Canadian women’s hockey reinvents itself after Olympic loss

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Canada celebrates a goal against Sweden in a women's hockey quarter-final match at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, in Beijing.  (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Canada celebrates a goal against Sweden in a women’s hockey quarter-final match at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PA

The Canadians are fresh off a quick win over Sweden in the quarter-finals of the Women’s Olympic Hockey Tournament, yet coach Troy Ryan wasn’t ready to assess just how dominant his team could be.

A better time to ask might be Thursday when the gold medal is awarded.

The Canadians are now considered the favorites, having raised the bar for the women’s game with a dynamic and relentless four-line transition offense that outscored their opponents by a combined 44-5 at the Beijing Games.

It will take a little more to impress Ryan.

“Honestly, we keep it pretty simple in our minds,” Ryan said on Friday, after an 11-0 win over Sweden in which Canada scored five times on six shots in a 7 second period: 25. “I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel at all.”

Maybe not.

But the Canadiens, in more than three years under Ryan, are reinventing themselves by following the low points of their proud history.

The downturn began with a gold medal loss to arch-rivals the United States at the 2018 Winter Games, which ended Canada’s four-time Olympic championship streak. The following year, the Canadians settled for the bronze medal, failing to reach the final of the world championships for the first time in tournament history.

The losses led Ryan and his team to transform what was both an outdated team culture and style of play.

They made the game fun again by emphasizing speed and transition to increase offense and complement the strengths of the ultra-talented pool Canada draws from. And with that, the focus was on not being afraid to make mistakes.

“We have to be okay with mistakes because one of the things we talked about was how do you improve your game if you don’t leave a little room for error?” he said.

The change paid off at the world championships in August, when Canada’s 3-2 overtime win over the United States in the title game ended the Americans’ streak of five tournament titles.

Ryan’s strategy centers around using Canada’s defenders to get out of the zone as quickly as possible – accepting the risk of turnovers to keep opponents on their heels.

“I think we got a little robotic in the way we played,” said Natalie Spooner, who leads the tournament with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists). “The faster we play defense, the faster we get the puck out, play offense and do our thing.”

Canada and the United States, fresh off a 4-1 quarter-final win over the Czech Republic, await quarter-final results on Saturday to determine their semi-final opponents.

In Switzerland’s 4-2 win over the Russian Olympic Committee, Alina Muller converted Lara Stalder’s pass from a 2-on-1 break to score the go-ahead goal with 2:37 left in regulation time , then added an empty net. Finland will face Japan later today.

Swiss coach Colin Muller sees a significant jump in Canada’s game since the world championships.

“It’s ridiculous. I think the Canadians and the United States have stepped up their game, but for me right now, Canada, maybe more,” said Muller, whose team opened the tournament with a 12-1 loss to Canada.” It’s a different animal than what I even saw in August. And when I compare two years ago and three years ago and the 2019 Worlds, it’s a different team.

The Canadians have taken it up a notch after four months of practices and games that allowed them to refine their chemistry.

Canada leads the tournament in scoring efficiency with 44 goals on just 250 shots, and power-play efficiency converting 10 of 20 chances. Canada’s 4-2 win over the United States last week tied the most goals the team has ever scored against cross-border opponents in Olympic play.

Meanwhile, Canadians Brianne Jenner and newcomer Sarah Fillier are tied for the tournament lead with eight goals each, one less than the Olympic record set by Canadian Meghan Agosta and Switzerland’s Stephanie Marty at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. .

“Being able to score as many goals as we have and score in so many different ways really gives us confidence,” said forward Blayre Turnbull. “Some of us definitely played a little more tense game where we were gripping our stick and just thinking about mistakes. We did a big 180 as a program.

Change is day and night for goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, who stopped playing hockey after 2018 because she no longer liked it. She attended Wisconsin to get her master’s degree in accounting, where Desbiens also served as a goalie coach for the Badgers women’s team.

The coaching and culture change in Canada drew her back.

“I think you see the fruits when you see all the smiles on the ice,” said Desbiens, who allowed four goals on 97 shots in three games. “Troy has done a great job creating a safe environment and making sure all players can play to the best of their abilities and not have to overtighten their sticks.”

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More AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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