Routs keep goalies out of the game
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Much has been made of the lopsided scoring in this Olympic tournament, with Team Canada and Team USA beating up on their opponents by scores as outrageous as 18-0 and 12 -1. Thus far, Team USA has outshot its opponents 183 to 49. And while those numbers do lead to lots of goals, they also lead to something else: a very bored goaltender.
While Team USA sustains pressure in its offensive zone for minutes at a time, goaltender Jessie Vetter stands in her crease. Sometimes, she leans on her stick. Sometimes she leans against the crossbar. More often than not, she just stands, stick on the ice, glove hand tucked into her left hip. If the puck comes into the neutral zone, she'll glide to the top of her crease. Usually, Team USA will recover the puck and turn it back up ice, and Vetter will slide back to the goal line, banging her stick on the ice in support of her team.
Vetter saw only 12 shots in Team USA's 9-1 victory over Sweden in the Olympic semifinals on Monday afternoon. Against Finland last Thursday, she saw 23. Against Russia last Tuesday, she saw only seven. But things are going to change Thursday, when Vetter and Team USA face the winner of this afternoon's game between Canada and Finland in the finals. Canada, the favorite, has averaged more than 60 shots per game in this tournament. Team USA's defense won't allow Canada to get that many pucks on net, but Vetter will still face at least triple the shots she did on Monday afternoon.
"We've been seeing between 25 and 40 shots on goal in the games we've played against Canada leading up to the Olympics, and they throw everything at the net and like to swarm the net," says Team USA assistant coach Dave Flint, who works with the goalies. "What we've been trying to do these last few weeks is let the goalies see a lot of shots in practice and give them game situations in practice to keep them sharp."
But when game time rolls around, it's been up to the goalies to keep from losing their focus due to a lack of work.
"You skate around, you stretch a bit, you do whatever you can to keep yourself loose and in the game," says Vetter. "Every goalie is different, but I'm usually yelling at my team. I become a cheerleader."
Fellow goaltender Molly Schaus, who saw just five shots in the 52 minutes she played in Team USA's Olympic debut against China last Sunday, uses a different strategy. "I do the play-by-play in my head," she says. "I try to think about what I would do if I had the puck."
Both goalies use the front-to-back and side-to-side crease movements they work on every day in practice to keep them loose while the puck is at the other end of the ice for long periods of time. And both goalies emphatically say they would rather see too many shots than too few.
Says Vetter: "As a goaltender, you prefer to see more consistent shots to keep yourself in the game and keep yourself loose."
Says Schaus: "It's not so much fun playing goalie when you get a shot a period, so you look forward to lots of shots. Jessie and I both thrive in atmospheres where we get a lot of shots."
But Team USA's goaltenders tend to thrive wherever they are. Vetter, 24, backstopped Team USA to world championships in 2008 and 2009, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. There, she set single-season school records for GAA (0.78) and save percentage (.962) as a freshman during the 2005-06 season. She later set an NCAA record with 39 career shutouts, a .941 save percentage and 91 total wins. She played in four consecutive national title games and led the Badgers to three NCAA national championships, in 2006, 2007 and 2009.
As a freshman at Boston College during the 2006-07 season, Schaus, 21, posted a league-best .931 save percentage and school-record 1.90 GAA. She stopped 73 shots in the Beanpot tournament semifinal against Harvard that season, breaking the previous NCAA record of 70. As a sophomore, she broke the school's single-season record with 920 saves. As a junior last season, she ranked second in the NCAA in save percentage (.938) and shutouts (10).
Both goaltenders know what it's like to be on both ends of the shot spectrum. "But it doesn't matter how many shots you see," says Vetter, who will likely make the start in Thursday's final. "You just have to be ready."
Update on Caitlin Cahow: Team USA defenseman Caitlin Cahow blocked a slap shot off the stick of Team Sweden's Isabelle Jordansson midway through the second period and dropped to the ice. While Cahow was down, Team Sweden scored its only goal of the game. Cahow was assisted off the ice by teammate Angela Ruggiero, and went immediately to the locker room for treatment. "It hit me just above my knee. A few stitches and we're back and ready to go," said Cahow, who returned to the bench in the third period. "It's all part of the game. I'll gladly go down and block shots any time. You saw my frustration down there, but it wasn't out of pain, it was because we let up a goal. I was so mad I didn't get my butt up and get back to the net. But I feel great, and I'm ready to go."
Lindsay Berra is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.