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SOCHI, Russia – There was no overwhelming need or desperate urgency for the U.S. women's hockey team to play staunch defense Monday inside Shayba Arena.

The way Americans dominated Sweden offensively in a 6-1 semifinal wipeout at the Winter Olympics ensured that.

But was that any way to prep for a women's ice hockey gold-medal showdown Thursday against three-time defending Olympic champion Canada?

U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter waved off any concern.

"Sweden is a skilled team," Vetter said, "so any opportunity they have to bring the puck up in your zone, you've got to be careful with them, you've got to be physical, you've got to play good positionally in our end, and I think we did a good job of that.

"They're a physical, skilled team, Sweden is, and they definitely pushed us all the way to the end and I think we did a good job responding and played some good hockey."

The U.S. out-shot the Swedes 70-9, uncorking 26 before Sweden had taken its first.

That quickly put to rest any concern that a repeat of 2006, when Sweden stunned the U.S. 3-2 in an Olympic semifinal shootout, could occur. It's the only time the U.S. has lost to anyone except Canada at the Winter Games.

"We haven't earned anything yet," defenseman Anne Schleper, of St. Cloud, Minn., cautioned afterward.

The 70 U.S. shots were one shy of the Olympic record, set in the Americans' 12-1 rout of China in Salt Lake City in 2002.

The fuel for much of Monday's firepower came from the defense, Gigi Marvin said.

Defensemen scored two of the goals, as Megan Bozek and Kacey Bellamy had one apiece, and also combined for four assists – two for Bozek, and one each for Bellamy and Marvin.

"Puck possession is the big thing for us, and we did that very well from the start, bringing it out of our own end," said Marvin, of Warroad, Minn. "That starts with the defense and it was a focal point, and will be going forward."

The few offensive forays Sweden did muster often didn't even lead to a shot, which Marvin also viewed as a sign of U.S. defensive excellence. Rather, an American would come along, take the puck away and begin its trip toward the opposite end.

"We came out flying from start to finish and we played a great game," said Vetter, of Cottage Grove, Wisc. "We came in knowing we wanted to get a lot of shots on net and get used to doing that and we did that."

Canada had outshot the U.S. 31-27 in last week's 3-2 group-play victory. The U.S. has two practice days to correct and prepare. Vetter wouldn't identify specific areas that needed improvement.

"We're ready to go," she said, "I think we've been waiting long enough and we're ready to play for that gold medal."

Sweden was down 5-0 Monday before it scored, as Anna Borgvist deflected a shot that sprung from a faceoff. Moments before, Vetter had put her glove down to stop the puck from crossing the goal line after it trickled between her legs.

While the U.S. hasn't won an Olympic gold medal in women's hockey since the first tournament in 1998, it has won the last four of the past five world titles over Canada.

"We're excited. We're ready. This is what we've been training for," Marvin said.

Kevin Tresolini writes for The News Journal (Wilmington, Del.).

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