USA women blast Sweden, to face Canada in final

SOCHI, Russia – In her previous three Olympics, U.S. hockey player Julie Chu has come home with two silvers and a bronze.

"We're going for a different color this time around," Chu said after the Americans advanced to the gold medal game by blasting Sweden 6-1 on Monday.

The stage is set for yet another U.S.-Canada final on Thursday after the Canadians beat Switzerland 3-1 on Monday night. Last week, Canada defeated the USA 3-2.

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What would it mean for Chu, at 31 the oldest player on the team, to end her Olympic career with a gold medal?

"It's about time, isn't it?" said U.S. coach Katey Stone. "Julie's been everything to the program. She's been a youngster, she's been a mentor, she's been a captain, a leader, a great friend, teammate and mother to the younger kids in the program. … Kids like that don't come around every day, so I certainly hope she gets what she wants here at the end."

The USA hasn't won gold since 1998, the year the sport debuted at the Winter Games. Canada has taken gold in the past three Olympics, while the Americans have gone home with two silvers (2002, 2010) and a bronze (2006).

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At the same time, the Americans have been successful on the sport's other major stage, winning four of the last five world championships. Every Olympic gold medal and every world championship in women's hockey history has been won by the two powerhouses.

In a seven-game series vs. Canada heading into Sochi, the Americans dropped the first three games and then won the final four December meetings. Two of the games featured brawls, an indication of the intensity of the series.

The semifinal blowout, in which the USA outshot Sweden 70-9, isn't the best indication of the game's growth, nor is another USA-Canada final.

Four years ago, at the Vancouver Olympics, Jacques Rogge, then the president of the International Olympic Committee, put women's ice hockey on notice, raising concern that the sport might be dropped from the Olympic program if more countries didn't field competitive teams.

But International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel told USA TODAY Sports last week that the sport's Olympic future is not in doubt.

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After the loss to Canada last week, there were extended film sessions and some soul-searching.

"We said the other day after our loss against Canada that we felt bad for the team that has to face us on Monday, because we're going to be a different team," said captain Meghan Duggan.

The difference: "We shot whenever we could, we forechecked hard and played the body and just got back to the way we play and not sit back on our heels," Duggan said. "We just jumped right on them and stayed more disciplined on the ice."

The game will be aired live on NBC Thursday, starting at 11 a.m.


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