Finland, Sweden play for bronze in women’s hockey |

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Finland, Sweden play for bronze in women’s hockey

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Finland goalie Noora Raty is confident her women’s hockey team is ready to end a 12-year stretch without an Olympic medal.

Sweden goalie Kim Martin seems equally certain she can extend that drought another four years.

“It’s always a good game when we play, but I think we are a little better,” Martin said.

The regular third-place finishers in this North American-dominated sport will meet Thursday morning in the Olympic bronze medal match at Canada Hockey Place. Both the Swedes and the Finns are counting on their goalies, two of the world’s best.

“We are the better team, and I’m confident we will win,” said Raty, who played her most impressive game of the tournament in Finland’s 5-0 semifinal loss to Canada. “It’s important for us to win a medal, because Finland hasn’t got one since 1998.”

Indeed, Sweden won bronze medals in 2002 with a victory over Finland in the third-place game. Sweden made the final in Turin, earning silver medals after a historic upset win in the semifinals over the Americans, who also beat Finland for bronze.

Sweden entered the Olympics knowing it would need another enormous upset to equal its 2006 finish. That upset didn’t happen, as the Swedes were routed by a combined 21-2 by Canada and the U.S. team.

The results were neither discouraging nor surprising to Sweden coach Peter Elander, who knew his team would need an extraordinary amount of good fortune to compete for anything but bronze in Vancouver. While he has spent most of a decade building the Swedish program, even centralizing the team back home this winter, he’s realistic about his sport’s power structure.

“We worked really hard, but the USA worked 10 times as hard,” Elander said. “We’ve done a lot of work, but the USA and Canada has outworked everyone.”

Finland’s lack of goal-scoring prowess could be a problem against Martin, who is eager to atone for two rocky performances against the favorites. Finland has scored just seven goals in the tournament’s four games, five of those against Russia.

But Raty has emerged as a viable rival for Martin, both internationally and in the U.S. college ranks. Raty plays at the University of Minnesota, while Martin will finish her career at Minnesota Duluth next season.

“She is a good goalie, but we have a stronger team of forwards, I think,” Martin said. “It should be a good matchup because both teams have their strengths.”

Sweden is led by Katarina Timglas, who has 12 points while playing on the Swedes’ top line. Pernilla Winberg has five goals already in the tournament.

Finland’s goals might have to come from Nina Tikkinen and Venla Hovi, who have two apiece. Finland’s defense has been its strength in front of Raty, who started slowly at the Olympics before making a handful of stunning saves in a one-sided loss to Canada that could have been much worse.

No matter the result, both teams will go back to work next season, chasing Canada and the U.S. team into the future.

“We didn’t get our ultimate goal here, but we still want to win a medal,” Raty said. “A bronze medal would be the greatest thing we’ve ever done for our team.”