At 2022 Winter Olympics, Canada women’s hockey team confirms favorite status

Athletes of Canada celebrate scoring during the women's ice hockey preliminary round Group A .
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BEIJING (AP) — The Canadians just finished making brisk work of Sweden in the quarterfinal round of the women’s Olympic hockey tournament, and yet coach Troy Ryan wasn’t prepared to assess just how dominant his team can be.

A better time to ask might be Thursday, when the gold medal is awarded.

The Canadians are now considered the favorites, having raised the bar of the women’s game with a dynamic and relentless, four-line transition attack that has outscored opponents by a combined 44-5 at the Beijing Games.

It’ll take a little more to impress Ryan.

“Honestly, we keep things pretty simple in our minds,” said Ryan on Friday, following an 11-0 win over Sweden in which Canada scored five times on six shots during a second-period span of 7:25. “I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel at all.”

Perhaps not.

But the Canadians, in three-plus years under Ryan, are reinventing themselves following the lowest points in their proud history.

The downturn began with a gold-medal loss to arch-rival United States at the 2018 Winter Games, which ended Canada’s run of four Olympic championships. The following year, the Canadians settled for bronze in failing to reach the world championship final for the first time in tournament history.

The losses led to Ryan and his staff transforming what had been both a stale team culture and style of play.

MORE OLYMPIC WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Denmark’s Olympic hockey teams make sibling history

They made the game fun again by placing a focus on speed and transition to increase offense and complement the strengths of the ultra-talented pool Canada draws from. And with that, came an emphasis on not being afraid of making mistakes.

“We’ve got to be OK with the mistakes, because one of the things we talked about was how do you improve your game if you don’t leave a little room for error?” he said.

The change paid off at the world championships in August, when Canada’s 3-2 overtime win over the U.S. in the title game ended the Americans’ run of five tournament titles.

Ryan’s strategy centers on using Canada’s play-making defenders to exit the zone as quickly as possible — accepting the risk of turnovers to keep opponents on their heels.

“I think we had become a little robotic in the way we played,” said Natalie Spooner, who leads the tournament with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists). “The quicker we play on defense, the quicker we get the puck out, let’s us play offense and let’s us do our thing.”

Canada will face Switzerland, and the U.S, coming off a 4-1 quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic, will play Finland in the semifinals on Monday. Both games are preliminary round rematches after Canada defeated the Swiss 12-1, and the Americans beat Finland 5-2.

Finland advanced with a 7-1 win over Japan on Saturday, with Petra Nieminen scoring three goals and adding two assists. In Switzerland’s 4-2 win over the Russian Olympic Committee, Alina Muller converted Lara Stalder’s pass on a 2-on-1 break to score the go-ahead goal with 2:37 remaining in regulation and then added an empty-netter.

Swiss coach Colin Muller sees a significant jump in Canada’s game since the world championships.

“It’s ridiculous. I think Canadians and the U.S. have stepped up their game, but for me at the moment, Canada, maybe more,” Muller said. “It’s a different animal than what I even saw in August. And when I compare back two years ago and three years ago and that 2019 worlds, it’s a different team.”

The Canadians have dialed it up a notch after a four-month leadup of practices and games that allowed them to polish their chemistry.

Canada leads the tournament in scoring efficiency with 44 goals on just 250 shots, and power-play efficiency in converting 10 of 20 chances. Canada’s 4-2 win over the U.S. last week matched the most the team has ever scored against its cross-border foes in Olympic play.

Meanwhile, Canadians Brianne Jenner and newcomer Sarah Fillier are tied for the tournament lead with eight goals each, one short of matching an Olympic record set by Canada’s Meghan Agosta and Switzerland’s Stephanie Marty at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“Being able to score as many goals as we have, and scored in so many different ways really gives us confidence,” forward Blayre Turnbull said. “Some of us definitely played a bit more of an uptight game where we were gripping our stick and just thinking about mistakes. We’ve done a big 180 as a program.”

The change is night and day for goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens, who actually quit playing hockey after 2018 because she no longer enjoyed it. She attended Wisconsin to get her master’s degree in accounting, where Desbiens doubled as a goalie coach for the Badgers women’s team.

Coaching and the change in Canada’s culture lured her back.

“I think you see the fruits by seeing all the smiles on the ice,” said Desbiens, who has allowed four goals on 97 shots in three games. “Troy’s done a good job of creating a safe environment and making sure that all the players can play to their best ability and not have to hold on to their sticks too tight.”

2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Hockey Medal-Round Schedule

Women’s Hockey Game / Result Date / Start Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date / Start Time (Beijing, China)
Semifinal 1: CAN vs. SUI 2/13/22 11:10 PM 2/14/22 12:10 PM
Semifinal 2: USA vs. FIN 2/14/22 8:10 AM 2/14/22 9:10 PM
Women’s Hockey – Bronze-medal Game 2/16/22 6:30 AM 2/16/22 7:30 PM
Women’s Hockey – Gold-medal Game 2/16/22 11:10 PM 2/17/22 12:10 PM

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2022 Winter Olympics Schedule – How to watch every women’s event

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”