GANGNEUNG, South Korea — With about 7 minutes remaining in the US women’s hockey victory over Finland on Friday, the video board above the ice showed a brief clip of the 1998 American women winning gold at the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
“I mean, I was probably in the crib watching that game,’’ said goalie Maddie Rooney, 20, after the Americans defeated the Finns, 5-0, to advance to the gold medal game of the PyeongChang Games.
For the fifth time in the six Games that have included women’s hockey, the Americans are on the golden doorstep, trying to burst their way in. But they have been unable to earn better than silver in the 20 years since Nagano. This go-round, however, seems different.
Nearly a year after threatening to strike in order to achieve a more fair and better contract with USA Hockey, which they did — just before the World Championships, which they won — these Americans know what they are chasing.
“That’s always been our dream and to follow up the 1998 Olympic team,’’ said Rooney, “they’ve been our leaders and our great role models for us, and it’d mean everything for us.’’
By all accounts, the US is peaking at the right time in this tournament, a resounding win over the Finns — a team the US grappled with in its first preliminary game, coming away with a 3-1 win after trailing, 1-0 — proving the offense has found its rhythm.
“We’re clicking,’’ forward Hilary Knight said. “We’re humming. It wasn’t just one line that was going tonight, [it was] all four. That’s huge. It’s really rare in a sport like that.’’
Indeed, all four of the Americans’ lines produced goals and outshot the Finns, 38-14: Gigi Marvin’s point blank shot to get the scoring started; Dani Cameranesi’s two goals, one unassisted and one on on the power play; Knight’s power play deflection; and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s strike when the US had a 5-3 power play advantage in the second.
It was a heartening result for a team that could not manage more than a lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Canada in the final preliminary game, despite owning a 45-23 shot advantage. That dictated what the Americans would spend practice focusing on in the four days leading up the semifinal: putting pucks to the net.
“Tips, screens, and deflections. Tips, screens, and deflections,’’ coach Robb Stauber said.
“You got to get ugly goals in games and you got to get pretty goals and you get deflections and you get power power plays. We got all of the above tonight, other than a shortie, and maybe that’s in our future.’’
Cameranesi said her team had to get gritty to start getting some of those chances in the back of the net, and forward Monique Lamourex-Morando said her team’s performance against the Finns was its most complete of the tournament. But Lamourex-Morando, Knight, and Stauber said the Americans still have some things to clean up before facing either Olympic Athletes from Russia or Canada — the proverbial Olympic nut the US has not been able to crack the last two Games — in the gold medal game, which will here here Thursday and late Wednesday on the East Coast.
“I think we’re going to build off that,’’ Lamourex-Morando said. And Stauber said if the Americans can continue to be relentless in front of the net and own an advantage in shots on goal that the opposition will eventually crack.
“I’m just saying that when you put pucks to the net over and over and over, people have to defend that,’’ Stauber said. “I don’t care who you are, you have to defend that, and that’s a tough thing to defend if you have that mentality and we’re going to go to the net hard. Period. That’s our focus.’’
If Canada is in fact on the other side of the ice, it sets up a rematch of the last two gold medal matches, the most recent of which was a devastating 3-2 overtime loss for the Americans in Sochi. Knight said the losses taught her quite a lot about herself, that specifically the 2014 loss made her realize how deep her love for the sport runs. But she wants more out of these games.
“I keep sort of pinching myself,’’ Knight said. “I mean, this is my third time going to a gold medal game, a lot of our third times. I mean, that’s a dream come true. It’s a huge opportunity to represent our country the way that we have, I really hope we get a tangible success at the end of this journey.’’
Team captain Meghan Duggan, who is from Danvers, Mass., and also competing in her third Olympics, expressed a faith in the readiness level of her teammates and how full of passion and energy they are.
“We’ve worked really hard, really hard this tournament, the last four years, and our entire lives to put ourselves in this position to go after a gold medal,’’ she said. “That’s the position we’re in right now, so we’re excited.’’
Knight and her teammates have made use of their spare time here by being spectators, watching their fellow American athletes compete across various events and documenting their adventures on social media. Marvin said taking in other contests as a spectator has been a joy and a source of inspiration.
“They give me energy, just like my family gives me energy,’’ she said.
Lamoureux-Morando, a three-time Olympian, said that the team has been enjoying these games more than four years ago, when they tried to act like they had been there before and did not take as much time to savor the experience.
“I think there’s a whole new level of energy in our locker room, a lot of confidence,’’ Lamoureux-Morando said.
Now, with another chance at gold, perhaps against a team in Canada that has dogged the Americans in recent Olympics, the ideal for this US team is to produce a new set of highlights to be played above the ice for years to come.
“I don’t think words do it justice,’’ Lamoureux-Davidson said. “It would mean everything.’’