The Canadian women's hockey team will face their old foe, the United States, in the gold-medal game of the Four Nations Cup, setting up the perfect learning experience for Canada's young squad.
Caroline Ouellette, Jennifer Wakefield and Jayna Hefford scored Saturday to lead the Canadians to a 3-1 victory over Sweden in their final preliminary round game.
The Canadians, with five first-timers in their lineup, battle the Americans in Sunday's gold-medal game.
“It's one of the reason we brought some of the younger players was to throw them into the fire and get them opportunities to play at the highest level against the stiffest competition,” said Canadian coach Dan Church.
Ouellette, a Montreal native, opened scoring in the second period before Elin Holmlov tied it up three minutes later. Wakefield, from Pickering, Ont., and Hefford, from Kingston, Ont., scored two minutes apart early in the third as Canada pulled away.
Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., had two assists.
Shannon Szabados made 27 saves for Canada, while Kim Martin stopped 49 shots in Sweden's net.
The Canadians defeated the U.S. 3-1 in the preliminary round earlier in the week, and Ouellette said she's pleased with how her young teammates rose to the challenge against their longtime rivals.
“I think the more the game went on the more confidence everyone played with, and I think it was good for us to get that win because for those young players now they know they can keep up and play against them and they know what to expect,” Ouellette said.
“We know though that (Sunday), the game is going to gain a whole other level of intensity and we'll have to match that for sure.
The Americans clobbered Finland 10-0 to cap the preliminary round Saturday.
But Ouellette said that scoreline, and the fact Canada only beat Sweden by a pair of goals, was no reason for concern heading into the final.
“It's a totally different game when we play the U.S., it's really north-south, really quick transition game,” Ouellette said. “When we play the European teams, often it's more about being patient and finding the opening, because often they trap or they play really tight around the scoring area. We weren't showing that patience or that poise that we would have needed to be more successful.
“But I think we have a fast team, we did good on transition last game (versus the U.S.), and I think that we will be able to do all that again.”
Church said the Canadians could use the tight game against Sweden to their advantage.
“If I was to choose one of two ways to go in, we would want a tougher test going into the final as opposed to having an easier game,” said the coach. “I think it allows us to be a little bit more battle-tested, which is good for us.”
Sunday's game marks No. 101 between the women's hockey rivals. Canada has a 61-38-1 edge.
The Canadians have won 12 gold and three silver medals in Four Nations and Three Nations tournaments since the first in 1996.