SOCHI, Russia – Before we can look ahead to the semifinals of the women's hockey tournament at the Sochi Winter Olympics, we must first take you back in time.
The date: Feb. 17, 2006. The place: Torino Exposition.
The Americans were playing Sweden in the semifinals. A formality, really, since TeamUSA had won the previous nine meetings over a 16-year span by a combined score of 68-12. Another matchup with Canada obviously awaited in the gold-medal game.
Except the Americans lost to Sweden, 3-2 in a shootout.
"I remember that too," Team USA coach Katey Stone said. "That's in the past. It's time to make the future."
The future starts with Monday's 7:30 a.m. (EST) semifinal against the Swedes.
So while the Americans and Canadians were dominant again in preliminary-round play, 2006 proved that there isn't automatically a gold-medal meeting between the women's hockey powers. Sweden will test the Americans again.
"They're good, they're crafty," said Team USA defenseman Megan Bozek, the former University of Minnesota standout from Buffalo Grove, Ill. "They beat Finland (4-2 in Saturday's quarterfinals) so there's something to be said about that."
There is a chance Team USA will be without one of the core players. Julie Chu, who is skating in her fourth consecutive Olympic tournament, left practice early on Saturday with some sort of injury to her left arm or shoulder.
She was involved in a collision in practice and kept her left arm and shoulder completely still as she walked from the rink to the dressing room.
Stone didn't have an update when she met with the media, saying only, "Hopefully she'll be ready to go. It could be a minor thing."
The Americans have played Sweden twice in international competition since the Torino Olympics: in the semifinals of the Vancouver Winter Games and in the preliminary round of the 2011 World Championship. Team USA was a convincing 9-1 winner both times.
"But you play so many games and anyone can beat anyone," said forward Meghan Duggan of Danvers, Mass. "You think back to 2006 and Sweden beat the U.S. You think back earlier in the year and Finland beat us (at the Four Nations Cup)."
Sweden has already posted one upset in Sochi by knocking off Finland on Saturday. The Finns, with standout goalie Noora Raty, were very likely the team the Americans expected to face.
No biggie, the players say. The winner advances to Thursday's noon (EST) gold-medal game against Canada or Switzerland.
"I don't think there's any surprises here," Bozek said. "There has always been six other teams here and our focus right now is Sweden. We're not even thinking about anything past Monday."
Oklobzija writes for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y.