For months, most discussions about the Olympic women’s hockey tournament have focused on the prospect of another epic final between the United States and Canada. All the while, one of the Americans’ best players has had her mind on a different game.
“I can’t look past our first game against Finland,” Kendall Coyne Schofield, the United States captain, said in an interview last month. “That’s our first goal. That’s our first task.”
The United States, which captured the gold medal in South Korea in 2018, will open this year’s Olympic tournament on Thursday against Finland, which left Pyeongchang with the bronze.
As is the case with most of women’s hockey’s top national teams, the squads are quite familiar with one another: Finland forced the United States to a shootout in the final at the 2019 world championship before falling, and the teams are meeting in their Olympics opener for the third straight Games. The Americans have won all eight of their previous Olympic meetings, however, and they have never lost an opener at the Games.
The Americans and the Finns are both expected to advance easily to the tournament’s medal round again. But first, Thursday’s matchup on ice west of central Beijing will give both teams an early opportunity to work through Olympic jitters and to take each other’s measure with pride, not medals, at stake. The game is scheduled for 8:10 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday.
Along with Schofield, who is among the world’s fastest skaters, the United States will arrive at the Wukesong Sports Center with a roster that includes Hilary Knight, who is appearing in her fourth Games, and Maddie Rooney, the goalie who helped deliver a shootout victory against Canada in the 2018 gold medal game.
Finland will bring plenty of experience, too. Forward Michelle Karvinen will be playing in her fourth Olympics, as will Jenni Hiirikoski, one of the sport’s most fearsome defenders and the recipient of the most valuable player award at the 2019 world championship.