Sports Winter Olympics 2018: As USA, Canada women go for gold, battle for bronze is one to watch

15:22  17 january  2018
15:22  17 january  2018 Source:   sportingnews.com

30 things to know about Pyeongchang Olympics with 30 days to go

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USA and Canada are the favorites to win Olympic gold and silver at the Pyeongchang Games. But what about bronze ? Breaking down the rest of the field's chances to claim third or upset the order.

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The national women's teams of the United States and Canada are far and away the favorites to win Olympic gold and silver at the Pyeongchang Games. Everyone agrees that the eternal rivals are the two best teams in the world of women's hockey, but there is a great deal of uncertainty about who will take home the bronze in February.

Looking back to the 2014 Sochi Olympics to project what might happen in South Korea is somewhat misleading. Switzerland claimed bronze in 2014 thanks in large part to the excellence of goaltender Florence Schelling. In addition to being named the tournament's best goaltender, Schelling also earned MVP honors. She carried her team and made 28 saves against Sweden in the bronze medal game.

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But a lot has changed for Switzerland since Sochi.

The Swiss have finished outside of the top five in the last three women's world championships since winning their first Olympic medal. Schelling and other Swiss stars like Lara Stalder are either entering their prime or are still in their prime, but Switzerland lacks depth on paper.

It seems like the odds are stacked against Schelling and company winning a medal in February.

Barring a massive upset, the U.S. and Canada will occupy two of the three spots on the podium. Which nation joins the powerhouses is where things can get interesting, so let's break down the rest of the field's chances to claim bronze or upset the order.

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USA and Canada are the favorites to win Olympic gold and silver at the Pyeongchang Games. But what about bronze ? Breaking down the rest of the field's chances to claim third or upset the order.

USA and Canada are the favorites to win Olympic gold and silver at the Pyeongchang Games. MORE: How to watch the 2018 Winter Olympics : Full USA men's, women 's Olympic hockey schedules. One way or another, the battle for bronze in Pyeongchang will be one to watch .

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Finland

The favorite for bronze in Pyeongchang is almost certainly Finland. The Finns have won bronze at the Four Nations Cup in three consecutive years, and head coach Pasi Mustonen's team has also finished third at the worlds in two of the last three years.

Something else Finland has going for it is a recent victory over Canada in a major tournament.

On April 1, the Finns managed to eke out a 4-3 win against Canada at the 2017 Women's World Championship. The Canadians got their revenge in the semifinals with a definitive 4-0 shutout, but the women's hockey world took notice. The Finns are the real deal.

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Finland's potent mix of veterans and young stars separates it from the rest of the field. The Lady Lions' greatest weapon is captain Jenni Hiirikoski, who just might be the best defender in the women's game.

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USA and Canada are the favorites to win Olympic gold and silver at the Pyeongchang Games. But what about bronze ? Breaking down the rest of the field's chances to claim third or upset the order.

USA and Canada are the favorites to win Olympic gold and silver at the Pyeongchang Games. MORE: How to watch the 2018 Winter Olympics : Full USA men's, women 's Olympic hockey schedules. One way or another, the battle for bronze in Pyeongchang will be one to watch .

Much of Finland's success in Pyeongchang will come down to its special teams play, and Hiirikoski will be the key to that. Her ability to get pucks on net from the point is uncanny. Hiirikoski averaged six shots per game at the 2017 worlds and nearly four shots per game at the Four Nations Cup playing against USA, Canada and Sweden. In addition to her prowess in the offensive zone, the 5-4 defender is also steadfast in her own zone.

Russia

Finland's greatest competition for bronze will likely be the Russians — or rather, the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The cloud hanging over the Russians after their disqualification from the Sochi Games as a result of violations of the anti-doping policy is something the team will have to deal with all tournament long.

In addition to losing the right to compete as "Team Russia," the hosts of the 2014 Olympics will also be without a few noteworthy players as a result of lifetime bans from the IOC.

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Fortunately for Russia, the team's core of star forwards are eligible to play.

In many ways the Russians will be the wild card of the tournament. Russia's offense, led by captain Olga Sosina and future superstar Anna Shokhina, has the potential to carry the team into the medal round. But in recent tournaments, Russia's lack of discipline has been a major issue. Consistency has also been a problem for the Russians and the holes left in the lineup by the lifetime bans certainly won't help. With that being said, Russia remains a team that needs to be taken seriously.

Like Finland, the Olympic Athletes from Russia are playing in Group A with USA and Canada. That means Finland and Russia will play the two North American powerhouses before facing each other Feb. 15. It also means an all-but-certain meeting with Switzerland or Sweden for either team in the quarterfinals once group play is finished.

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Sweden

If the title of wild card doesn't belong to the Olympic Athletes from Russia, it would certainly go to Team Sweden.

The Swedes will play under polarizing head coach Leif Boork for the last time in Pyeongchang before he's replaced by Ylva Martinsen in April. They play a conservative game, but lack the firepower of the Finns. It's hard to know what to expect from Damkronora in February.

The eyes of the hockey world will be on the gold-medal game Feb. 22. But the battle for bronze in Pyeongchang that takes place the day before has the potential to be just as riveting. There's a lot on the line for Finland, the Olympic Athletes from Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and host nation South Korea. But there are only three medals to win and everyone agrees that Canada and USA have already laid claim to two of them.

One way or another, the battle for bronze in Pyeongchang will be one to watch.

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