SOCHI, Russia – The puck bounced off Kelli Stack’s chest, and before it could flutter back to the ice she bunted it out of the air, past Finland goalie Noora Raty and into the net.
“An ‘oops’ goal,” Finnish coach Mika Pieniniemi called it.
And it was just what the Americans needed.
Hilary Knight scored 53 seconds into the game and assisted on Alex Carpenter’s second-period goal as the United States turned back third-seeded Finland 3-1 to open the women’s hockey tournament Feb. 8 at the Sochi Olympics. Jesse Vetter stopped 14 shots for the Americans, who play Switzerland on Feb. 10 for a chance to clinch a spot in the semifinals.
Canada was scheduled to play Switzerland later in the day in the other opener for Group A, which includes all of the medal favorites. The Americans and Canadians are overwhelming favorites to reach the gold medal game, and Finland is expected to repeat for the bronze.
That’s mostly thanks to Raty, a two-time NCAA champion who went 41-0 at Minnesota in her senior year and made 58 saves to upset the Americans in a tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November. But the three-time Olympian was beaten on the first shot of the Sochi Olympics when a teammate gave the puck away at the blue line and Knight went in all alone.
“I was like, ‘All right, here it is. We’re going to score here,'” said Knight, who lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, and played for the University of Wisconsin. “When you get a goal, especially in the first minute, it always deflates the other team,”
Raty shut the Americans down for the next 27 minutes before Stack double-deflected a pass from Megan Bozek — Raty’s college roommate — to make it 2-0. With 4:01 left in the second period, the U.S. got another good bounce when Carpenter, the daughter of former NHL star Bobby Carpenter, backhanded the puck into the crease.
It deflected off a defender and behind Raty, to make it 3-0. “They got pretty lucky,” Raty said. “But you have to earn your luck.”
The Americans had said all week that they would need ugly goals to beat Raty, and U.S. coach Katey Stone made no apologies for how the puck went in.
“We talk a lot about how there are no snapshots on the scorecard,” said Stone, who is on leave from Harvard to coach Team USA. “If it’s an ugly one, it’s an ugly one. And sometimes against a fantastic goaltender that’s how you have to get it done.”
A crowd of more than 4,000 hadn’t even settled into its seats at the puck-shaped Olympic venue when Raty was beaten on the first shot. After a giveaway at the blue line, Knight took it in and shot over the goalie’s right shoulder.
But Raty wouldn’t let the game turn into a blowout.
“I always know that when you face the U.S. or Canada, it’s going to be 40 or 50 shots,” she said. “They are the huge favorites and we are the underdog.”
(Jimmy Golen, AP Sports Writer)