Since its first inclusion in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the United States has been synonymous with the medal stand in women's hockey. America has a proud tradition of success in major international women's team sports; the basketball program which has medaled in all nine Olympiads they've competed with seven golds and a current string of five straight dating back to 1996 in Atlanta; the soccer program with gold medals in four of the five Olympic tournaments and two World Cups; a softball program that won three of four Olympic golds and had a 22-game winning streak spanning three competitions.
The hockey program began with a similar Midas touch thanks to goals from Gretchen Ulion, Shelley Looney, and Sandra Whyte and spectacular goalkeeping by Sarah Teuting in a shocking 3-1 defeat of heavily favored Canada at Nagano. However since then the results have been a silver at Salt Lake City in 2002, bronze at Torino in 2006, and silver again at Vancouver in 2010 with the rival Canadians claiming all three golds. After opening the Sochi games with a 3-1 victory over Finland, the Americans faced Switzerland ahead of their group stage closing showdown with Canada.
Final Score: United States 9, Switzerland 0
First Period Recap: The first five minutes or so were very reminiscent of the slow sort of start Ducks fans have seen over the course of the season, with possession issues playing a large part of it. The Americans were content in the early going to chip and chase, not putting much pressure on the Swiss and eventually taking the first penalty of the game as Alex Carpenter got the gate for hooking in the offensive zone. Following a kill that would give starting US goalie Molly Schaus the majority of her action for the evening, the team kicked into gear.
After a solid spell of winning face-offs, establishing position along the boards and forcing the Swiss defense to ice the puck the US set up to strike. The Lamoureux sisters combined for the opening goal on a nice bit of play behind the net from Jocelyne, centering the puck to Monique who out-waited and opened up goalie Florence Schelling dragging the puck across the slot to snap a wrister home five-hole at the 9:20 mark. It would be just the spark the Americans needed to start a string of Olympic record play.
The US would win the ensuing face-off with Hilary Knight using the far wall to get the puck in deep for Amanda Kessel. Kessel then wheeled the puck out in front of the net where Brianna Decker was left largely untouched by the Swiss defense, allowing her to poke it through Schelling. On the following draw Kendall Coyne won the puck back to Amanda Kessel, who looked as if from a video game speeding up the far wall then curling into the slot, dragging the puck across the goal mouth in front of a downed Schelling to slam home a goal older brother Phil would be proud of at 10:15. It capped off a record-setting stretch of 55 seconds for the quickest three goals in women's Olympic history.
With their legs clearly under them the Americans continued to drive play, Coyne picking the pocket of Evelina Raselli at the US blue line then hitting the jets to get a breakaway that Schelling foiled with a poke-check and pad. Moments later with a delayed penalty against Switzerland, Knight chased down a secondary rebound of play in front by Kelli Stack to backhand in the fourth US goal. Then 1:19 later with Sarah Forster in the box for body checking Kessel sniped home her second of the game off a Coyne feed for a power play goal and a 5-0 advantage.
After an inauspicious start the US dominated the final 15 minutes or so of the period, out-shooting the Swiss 17-6 and taking advantage of seemingly every defensive breakdown. Meanwhile Switzerland was rarely granted real estate in front of Schaus, with all of their shots coming from the circles or further. In an intermission interview with Pierre McGuire, Decker said the team just needed to get their feet under them, and the team "(couldn't) take your foot off the gas. Gotta keep going, pounding the net."
Second Period Recap: The team would heed those words in the second stanza, albeit not getting to the danger areas as easily. Switzerland earned their second power play of the game when Nina Waidacher cut to the front of the net after a rebound, forcing Julie Chu to haul her down with a high stick. Meghan Duggan and Stack were the terrors on the forecheck killing the penalty, at multiple points each hemming multiple Swiss players in their own zone individually.
The Swiss showed more fire defensively in the period, making life difficult on the Americans who skated to the slot and front of the net. With the space taken away the offense turned to a more perimeter based attack, with the defenders getting involved by firing from the points and top of the circles. Just past the midway mark the Lamoureuxs combined on a pair of plays; first Jocelyne played give and go with Monique, rimming the puck deep before getting it back for a wrist shot from the right circle that Schelling snared. Moments later a near carbon copy of the play with roles reversed would set up Monique at the same spot where she ripped a wrister home short side at 13:26 for a 6-0 lead.
Board play continued to be a dominant theme throughout the game as emphasized by color commentator and member of the '98 team AJ Mleczko, who pointed out that the US was the only team that had deliberately drilled in practice to get used to the liveliness of the boards. [Ed Note: Watch for the Canadian and Swedish Men's teams to use those active boards with all the Red Wing influence -CK] With the Americans control of that aspect of the game it made for easier possession and a 16-2 shot advantage in the period as 40 minutes came to completion at 6-0.
Third Period Recap: It was almost as if Monique Lamoureux's words with Pierre between periods saying the US speed and transitions serving as the difference makers for the team were prophetic. Forty-nine seconds into the period Coyne won a puck battle behind the net and appeared to jam the puck across the goal line but the on-ice official missed the call. The play was reviewed after Kessel scored what would've been her hat-trick goal mere moments later, and Coyne's goal was the one that counted for the 7-0 marker. Coyne came through again just over three minutes later when Schelling denied Megan Bozek from the high slot, then two rebound whacks by Kessel before finally having the puck poked between the legs and in by the Northeastern University Husky.
With Switzerland absolutely smothered, the crowd turned to cheering anytime the Swiss could mount a move into the offensive zone, but each time the American defense would stand them up and shut them down. The US had a 5-on-3 power play around the midway mark of the period for 1:41 but couldn't convert thanks to heady goaltending from Schelling. The final tally came at 15:39 when Josephine Pucci lasered a pass from the defensive zone through center to spring Carpenter for a breakaway from the Swiss blue line, who then froze the goalie with a couple stick handles before whipping it top corner stick side.
When the final horn sounded on the fourth largest offensive output in women's Olympic history with the 9-0 win, the US had outshot Switzerland 53-10 on the game and held their opponents to only two shots in each of the final two periods. Were it not for the goaltending of Schelling the Americans could have very easily have challenged their record of 13 goals in a game, a 13-0 blistering of Russia at Vancouver in 2010. It was in all a sublimely speedy and supremely skilled showing in earning their second victory of the tournament's group stage.
The Good: After a slow start that had even the announcers wondering whether perhaps their minds were on Wednesday, the US asserted dominance in record-setting fashion and held it for the remainder of the game. That the biggest concerns in the final periods when the game was well in hand were a minuscule few instances of either poor shot selection or bad pass decisions augers well for Wednesday.
The Bad: Not only were the Swiss clearly out-gunned from a talent aspect, they did themselves no favors with soft play in the middle defensively in the first period. Against a team as speedy and skilled as the US it's a matter of picking your poison whether you scrape with them along the boards, or clog the interior and let them move the puck freely around the perimeter. Unfortunately for Switzerland they couldn't do either with any degree of success until the game was largely decided.
The Ugly: Part of the reason there have been discussions about whether or not women's hockey should remain in the Olympics is in large part due to results like these. After the US woke up the Swiss had absolutely nothing with which they could respond, and were held without a shot for long stretches of the second and third period.
Honorable Mention: Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling has faced exactly her last name in opening against the two toughest teams in the tournament. 109 saves on 122 shots is good for a .885 save percentage, certainly a highly respectable showing against the absolute class of the world.
3rd MVA: Monique Lamoureux - Lamoureux finished with a pair of goals including the game winner, and was a bull along the boards and in front of the net when needed.
2nd MVA: Amanda Kessel - After being held without a goal against Finland she broke out big time with two goals and an assist. Her power play goal in particular was a thing of beauty, fully showcasing those world class Kessel hands.
1st MVA: Kendall Coyne - Coyne lead the team with two goals and two assists, picking up the primary helper on both of the Kessel tallies. Her speed was game breaking and good things seemed to happen every time she was around the puck.
Next Game: Wednesday, February 12 at 4:30 AM PT versus Canada and will be televised by NBCSN. If you're up either early or late for it we'll have full Tweet By Play coverage.