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Canada’s road to women’s hockey gold goes through upset-hungry Finns

Canada's road to gold goes through Finns

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — An improved Finland team has made Canada’s path to the gold-medal game at women’s world hockey championship steeper and bumpier than it once was.

The Finns posted their first ever win over the Canadians with a 4-3 upset in the preliminary round. The stakes will be higher when the teams meet again in the semifinals on Thursday.

Another upset and Canada will not play for gold for the first time in the 18-year history of the women’s championship.

“We have something to prove now,” Canadian head coach Laura Schuler said Wednesday.

Defending champion United States takes on surprise semifinalist Germany on Thursday.

The Germans were promoted from the second-tier world championship, but finished atop Pool B at 2-1 and upset Russia, last year’s bronze medallist, in the quarters. The medal games are Friday.

Canada’s forwards worked on puck movement below the face off circles, while the defence ran through their breakouts in Wednesday’s skate at USA Hockey Arena practice.

In their third season under coach Pasi Mustonen, the Finns play a more sophisticated game than their defence-first philosophy prior to the 2014 Olympic Games.

Finland now pressures Canada coming out of their own zone with different looks, and also forces Canada’s shooters to the outside where goaltender Noora Raty can get a read on what’s coming.

The Canadians know from watching the U.S. score goals on the Finns that a physical price will have to be paid to do the same.

“We’re going to have to win our battles in front of the net, put a lot of pucks there and we’re going to have to get those rebounds,” Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin said.

“The U.S., there were no clean goals and they had to get those rebounds. For us, we’re going to have to do the same thing because we know Raty can win a game by herself.”

The U.S. went 3-0 in Pool A with Canada, Finland and Russia finishing 1-2. Canada ranked second in their pool because of a superior goal differential and earned the bye to the semifinals.

Finland is coming off a 4-0 shut out of Sweden in the quarter-finals.

The Finns have beaten the United States before at the world championship, but Raty believes Canada’s reliance on systems allows her team to use counter tactics.

“The U.S. has so much individual skill. Their offence, you give them space they create scoring chances,” the 13-year veteran said.

“Canada is more systems and the team, I think. It just fits our style better. They’re more skating, skating, straightforward. It’s just a good match for us.”

Schuler will not announce her starter until Thursday, but Shannon Szabados is likely as she’s given up just two goals in two games.

Assistant captain Haley Irwin didn’t skate Wednesday. Schuler said Irwin will play in the semifinal.

“We thought for her it would be best to take the day off so we can get the best out of her going forward,” Schuler said.

Canada had a shaky start the last time the world championship was held on American ice back in 2012. They were blown out by the hosts 9-2 in the preliminary round in the most lopsided loss ever to the U.S.

But Canada beat the U.S. in overtime for gold in Burlington, Vt.

Poulin says Sunday’s team dinner helped them regroup after opening with back-to-back losses in Plymouth.

“Those were big losses for us, but I think that’s when opportunity happens,” the captain said. “Adversity, we’ve got to through that to make it happen at the end.

“For us, we just had the team together to feel good and forget about that.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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