SOCHI, Russia — They never once cast a glance beyond the task at hand.
The United States women’s hockey team stayed true to its vow to take each game as it came, including a 6-1 semifinal victory over Sweden on Monday that was uglier than the final score indicated.
What’s next for the U.S.?
Here’s — finally — looking at you, Canada.
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As the whole world anticipated, including Olympic organizers who designed the tournament format just for this potentiality, the U.S. will meet its neighbors to the North for the gold medal Thursday.
Back to Monday. How bad was it?
During a break in the action late in the first period, an ice crew clearing ice shavings from in front of the U.S. goal had nothing to do. The Americans had the first 26 shots on goal and led 3-0 at the first intermission. Any argument about the competitive balance among women’s hockey teams was cast aside Monday.
The U.S. had outshot Sweden 70-9, which gave American goaltender Jessie Vetter plenty of time to watch the action. And do her taxes.
But the job isn’t done.
“It was a great team win, a great 60 minutes of USA hockey,” Megan Bozek said. “Another 60 minutes left to play and hopefully the gold medal is in our hands.”
Bozek and Brianna Decker had a goal and two assists each while Kacey Bellamy and Amanda Kessel each added a goal and an assist. Alex Carpenter and Monique Lamoureux also scored and Kendall Coyne added two helpers.
After avoiding the subject the entire tournament, U.S. players were finally ready to talk about playing Canada for the gold. Their archrivals also advanced with a 3-1 victory over Switzerland in the other semi. The Canadians have reached the gold-medal game in all five Olympic women’s hockey tournaments and are seeking their fourth consecutive gold.
The U.S. will be looking for revenge after losing the gold in Vancouver to Canada, which also beat the Americans during the preliminary round.
“There are 11 of us returning from Vancouver that in our minds came up short, so that’s something that has driven all of us over the last four years,” Lamoureux said. “That feeling of coming up short doesn’t fade over time, it’s something that really sticks with us.”
The history includes brawls during pre-Olympic play and hitting that often pushes the limits of the rules governing no body checking in the women’s game. The dislike between the teams is real.
“I think intense is probably a better word than hate because we all do respect one another at the end of the day,” U.S. forward Hilary Knight said. “They’re at the top of their game and we’re at the top of ours. It’s a great battle of the border there. It’s definitely a hot ticket.”
Canada 3, Switzerland 1
Not once in the five Olympics since women’s hockey was added to the Winter Games has Canada failed to reach the final.
They’ve got three gold medals and one silver so far. All that’s left in these Winter Games is yet another game against the U.S. to determine which medal they’ll bring home from Sochi.
Natalie Spooner scored twice and Shannon Szabados stopped 21 shots to help the three-time defending gold medalists claim their Olympic birthright.
“We feel like we’ve prepared all year for this game,” Spooner said.
Canada beat the U.S. in the round-robin of the Sochi Games on Wednesday — the Americans’ only defeat of the tournament. Canada and the United States also played seven times in the run-up to the Olympics, with the Americans holding a 4-3 edge.
“We’ve played a lot of great games against them,” Spooner said. “It’s going to be another one of those in the final.”
Melodie Daoust also scored for Canada, and five-time Winter Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser had a pair of assists to extend her Olympic career points record.
• It was the biggest demonstration so far concerning the Sochi Olympics, and it had nothing to do with gay rights, environmental damage or corruption. Dozens of Russian fans gathered Monday to protest a disallowed goal scored by the Russian team in the Olympic hockey match Saturday against the United States, a decision that they felt cost them the game against their rivals.
• Ilya Kovalchuk was not on the ice for Russia’s final practice before the men’s qualification round, and his coach insisted the superstar forward is not injured. “He’s OK,” Russian hockey coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said. “Just a rest.”
• Slovakia forward Tomas Kopecky (upper-body injury) has been ruled out for the remainder of the Olympics.
The Associated Press and The New York Times contributed to this report.