Canada’s women’s hockey team didn’t play its best game in its Four Nations Cup opener, but it was enough to beat Finland 3-1 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Rebecca Johnston, Natalie Spooner and Vicki Bendus scored for Canada, which is playing this tournament without star forward Hayley Wickenheiser and five other veterans. Canada scored two goals in 1:34 in the first period and wound up outshooting Finland 39-23.
“We were a little soft,” said Ruthven’s Meghan Agosta-Marciano, who assisted on Spooner’s goal.
“We need to be able to chip the puck a little more, come out of the zone together and come with speed, and that’s something that we kind of lacked a bit tonight. That’s not the best hockey that we’re going to be playing this tournament.”
Coach Dan Church praised his team’s adjustments in the third period but said the consistency needs to be better.
“Finland’s a tough team to play against because they clog the neutral zone and they’re very good at their neutral-zone forecheck,” he said. “We didn’t make an adjustment in the second period, but I thought the third period we did a good job.”
Finland’s only goal came in the third period, when Tea Villila scored on the fifth of six power plays to make it 3-1. Canada took seven minor penalties but Johnston’s goal, from Haley Irwin and Brianne Jenner, came on the power play.
Goaltender Charline Labonte stopped 22 of the 23 shots she faced.
“Charline had a solid game in net for us, turned aside a bunch of shots and was consistent back there,” Church said.
In addition to Wickenheiser, Canada is without experienced forwards Caroline Ouellette and Marie-Philip Poulin and defencemen Meaghan Mikkelson, Lauriane Rougeau and Laura Fortino, who are getting a rest.
Church wants to win the Four Nations Cup, but this tournament is also about evaluating players for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“It’s a prestigious tournament, and it’s an important step on the road to Sochi. But there are things that we need to do to build our team,” he said.
“We brought 21 players here that are going to play all four games, and that’ll be an important process for us selecting our team down the road, leaving some players behind in Calgary.”
Those in Lake Placid, N.Y., have their sights on winning now and worrying about Sochi later.
“When I think Canada I think winning every single opportunity we have in any game or any tournament,” Agosta-Marciano said.
“It’s a great tournament to kind of see where everybody’s at, and at the end of the day we want to come out of this on top.”
Canada’s next game is Wednesday night against the United States, which it has already defeated twice recently. This is a renewal of that rivalry, even with some of Canada’s best players not participating.
“I think it’ll be good to see some of our younger players, having some of our more experienced veterans at home in Calgary, it’s an opportunity for them to step up,” Church said.