Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Wallner and Martin provide valiant performance for Sweden in collaborative effort

From the outset, the fact that the United States outshot Sweden by an astounding 70-9 margin does not bode well for the cynics who believe women’s hockey should be removed from the Winter Games. While IIHF president Rene Fasel advised USA Today that he is optimistic about the sports’ future at the Games, the fact that Sweden qualified for the medal round is truly admirable.

Considering that the Swedes were in the relegation round at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Ottawa, Canada, they were not favored to be competing for medals in Sochi. A pair of visceral upsets, Switzerland defeating Russia, and Sweden upending their eternal rival Finland, certainly indicated that competition is improving in the women’s game.

Although Canada will play the United States in the gold medal match for the fourth time in the history of the event at the Winter Games, Sweden’s goaltending definitely should encourage their fans to believe that a bronze medal is highly possible. Valentina Wallner and Kim Martin provided a performance that was nothing short of legendary in Sochi.

Despite losing the contest by a 6-1 mark to the United States, the number of shots clearly indicated that the score could have been much worse. Testament to their talents between the piopes, this dynamic goaltending duo combined for 70 saves.

After one period of play, the US enjoyed an overwhelming 29-1 advantage in shots. Although the US would score their three goals in the first period in a time span of 4:29, Wallner did nothing short of standing on her head in order to provide her team with an opportunity to succeed. Goals by Alex Carpenter, Kacey Bellamy and Amanda Kessel may have given the US a comfortable lead, but Wallner’s toughness was certainly noticed by the fans in attendance.

Despite another strong effort in the second stanza, Wallner was removed after the US extended their lead to a 5-0 score. Goals by Monique Lamoureux and Megan Bozek forced Swedish head coach Niclas Hogberg to make a goaoltending change. By the time that Kim Martin was brought in to relive Wallner, she had already logged 47 saves.

Martin would stop 22 US shots in 27:29 of ice time including bravely fighting off high-scoring Jocelyne Lamoureux. She would face Martin on a penalty shot with less than five minutes remaining in the contest. An empty net goal from Brianna Decker made it a 6-1 final for the US as Sweden proceeds to the bronze medal game.

While American goaltender Jessie Vetter allowed her only goal in the third period to Anna Borgqvist, there was no question that Wallner and Martin were the true stars of this game. Although it was not the type of loss that any team, male or female, would want to endure, there is a tiny bit of consolation and perhaps irony for Sweden. Switzerland’s goaltender, Florence Schelling, made 64 saves in a 5-0 loss to Canada during Pool A competition.

With such sparkling performances between the pipes, goals will likely be hard to come by in the bronze medal game. After so many pundits expected the likes of Finland or host country Russia (who played each other in the bronze medal game at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds) to compete for bronze at the Winter Games, the presence of Sweden and Switzerland indicates that the level of competition, including the quality of goaltending, cannot be disputed.

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