Canada has reached all seven Olympic finals since the inaugural 1998 women’s tournament in Nagano. The Canadians won four straight Olympic gold medals from 2002 to 2014. They lost the 2018 final to the U.S. in a 3-2 shootout heartbreaker and are clearly ravenous to regain their title.
"Today was a great game for us," said four-time Canadian Olympian Rebecca Johnston. "Every game there’s a stepping stone in the right direction. You want to improve each game so you’re ready for that final. Today, we just made sure we focused on us, focused on the little things."
Coach Troy Ryan's team kept up its balanced attack with nine different goal-scorers. Captain Marie-Philip Poulin stepped up with two goals and Sarah Nurse totalled four assists. Claire Thompson also starred with a goal and two assists. Her D-partner Erin Ambrose added a goal and an assist, as did assistant captain Blayre Turnbull.
Jamie Lee Rattray, Renata Fast, Emma Maltais, and Brianne Jenner scored a goal apiece, while Johnston had three helpers.
"You can’t give them a five-goal advantage because they’re like sharks when they taste blood," said Swiss coach Colin Muller.
Nurse now leads the Olympics with 16 points (4+12=16), two ahead of Poulin (4+10=14). Hayley Wickenheiser’s single-tournament points record (17) from 2006 could fall in the final.
This semi-final certainly impacted the record books. Jenner tied the single-tournament record of nine goals set in 2010 by Canada's Meghan Agosta and Switzerland's Stefanie Marty. Nurse has tied Wickenheiser's 2006 single-tournament assists record (12). And Thompson's single-tournament scoring record for defenders currently stands at 12 points.
"I’m so surprised," Thompson said. "I never thought I would be close to that. We have generated a lot of offence throughout the tournament. There are also other defenders quite close to me, so maybe somebody else will take it from me. Erin [Ambrose] is quite close to me [with nine points]."
For Switzerland, captain Lara Stalder scored two power-play goals and added an assist. Alina Muller had a goal and a helper. It's the first time the Swiss have ever gotten more than one goal against Canada in Olympic or Women's Worlds play.
The Swiss will take on the U.S.-Finland loser in Wednesday’s bronze medal game.
"There are good things we can take with us," Stalder said. "Especially in the second period, we battled well and just lost 3-1. There are learning points out there and some positives for the next game."
Canada’s Melodie Daoust, the MVP of the 2018 Olympics and 2021 Women’s Worlds, made her long-awaited return to the lineup. Daoust played just 6:53 in the opening 12-1 romp over Switzerland before getting injured on an illegal hit from Sarah Forster. Here, she slotted back in between Spooner and Sarah Fillier.
No non-North American team has ever equalled Sweden’s surprising 2006 silver medal, and advancing just wasn’t in the cards for Switzerland. The Canadians dominated as expected, entering this game with the tournament’s top seven scorers after demolishing Sweden 11-0 in the quarter-finals.
Swiss starting goalie Andrea Braendli faced a slew of high danger scoring chances early on. Thompson's lightning wrister ricocheted in off her blocker-side post to open the scoring at 7:16. Thompson, an Olympic rookie and former Princeton captain, had her third goal of these Olympics, and the effervescent Canadian bench was buzzing.
Rattray made it 2-0 at 8:28, going to the net picking up a deflection off a Swiss skate, and roofing it home.
It was 3-0 just 36 seconds later. Thompson dipsy-doodled past Swiss forward Noemi Rhyner and sent a slick pass through Nadine Hofstetter's skates to Turnbull, who backhanded the puck into the gaping cage.
Colin Muller called his timeout to try to halt Canada’s momentum, but the Canadians still scored again 17 seconds later. Nurse fired a shot from the half wall that a pinching Fast tipped home right in front.
The Swiss coach next changed his goalie, inserting Saskia Maurer after Braendli had allowed four goals on 18 shots. Yet the onslaught continued. Ambrose scored Canada’s fifth goal through traffic at 10:40, with Daoust registering her first point of these Olympics with the assist.
On a late first-period Swiss power play, Maurer made a fantastic glove grab on Fast’s shorthanded attempt off the rush. The Swiss finally got something to cheer about when Stalder zipped a high shot from the left faceoff circle to spoil Canadian netminder Ann-Renee Desbien's shutout bid at 18:37.
In the second period, the Canadians besieged Maurer's net early, but she held her ground. Stalder found Muller rushing to the net and she beat Desbiens high to the stick side to cut the deficit to 5-2 at 4:59.
"I don’t think it was us losing our focus," Jenner said. "There were some breakdowns that we’re going to learn from, but we approach every game the same way."
Canada promptly killed the faint dream of a Swiss comeback. At 7:52, Poulin one-timed home Nurse's set-up from the top of the faceoff circle. Just 11 seconds later, Johnston circled the Swiss net and located Clark out front for a 7-2 lead.
Fast raved about Poulin's scoring touch: "Even our coaches were like, ‘How does she shoot the puck like that?’ It’s just incredible, the number of times in practices and games that Pou scores a goal like that and our jaws are just on the floor."
Showing no quit, the Swiss made it 7-3 when Stalder capitalized on a Canadian defensive zone turnover and popped it through Desbiens' pads at 9:44 on the power play. It marked the first time Canada has allowed more than two goals in Beijing.
"They’re such an awesome team that it’s fun to play against them," said five-time Swiss Olympian Nicole Bullo. "It’s good for us that we scored three goals."
On Poulin's second goal, the Canadian superstar stripped blueliner Nicole Vallario of the puck in the neutral zone, cut in from the left stickhandling, and elevated a backhand over Maurer at 13:27.
At 3:13 of the third period, Maltais hopped up and down with old-school Mike Foligno-like glee after notching her first Olympic goal. Jenner blew a slap shot off the rush past Maurer for her record-tying ninth goal at 18:11 to round out the scoring at 10-3.
Realistically, the Swiss only had so much left in their gas tank here after their dramatic 4-2 quarter-final win over the ROC team, keyed by Alina Muller's two late goals. Muller, 23, also led the 2018 Olympics with seven goals and 10 points and was named Best Forward and an all-star.
Canada has now scored a whopping 54 goals in six games, surpassing the Olympic peak (48 in five games) set in Vancouver in 2010.
Ryan said he would still like to see improvement on special teams: "The big thing was on the penalty kill we didn’t get our clears down the ice. We’ve gotta get those clears 200 feet if we’re gonna be successful."
Still, right now, it’s hard to believe Canada slumped to an IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship bronze medal for the first time in history in 2019. The Canadians have been even more spectacular in Beijing than they were en route to their first Women’s Worlds gold medal in nine years in Calgary in 2021.
The Americans and Finns both pose different challenges as potential gold-medal opponents. The U.S., of course, is Canada’s greatest rival and nemesis, and every showdown is a must-see. Finland, however, beat Canada 4-2 in the 2019 semi-final, making it the only European nation ever to register an IIHF playoff win over the motherland of hockey at an Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament or the Women’s Worlds.
Meanwhile, the Swiss will be overjoyed if they can achieve their second Olympic bronze medal. In 2014, they made history with a 4-3 win over Sweden to earn bronze in Sochi. The only other two Olympic medals in Swiss ice hockey history were won by the men long ago and were also bronze (1928, 1948).
"You want to win every game, and right now we’re a little disappointed," said Alina Muller, who was 15 in Sochi. "But I’m still excited to compete for a medal and we’ll be ready to go."