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Early Risers And Night Owls Prepare For U.S. Olympic Opener

BEIJING – In all his years in hockey, Joel Johnson can never remember coaching in a game with such a late puck drop. 

 

The 9:10 p.m. start time at the Wukesong Sports Centre means that women’s hockey fans will need to be either night owls or early risers, depending on which side of the international dateline they are on.

 

Team USA’s first three games all have late starts to accommodate the NBC television audience back home. (Start time on the east coast is 8:10 a.m.)

 

Their final preliminary round matchup against Canada is a little more convenient for those watching on site but it will turn North American hockey fans into night owls with an 11:10 p.m. start on the east coast. (All games will be televised on the USA Network.)

 

“[These late starts] make for a long day,” Johnson said prior to the team’s final tune-up on Wednesday. “When you factor in the travel back and forth with a long bus ride between the village here, it’s going to be a taxing day for our players. It’s just another one of the challenges that comes with the uniqueness of international competition.”

 

Maddie Rooney is slated to start in goal for Team USA when it takes on Finland in the Olympic opener.Maddie Rooney is slated to start in goal for Team USA when it takes on Finland in the Olympic opener.The U.S. comes into the tournament wearing a bull’s-eye on their backs as the defending gold medalists. While they know they’ll have to be ready to take their opponents’ best shot, Johnson is more concerned with how his team, and particularly the eight first-time Olympians, will handle the magnitude of the moment.

 

“Even though we’re the defending gold medalists, it’s a new Olympics, so everybody’s starting new. I’m not sure it matters a whole lot to us what happened four years ago,” said Johnson, who is coaching in his first Olympics after years of coaching U.S. teams at other international tournaments.

 

“We’re proud of that effort, but this is a fresh start and we’re excited. There’s some great competition starting with Finland tomorrow.”

 

While the U.S. is 8-0 all-time against Finland in the Olympics, including a 5-0 victory in their most recent meeting in the semifinals of the 2018 tournament, there will be no looking past a disciplined defensive-minded team that has the experience and talent to stage an early tournament upset.

 

“When I think about Finland it’s a heck of a draw, but I think it’s a perfect way to start,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be one of those situations where if we don’t show up ready to go we’re going to be in for a long day.”

 

After facing Canada six times in the run up to Beijing, the players are excited to face off against an opponent not wearing red and white.

“We’re grateful to play Finland. They’re a great competition for us and it’s nice to start off with that intense level of play,” said Maddie Rooney, who will get the start in goal for the U.S. “It’s going to be a good challenge for us, but it’ll set us off on the right foot and we’re looking forward to it.”

Like every athlete who jumped through a myriad of precautionary hoops to get here, these women are finally ready to take the next step in a journey four years in the making.

 

“This team has battled through a lot to get here,” said U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield. “We haven’t played an opponent in a very long time, so we’re excited to get going. Finland’s up first and it’ll be great just to play against somebody other than ourselves.”

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