At least the disc jockey had a sense of humour.
Pounding out the old disco tune “Stayin’ Alive” just before the warm-up was exactly the right choice for Team Switzerland skating out to take on powerful Team Canada.
“You know the story of David and Goliath?” Swiss coach Rene Kammerer had said following Friday’s practice. “We need to take the small stone and hit the right place.”
Well, if “small stone” is euphemism for “puck,” Goliath had nothing to worry about.
After the first full day of official competition Canada has three medals:
- Sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe won gold and silver respectively in women’s freestyle mogul skiing;
- Despite a broken rib, snowboarder Mark McMorris won bronze in men’s slopestyle;
- The figure skating team is in second place to Russia and poised for a medal;
- But, the spectre of controversy dogs figure skating again.
The Canadians effortlessly defeated the Swiss here Saturday afternoon in a 5-0 opening game that featured a great deal of Canadian prowess and not quite enough Swiss pluck.
“We got our game in order,” said Team Canada head coach Kevin Dineen.
“We were trying to take the ‘cute’ out of our game a bit and just put pucks to the net.”
The did indeed, outshooting the Swiss, by a lopsided 69-14.
Though Team Switzerland goaltender Florence Schelling gave her best – and was at times most impressive – the players with smaller pads had a terrible time of getting their “small stones” anywhere near Canadian goaltender Charline Labonte, who could have spent most of the afternoon on her iPhone.
By the end of the opening period, the Canadians had outshot the Swiss 29-3, though not even a forensic accountant could show where two of those three Swiss shots had come from.
The Canadians struck early, just as the Americans had hours earlier when they defeated Finland 3-1 at this same Shaiba Arena. Jocelyne Larocque opened the scoring at the 1:25 mark on a point shot that Schelling couldn’t stop.
(The Americans had set a women’s Olympic record earlier in the day when Hilary Knight scored on a breakaway only 53 seconds into Team U.S.A.’s game with Finland.)
For Larocque, one of eight Olympic rookies on the Canadian team, it was a dream come true.
“First shift, first shot,” she laughed. “It was a great way to start the game.”
Defencewoman Tara Watchorn then scored on a rebound to put Canada ahead 2-0.
Flag-bearer and assistant captain Hayley Wickenheiser, playing in her fifth straight Winter Games – she also played Olympic softball for Canada in Sydney 2000 Summer Games – scored a shorthanded goal that had to be seen to be believed.
It came on as perfect a drop pass as hockey has seen – unfortunately, the pass came from a Swiss player – and Wickenheiser merely skated in and ripped a hard wrist shot past Schelling.
That faux pas was perhaps the worst in a game that saw numerous egregious errors committed by the youthful and inexperienced Swiss players.
And yet head coach Kammerer told a post-game press conference, “We had no breakdowns.”
Perhaps the original Goliath felt the same.
Canada moved to 4-0 on a nifty passing play that led to Marie-Philip Poulin tapping the puck into the empty side of the Swiss net. And then it was 5-0 after some sloppy play on both sides that led to a rather weak goal by Canadian forward Rebecca Johnston.
It was the only bad goal allowed by Schelling.
“Their goalie played great,” said Canadian forward Natalie Spooner.
“She plays outstanding,” agreed Kammerer.
“It could have been 10 or 15-nothing,” Wickenheiser added.
The fifth goal marked the 500 goal the Canadian women have scored in Olympic and World Championship play. Over that period, they are a remarkable 70-10, with all 10 losses coming at the hands of the United States, the defending World Champions.
By the end of two periods, the shot clock read Canada 48, Switzerland 8. The crowd was cheering wildly if the Swiss players only managed to get the “small stone” over the Canadian blueline.
The crowd of 4,386 – 4,135 attended the U.S.A.-Finland contest – certainly enjoyed the opening day of women’s hockey, though numerous “waves” were indicative of stretches of boredom.
There were other distractions, of course: cheerleaders in white mini-skirts, the Sochi mascot and, the hockey gods must be dancing in the aisles, an old-time organist to pump up the fans.
The Canadians will next take on the Finns, who certainly appeared quite superior to the Swiss women. That match will go on Monday, with the Canadians next slated to play the Americans, their arch rivals later in the week.
That game will attract as much attention as a medal-round match – as it will almost certainly be a precursor to the gold medal final.
The two Saturday openers took place on the coast of the Black Sea on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday – outside feeling more like Stanley Cup time than February.
Which is only appropriate, given that women’s hockey considers the Olympic tournament their Stanley Cup.
And, when the right two teams meet, a.k.a. Canada and the United States of America, can be almost as exciting.
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