BEIJING — Joel Johnson and his coaching staff sensed something different prior to Sunday’s game against Switzerland.
“(We) just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘I think we’re ready. I think we’re ready to go,'” Johnson said after the U.S. women’s hockey team routed the Swiss 8-0. “You just kind of get that sense over the course of the day for whatever reason. It had nothing to do with the opponent. It had everything to do with us.”
Whatever rust may have lingered after not playing a game in more than six weeks prior to Beijing was undeniably gone.
And now the real test comes. The final game of Group A play will come against Canada on Tuesday, set for a 12:10 p.m. local time (11:10 p.m. ET Monday) puck drop, and will determine the top seed heading into the quarterfinals, which begin Friday.
Hilary Knight, Jesse Compher and Kelly Pannek each netted two goals. Dani Cameranesi and Amanda Kessel also scored. Knight and Compher are now tied with Alex Carpenter for the team lead in goals (three) in these Olympics.
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By the third period, the Americans were toying with the Swiss, who have been outscored 25-3 in their three contests.
“We were kind of buzzing on all cylinders,” Johnson said.
Alex Cavallini, making her Olympic debut, stopped all 12 shots she faced in the United States’ second straight shutout. The U.S. finished with 66 shots on goal and converted its first power play of the game to open the scoring on Knight’s first goal, but came up empty on the next three advantages.
Pannek and Compher each netted their second scores after the team put together a five-goal first period. The U.S. also scored five goals in the first period against Switzerland in the preliminary round of the 2014 Sochi Games. Cameranesi knocked home the final tally in the third.
The team’s chemistry was on full display against Switzerland, Pannek said.
“We haven’t settled into lines really until the Olympics,” she added. “So the familiarity among everyone, no matter who you’re in a line with, is high. I think for our group, especially me, (Cameranesi) and Grace (Zumwinkle), we’ve all played together quite a bit and we’re committed to playing a physical style, getting pucks to the net, finding ways to score – not necessarily depending on pretty plays, because then once you get the gritty plays, the pretty ones will open up. But just being dependable on both ends of the ice, which I think we’ve done so far.”
Johnson actually has a connection to the starting goalie for Switzerland, Saskia Maurer, who surrendered the first five. She and defeseman Nicole Vallario play for Johnson at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota).
He was able to speak with them briefly after the game.
“They both looked at me like ‘I don’t want to talk right now.’ And I loved it,” Johnson said, “because that means they’re competitors and that’s why they’re such a privilege to coach.”
Canada also blew out Switzerland and won 12-1 on Thursday.
At the 2021 world championships, Canada handled the U.S. 5-1 in the prelims before the final, which Canada won in overtime. The teams have also played each other in the last three Olympic finals.
Said Johnson: “Anytime U.S. and Canada could play – it could be on a pond – you put those jerseys on, certainly, all of a sudden the intensity ramps up.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.