SOCHI, Russia — The players never once cast a glance beyond the task at hand.
The United States women's hockey team stayed true to its vow to take each game as it came, including a 6-1 semifinal win over Sweden on Monday that was uglier than the final score indicated.
What's next for the U.S.?
Here's looking at you, Canada.
As the whole world anticipated, including Olympic organizers who designed the tournament format to create this matchup, the U.S. will meet its neighbors to the North for the gold medal on Thursday.
Back to Monday. How bad was it?
During a break late in the first period, an ice crew clearing shavings from in front of the U.S. goal had nothing to do. The Americans had the first 26 shots and led 3-0 at the first intermission. Any argument about the competitive balance among women's hockey teams was cast aside.
The U.S. outshot Sweden, 70-9, which gave American goalie Jessie Vetter plenty of time to watch.
"It was a great team win, a great 60 minutes of USA hockey," Megan Bozek said. "Another 60 minutes left to play and hopefully the gold medal is in our hands."
Bozek and Brianna Decker had a goal and two assists each while Kacey Bellamy and Amanda Kessel each added a goal and an assist. Alex Carpenter and Monique Lamoureux also scored and Kendall Coyne added two assists.
After avoiding the subject during the tournament, U.S. players were finally ready to talk about playing Canada for the gold. Their archrivals advanced with a 3-1 victory over Switzerland in the other semifinal. The Canadians have reached the gold-medal game in all five Olympic women's tournaments and are seeking their fourth consecutive gold.
The U.S. will be looking for revenge after losing the gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games to Canada, which also beat the Americans during the preliminary round.
"There are 11 of us returning from Vancouver that in our minds came up short, so that's something that has driven all of us over the last four years," Lamoureux said. "That feeling of coming up short doesn't fade over time, it's something that really sticks with us."
The history includes brawls during pre-Olympic play and hitting that often pushes the limits of the rules that say no body checking in the women's game. The dislike between the teams is real.
"I think intense is probably a better word than hate because we all do respect one another at the end of the day," U.S. forward Hilary Knight said. "They're at the top of their game and we're at the top of ours. It's a great battle of the border there. It's definitely a hot ticket."
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