While a lot of the women's hockey tournament at the Olympics can feel like sheer prelude to the incredible rivalry that is USA-Canada, it's important to remember that there are players worth highlighting beyond those two teams if the sport is going to keep growing. Exhibit A: getting to watch Noora Raty of Finland try to fight off the Americans on Saturday morning, in a 3-1 Team USA win that could have easily edged toward double digits with a less skilled keeper.
Raty's performance was often like watching potential Team USA men's starting goaltender Ryan Miller's games for the Buffalo Sabres on a larger scale. While Finland kept the Americans somewhat in control throughout the first period -- though they got outshot 15-3 -- by the second the poor Finns were having circles skated around them. Raty, who was a part of the undefeated University of Minnesota club that won the NCAAs last season, made 30 saves in the first 40 minutes and was clearly the game's best player.
She was still no match for an American team that made the extra effort to beat her. While Raty was beaten cleanly on Hilary Knight's goal at 53 seconds, they had to get a funny bounce off the body and a bunt of the stick by Kelli Stack in the second, and a good bounce off the end boards to create Alex Carpenter's goal to make it 3-0. All that said, it was easy to see why a team like Finland can beat a team without the same offensive focus, given their netminder in back.
The third period saw the Americans play a more economical, surgical game. They had numerous chances, including a couple of break-ins for Amanda Kessel, but no luck. Penalty trouble got Finland on the board, with a power play goal by Susanna Tapani. However, the Americans mostly dominated in all facets, and only an incredible goaltending performance kept them from getting to at least a half-dozen.
Despite the uneven games you may see, we encourage you to keep up with women's hockey. Teams USA and Canada have been placed in the same group for the first time in Olympic play. They will face off Wednesday morning, though by then both may have clinched a berth to the semifinals. The top two teams in their group (which also features Switzerland) get those byes, while the bottom two take on the top two teams in Group B (Russia, Japan, Sweden, Germany).
The United States takes the ice again on Monday at 5 a.m. ET against Switzerland. Again, though the games may not be as tight as you like, I highly recommend getting invested in this tournament, especially for when USA-Canada comes around. Women's hockey, as a sport, needs the support in its time in the spotlight every four years at the Olympics. An American gold certainly wouldn't hurt, and they appear to be primed to challenge yet again based on their performance Saturday in Sochi.