Canada's women bury Switzerland 5-0 in Olympic opener

Canada celebrates a goal by Marie-Philip Poulin, of Beauceville, Que., during second period action...

Canada celebrates a goal by Marie-Philip Poulin, of Beauceville, Que., during second period action against Switzerland on Saturday. (Ben Pelosse/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:27 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - It just goes to show you the reality of the top-heavy world or women's hockey that a goaltender could lose 5-0 at the Olympic Winter Games and accept warm congratulations on a job well done after the game.

That was the case for Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling who held Canada to just those five goals on 69 shots in the opening game for both teams at the Olympic tournament.

Four years ago, the women puck chasers were being threatened with getting booted out of the Olympics if they didn't find a way to help the have-nots catch up to the Canadian and American powerhouses.

The weaker sisters are improving as is the quality of play in the women's game, but the gap between the top and bottom remains wide.

"I see it as an improvement for sure," said Schelling. "They girls battled so hard out there. I don't think we've had that many shots on them, either. The last seven minutes or so we were pressuring them and they had a hard time breaking out. It shows us that we've improved and we can play along with them.

"Not for 60 minutes, but we can. Playing the third period 0-0 ... usually we break down in the third period because we're tired and we can't keep up with them, but today it wasn't the case, we pushed even harder at the very end."

Canadian Olympic rookie defenceman Joceylne Larocque opened the scoring a minute and 25 seconds into the game and defenceman Tara Watchorn made it 2-0 before the first period was over.

Veteran Hayley Wickenheiser, Marie-Philip Poulin and Rebecca Johnston scored second period goals before the Swiss played Canada to a draw in the third.

"(Schelling) played very well in net. It could have been 10 or 15-0. She played excellent and kept the game somewhat close for them," said Wickenheiser, who was on the team that beat the Swiss 10-1 in the 2010 Games.

She agreed, at least for the optics of the disparity in talent between North America and the rest of the world, that 3-1 and 5-0 scores look a lot better for the tournament than, say, the 18-0 score Canada rung up on Slovakia in Vancouver.

"I think, for me, talking to you guys it is, but internally we'd love to score 10, 12 goals just to get everybody feeling good. It is nice to see there are world-class goalies in every one of these countries. That's where the game has to start in the back end and moving out, to grow the sport. A goalie can steal a game for you and we saw that today, 70 shots, five goals. That's a pretty good performance."

Helping lessen the chances of blowouts is Canada and the U.S. have been seeded with their strongest pursuers and won't face the world's lower-ranked teams in the other four-team pool.

American coach Katey Stone, whose team beat Finland 3-1 while outshooting them 43-15 Saturday, addressed the issue of competition this way: "I know there are 21 players and four coaches (on the American team) who don't believe this is a two-team tournament. We believe very strongly this is a world tournament and anyone can win."

"I think you can see that the level of play in Europe is getting better and better every year," said Canada's Lauriane Rougeau. "There's Russia, there's Finland, there's Switzerland and other countries are coming along. Yes, the other countries their battling hard to catch up with us, but they're doing a great job over there."

It's still going to be a big shock if Finland can beat Canada Monday or Switzerland can throw a scare into the U.S.

While those games are interesting to see how much the level of competition is improving, they are just a couple of snacks before the main course is delivered Wednesday when the Americans and Canadians meet in the final game of the preliminary round.

SWISS SUPERSTAR

Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling has been honing her game by playing against men in Switzerland’s top amateur league, a couple of levels below the national circuit.

The 24-year-old, a superstar in the women’s game, looked like she benefited from the dozen or so games she’s played against the men this season when she turned in a 64-save performance in Switzerland’s 5-0 loss to Canada in the Sochi opener for both teams.

“I got used to the power that they get when they shoot on me,” she said of facing the men. “The power that Canada brought down on me today was pretty similar.”

Schelling made a number of spectacular stops to keep the game competitive and the 4,386 fans at the Shayba Arena took to cheering whenever the Swiss would approach the Canadian blue-line, hoping to see a shot on the Canadian goal.

Switzerland managed 14 on Canadian goaltender Charline Labonte.

FAST START

The Americans didn't waste any time checking to see if the red lamp works in the Shayba Arena, the site of almost all the games in the women's Olympic hockey tournament.

Team USA's Hilary Knight scored just 53 seconds into the Americans' 3-1 win over Finland Saturday when she beat star goaltender Noora Raty, getting any Olympic jitters out of the way. It's believed to be the fastest goal scored to open the Olympic tournament since women's hockey joined the Games in 1998.

"She's a great goaltender and we didn't want her to get confidence as the game went on," said Knight.

"We're young, fast and powerful. We want to set the pace and that's what I think we did." Said Raty: "It was a nightmare start for me and my team, but we got over it real quick."

The game gave the Finns some confidence if they happen to cross paths again with the Americans, which could happen in the semifinal.

"I feel confident we can beat them," said Finnish defenceman Mira Jalosuo. "We'll be ready. I thought they got some lucky bounces and we have to feel confident after that game. For the second and third goals they had some lucky rebounds.

"Hopefully we'll get them in the semifinal and we'll be ready for them. Hopefully we'll get more power plays as well -- we only had two today and we scored from one."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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