Analysis Meghan Agosta knows how to celebrate a birthday
Veteran nets a goal and an assist in Canada's win over Finland
By Mike Brophy, CBC Sports
The birthday girl struck again.
Veteran Meghan Agosta, who has a history of scoring on her birthday, had a goal and an assist as Canada beat Finland 4-1 to go to 2-0 in the preliminary round of the 2018 Winter Olympics women's hockey tournament.
VIDEO | The best moments from Canada's win over Finland:
It was Canada's 22nd consecutive victory in Olympic women's hockey competition. Canada will take on the world No. 1-ranked United States on Wednesday to complete its preliminary round.
Agosta, competing in her fourth Olympic Games, had a birthday hat trick in 2006 at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. In 2010 at the Vancouver Games, she also celebrated her special day with a goal. So it was no surprise that she connected just 35 seconds into the game against the Finns one day after she turned 31 years old.
Marie-Philip Poulin, Melodie Daoust and Jillian Saulnier scored the other Canadian goals with Daoust, Rebecca Johnston and Laura Fortino drawing assists. Riika Valila, who is 44 years old, scored for Finland.
Canada out-shot Finland 32-23 with Shannon Szabados making 31 saves to run her Olympic record to 7-0.
Agosta said it was critical for Canada to attack early given the fact they were facing one of the best goalies in women's hockey in Finland's Noora Raty.
"Being a veteran player and playing against Raty, we know that we have to get on her early," Agosta said. "It was a great forecheck with our line and an unbelievable pass that was pretty easy for me to put in by Melo [Daoust]. It's all about getting on [Raty] early, out-working her, getting in front of her so she can't see."
Finland, a scrappy team that has given Canada fits in the past, was no match for the Canadians in this game. Canada used its speed to generate numerous scoring chances in the first 40 minutes and then coasted through the third period.
Agosta: 'We're on a mission'
Canada got on the board early when Daoust, who scored twice in Game 1, intercepted a clearing pass just outside the Finland blue-line and broke in two-on-one with Agosta. She waited until the last moment before making a pass to Agosta, who tipped home her 16th goal in 17 Olympic matches over four tournaments.
Finland came close to tying the score at 10:06 when Nora Lindstedt hit the post on a snap shot from the high slot following some sloppy play by Canada in the defensive zone.
Canada made it 2-0 at 17:11 when Poulin scooped up a loose puck after Finland defender Jennu Hiirikosky coughed it up while skating in front of her team's net. Poulin snapped a backhand shot high past Raty, but play was allowed to continue after the referee indicated the puck did not enter the goal. Following a stoppage in the action, the play was reviewed and the goal was awarded to Canada.
With 4.5 seconds remaining in the opening period, Canada's Rebecca Johnston fired a sharp-angled shot that Raty got a piece of. However, the puck clearly dropped behind the goal-line before the whistle sounded and it looked like Canada had a 3-0 lead. The goal was immediately waved off and, following another review, it was disallowed.
Canada made it 3-0 at 8:19 of the second period when Daoust took a pass from defenceman Laura Fortino in the high slot and faked a slap shot that caused a Finnish defender to slide past her in a shot-blocking attempt. Daoust then took her time and snapped a shot through a crowd to the far side of the goal.
Canada increased its lead to 4-0 when Johnston sprung Saulnier free for a breakaway with a long pass. Saulnier, who appeared to be offside on the play, snapped a low shot past Raty for her first Olympic goal.
The Finns got on the board at 7:17 of the third period when Valila, showing courage and experience, struck on her third shot attempt from in tight.
The Finns out-shot the Canadians 13-8 in the third period and after pulling Ratty with just under four minutes remaining, generated some quality scoring chances, but were unable to beat Szabados for a second goal.
Canadian coach Laura Schuler was pleased with the victory, but left the rink a little concerned at her team's overall effort.
"I was happy with the first and second period," Schuler said, "But in the third period I thought we got ahead of ourselves."
Team Canada, feeling comfortable after back-to-back victories, will now turn its attention to the Americans.
"I'm happy with where we are at and how well the team is playing," Agosta said. "We're on a mission. We have worked so hard this year. Our coaching staff has done a fantastic job with preparing us for each country we have to face. We're just going to keep it going and have fun doing it."