BEIJING (Reuters) -A relentless United States crushed the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) 5-0 on Saturday in a hard-hitting clash that lent a little geopolitical tension to the Beijing Olympics women’s ice hockey tournament.
The victory kept the unbeaten U.S. headed towards a gold medal showdown with North American rivals Canada, who earlier at the Wukesong Sports Centre produced another ruthless performance to pound third-ranked Finland 11-1.
The U.S and Russia contest had a Cold War vibe running in the background with relations between the countries strained over Ukraine, where the West has accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of preparing for a war.
On the ice, however, the U.S. are the Olympic champions and women’s hockey super power while the ROC have yet to reach the podium and are in Beijing looking for a medal and respect.
The ROC earned a small measure of that through two periods, absorbing an all-out U.S. attack along with a few punches as the contest drew to an ill-tempered end.
“It gets chippy but I’m just out there having fun,” said Abbey Murphy, who was in the middle of a scrum near the end that saw punches thrown. “I like bringing the gritty side to the team.
“I think that’s always helpful for a team, to be a little tough.”
Despite dominating the opening period and outshooting the ROC 19-2 the U.S. could only put one puck past Maria Sorokina when Savannah Harmon converted a powerplay chance.
The U.S. continued their push in the second but again could only manage a single goal from Hilary Knight before the floodgates opened in the third with Alex Carpenter, Jesse Compher and Grace Zumwinkle all getting on the scoresheet.
Canada and the United States, who between them have won every gold medal since women’s hockey became part of the Olympic programme in 1998, again look a class apart.
After losing the gold to the Americans at Pyeongchang, Canada have focused on reclaiming it and shown no mercy, signalling their intentions with a 12-1 thrashing of Switzerland in their opener.
Leading the way for Canada has been the youngest member of the squad Sarah Fillier who scored the opening two goals against Finland to give the 21-year-old four from two games.
“With every game we play, no matter who we’re playing, we want to get up early and put a team on their heels,” said Fillier.
“All our lines gel really great and we have so much depth and skill and can get anyone to contribute from anywhere in the lineup.”
Sarah Nurse and Brianne Jenner each contributed a hat-trick while Laura Stacey chipped in with a pair and Jamie Lee Rattray a single.
Japan and the Czech Republic both improved to 2-0.
The Czechs got a pair of goals from Tereza Vanisova and another from Klara Hymlarova to take down 2006 Turin silver medal winners Sweden while Japan’s goals came from six different scorers as they cruised past Denmark 6-2.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Beijing, additional reporting Amy Tennery; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Ed Osmond)