VANCOUVER – Thursday's gold-medal game between the women's hockey teams of Canada and the USA has been in the minds of players for months.
Well, actually years. But, now, after Canada dismissed Finland with a 5-0 semifinal win at a noisy and happy Canada Hockey Place Monday night, that grudge match is next.
It's gonna be good.
"We have put in a lot of hard work over months, even years, for this game," said veteran scorer Jennifer Botterill after the victory. "I feel like this season has been our most intense, demanding training."
Team Canada captain Hayley Wickenheiser said her team has "unfinished business" facing the Americans, clearly talking about the USA winning the last two world championships, including a dominant 4-1 win in 2009.
"On the biggest stage, they have won the biggest games," she said.
Maybe so, but Canada has won the last two gold medals, beating Sweden in 2006 and the U.S. in 2002. Team USA was especially crushed in 2006, losing to Sweden and goalie Kim Martin in a shootout that made many of the American team members wait four more years until this Thursday to get another shot at gold. Martin was chased from the net earlier Monday in a 9-1 rout in the other semifinal game.
The Canadians continued their Olympic onslaught on home ice, scoring four more goals to make it 42 in four games so far.
Meaghan Agosta is leading the way for Canada with nine goals (an Olympic record already) and five assists. She had one of each Monday night, though Canada coach Melody Davidson said Agosta "didn't have her best game of the tournament."
No doubt Davidson is already working on motivating her top players.
"She is really coming into her own as part of our next generation of players," Davidson continued. "We are fortunate to have more than one generation to rely on."
True enough. Agosta played on the 2006 gold medal team, while Botterill and Wickenheiser played in both 2002 and 2006. Wickenheiser was also part of the 1998 silver medal team that lost to the U.S.
Then there's newcomer Haley Irwin, who scored a pair against Finland, one in each of the first two periods, and was basically a shot-on-goal machine all night. Irwin now has four goals in her first Olympics.
"I really like how Haley plays with such even keel for a young player," Wickenheiser told NHL.com after the game.
The Canadians could have easily doubled the score if not for the heroic efforts of Finn goalie Noora Raty, who faced 50 -- count 'em, 50 -- shots and made at least a dozen saves that would be sure goals most nights. Raty was still battling late in the game, stopping shots from all positions before giving up a late goal to alternate captain Caroline Ouellette.
Canada finished to a rousing ovation during the final 30 seconds. It was flat-out loud. Wickenhausen said the Team Canada women feel like the crowd here in Vancouver is "like a seventh man."
"Canadians know their hockey," said Wickenheiser, when asked about the high-decibel crowd and similarly supersonic expectations of the country come Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. "They expect the best. We can get a boost from the crowd. It could be worth a gold medal for us."