying to get to the player with the puck as quickly as you can, forcing them to make decisions a lot sooner than they want to. This may make them bobble the puck and hopefully create a turnover.
Practice the tenacious forecheck – It’s not always the most talented team that comes out on top, it’s the team that outworks the other one. The forecheck is where most turnovers take place, either in the offensive zone or when there’s a rink-wide pass. It’s about gaining quick proximity to the puck and winning battles, especially along the boards. If you get close enough to a player with the puck, try to lift his/her stick with your stick, steal the puck and skate away as fast as possible.
Keep your stick on the ice – You always want your stick blade in what you think is the passing lane, so your opponent has to pass over or around it. If you have good angles and anticipation and keep your stick down, there’s a good chance you’ll disrupt things.
Come back to the house – When your opponents have possession, regardless of what they’re doing on the exterior, you know that eventually they’ll be coming to the net. So, tighten everything there, make sure they have to skate, pass or shoot through bodies to get a good scoring chance. It’s important on defense to “gap up” so it’s tougher to enter the offensive zone and possess the puck.