By Dan Burns
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Kendall Coyne scored a powerplay goal as the U.S. women’s hockey team came from behind to beat Finland 3-1 in their Olympic tournament opener on Sunday, surviving a scare from a team that has never beaten them in Olympic play.
Coyne, a veteran forward, struck the winner with Finland’s Linda Valimaki off for tripping just past the halfway point of the second period, one-timing a feed from Hilary Knight past goaltender Noora Raty.
For the Americans the trouble with scoring that has beset them since late last year continued against a scrappy Finnish team. In their last four pre-Olympic international friendlies, all against arch-rival Canada, the Americans scored just three goals, and head coach Robb Stauber knew that was an issue coming into the tournament.
“You would like to come out and score a whole bunch more, but as Finland does they play very tough,” Stauber said. “We expected it and weren’t surprised by it at all.”
On Sunday, the U.S. outshot Finland 42-24 but connected on just two apart from an empty netter by Dani Cameranesi with just 13 seconds remaining in the game and Raty pulled for an extra attacker.
The Finns, who came into the game 0-6 against the U.S. in Olympic play, stunned the Americans by taking a 1-0 lead with time nearly expired in the first period. Finland forward Petra Nieminen drove into the left corner in the U.S. zone and fed Venla Hovi in the slot, and she lifted the puck past American goaltender Maddie Rooney with just six seconds left.
“We had a pretty good first period we just had a mental lapse on the play, we were in real good position, we just didn’t pick up the most dangerous player,” Stauber said.
“But it’s great to be able to make a mistake like that and still get a win because on any given night a mistake like that can hurt you and tonight it didn’t so it bring a level of awareness.”
Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied it about midway through the second period. She dug the puck out of a scrum in the corner to the right of the Finnish net and stickhandled across the crease. Goaltender Raty stopped her first backhander but Lamoureux-Morando put the rebound past her.
“All in all I am very thankful for a hard fought first game,” Stauber said. “It shouldn’t be easy and it was not easy.”
Next up for the Americans are the Olympic Athletes of Russia, followed by their nemesis – Team Canada.
The women’s game was first introduced at the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. The United States topped Canada to win that initial gold medal, but their northern neighbors have triumphed in each since.
(Additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)