SOCHI, Russia — All of the talk during the United States’ practice in advance of its women’s hockey semifinal matchup was about Sweden, their opponent.
It wasn’t until the players stepped off the sheet and the team met reporters that the topic of facing you-know-who for you-know-what arose.
“We’re not looking straight to the gold medal game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said Sunday. “We have a huge semifinal game against a great team (today), and we’ll worry about that one and then we’ll go from there.
“The media makes a bigger deal about the U.S. and Canada going right to the final than anyone else does,” added Duggan, a former University of Wisconsin standout.
The U.S. and Canada remain on a collision course but still have some business each team must attend to before that game can happen. Sweden stunned Finland in the quarterfinals to set up its date with Team USA in today’s first semifinal, then Canada faces off against Switzerland.
Four-time Olympian Julie Chu is expected to play after injuring her left hand during Saturday’s practice, and Jessie Vetter, a former UW athlete from Cottage Grove, will get the call in goal.
“We’re all fired up,” U.S. coach Katey Stone said. “The main thing is that our kids play their best hockey the next two games, individually and collectively.”
There is a history between the U.S. and Sweden. The Swedes defeated the Americans 3-2 in the semifinals of the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, the only time in 12 international meetings Sweden has beat the U.S. Sweden’s top scorer in Sochi, Pernilla Winberg (two goals and three assists), scored the winner in ’06 on a penalty shot.
Stone said she didn’t plan to use that loss as motivation.
Instead, the focus will be on a Sweden team that came out of Group B, which featured the lower-ranked teams in the tournament.
“They’re strong,” Stone said. “They play a great game through the neutral zone. They stretch kids, they handle the puck well, they’re patient, and their goaltender has done a good job. We’ve got to be ready to play our best game.”
Canada, meanwhile, has cruised through the tournament, including a 3-2 win over the U.S. in the preliminary round. The only potential stumbling block to an opportunity to play for a third consecutive gold medal is Swiss goalie Florence Schelling, who has the ability to steal a game.
Team Canada should receive an offensive boost with the Sochi debut of forward Haley Irwin, who hasn’t played due to an upper-body injury.