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Finland eyes medal upgrade against Canada

Finland goalie Noora Raty, right,makes a save against Sweden forward Erika Grahm in the quarterfinals of the World Women's Ice Hockey Championships, Wednesday, April 11, 2012, in Burlington, Vt.

Toby Talbot/AP

Noora Raty is sick of taking home bronze medals, and she doesn't mind saying so.

The Finnish goaltender has a trophy case full of them.

She recently lead the University of Minnesota to a U.S. NCAA championship and has dazzled at this week's women's world championship. She made 83 saves and allowed four goals in the two games she backstopped in Vermont – including a narrow 3-2 loss to Canada that surprised many – to lead Finland into a Friday semi-final rematch with the Canadians.

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Feeling on a roll, the notion of continually settling for bronze behind the two women's hockey powerhouses from North America is testing Raty's patience. On Friday, albeit the underdog, she sees a chance to change that.

"We have won bronze over and over the last three, four years, and we're not satisfied – it's boring – it's like 'Agggh, not another bronze," ' Raty said Thursday. "It's not like two years ago, when they would absolutely kill us 6-0 or 8-0, I think it's a different game now."

Finland has taken bronze in the last three world championships (and 10 times in the event's 13 editions), as well as the 1998 and 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The 22-year-old goalie and many of her teammates believe if they keep the score low enough against Canada, they have a shot.

"Of course, Noora will play great – I believe she will let in no more than two goals," said Finnish defender Mira Jalosuo, also a teammate at Minnesota. "And that will be our chance against Canada. We know that we could score two or three goals against Canada."

The Canadians opened the tournament with a shocking 9-2 loss to the United States, followed by the tight win over the Finns, and a 14-1 victory over Russia. Canada has carefully studied the Finland game and feels it has a better strategy for scoring on Raty this time.

"She's got really good situational awareness of when she can come out really deep and challenge, knowing when there is not another option off the back post. She plays like Tim Thomas that way," Canadian head coach Dan Church said. "You don't necessarily have to shoot for straight goals with her. Sometimes, you have to bank it off people around the net and create traffic, and she'll overcommit to some shots."

Raty has heard the comparison to the Boston Bruins goalie many times, told she plays "crazy" and appears much bigger than her 5-foot-5, 150-pound frame in the way she cuts off the angles.

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"I feel like Canada will try a lot of back-door plays to get me moving side to side," Raty said. "Because that may be one way they could beat me."

Canada wasn't pleased with the traffic it produced in front of Finland's net in the first match. Comprised of just 13 of the women who won gold for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Canada also says its 23-player squad is gelling better than it was earlier this week.

"I think they're pretty pumped up that they kept it close against us, and we know we'll have to be patient and will likely face a trap," Canadian veteran forward Caroline Ouellette said. "I think Noora has matured now into a really excellent goalie. [U.S.]college hockey is the best league you can play in, and she has improved so much there."

If Finland somehow upsets No. 2-ranked Canada in the semis, or Switzerland finds a way to stun the top-seeded Americans, it would make history. Canada and the U.S have met in all 13 gold-medal finals in the tournament's history.

"We have more speed than we had a few years ago, and we score more goals than we used to back then," Raty said. "We're definitely going to give Canada a battle on Friday."

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Sports reporter

Based in Toronto, Rachel Brady writes on a number of sports for The Globe and Mail, including football, tennis and women's hockey. More

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