Olympics: Katey Stone

Katey StoneAP Photo/Petr David JosekKatey Stone: 'You're either going to take the moment or it's going to take you. You have to make that decision.'

SOCHI, Russia -- When asked on Sunday about the mental approach of the U.S. women's hockey team on the eve of its semifinal showdown against Sweden, forward Hilary Knight hardly minced words.

"I'd hate to be the other team right now," Knight said.

Knight's confidence comes from the way her team has responded to its 3-2 preliminary-round loss to Canada on Wednesday. Two days after that defeat, U.S. coach Katey Stone lit into her team during a 45-minute video session -- the longest of the season. Stone pointed out countless mistakes the team made against the Canadians. The session was brutal. It was honest. It was direct. And it was needed.

"At this level, you have to be personally accountable for your own play," Stone said Sunday. "I think you create accountability and people need to be more ready. You're either going to take the moment or it's going to take you. You have to make that decision."

Stone, Knight and several others from the team who spoke to the media after Sunday's practice admitted that, for whatever reason, the entire team wasn't ready to play against Canada. They let the Canadians control the puck in the neutral zone. They lost 50/50 battles. After the players watched film on their own Thursday, Stone gathered the team before practice Friday for what she called a "strong discussion."

"It was painful to watch at times because you're watching yourself and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe we did that,'" Knight said. "It's so uncharacteristic of what we've done the last few months."

But Knight added that session was extremely beneficial.

"It was great," she said. "I hate losing, but it definitely instilled a little more oomph into our step. It made us come back to the drawing board and say, 'Hey, we need to play our style of hockey and show the world what we're all about.'"

Stone said her team has responded to the session with three great practices. She likes the team's approach off the ice and is confident they will be ready Monday. But she will not know for certain until the game starts.

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A rare early test for Team USA

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
Noora RatyAP Photo/Mike GrollWhen Team USA looks inside Finland's goal they will see the Noora Raty looking back at them.

The U.S. team outscored its three Olympic round-robin opponents 31-1. Canada steamrolled by a 41-2 margin. The routs raised some questions about the women’s inclusion in the Winter Games as critics wondered why the global level hadn't progressed more since the inaugural competition in 1998.

Whether there’s more overall depth in the game in 2014 will soon be revealed. But the preliminary rounds should be more competitive and entertaining because of a format change that sorted the top four teams into one group and the next four into another. The third- and fourth-place teams in Group A will move on to play the first- and second-place teams in Group B in the quarterfinals, and those winners advance to the semifinals against the top two teams.

That fine print means the U.S. team will have to accelerate into the tournament rather than warm up its engine. First up Saturday is Finland, whose team shockingly upended the Americans at home in the Four Nations Cup in November. Canada awaits next Wednesday in what is almost certainly Act I of a two-part championship drama.

"I don’t see a downside, personally," head coach Katey Stone said of the reshuffled deck. "It’s a world-class event, and we want to be challenged as much as we can."

The U.S. and Canada have faced off in group play in the last two world championships, which "only enhanced the overall product," Stone said.

Perhaps Finland’s greatest asset on the ice is 24-year-old goaltender Noora Raty, whose stellar career at the University of Minnesota ended with a perfect 41-0-0 season and a national championship. Raty made 58 saves in Finland’s 3-1 win in the premier Four Nations event.

U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter said she respects Raty’s ability to keep her team in any game and added that she welcomes the chance to hit the ice running, so to speak, in the first game.

Vetter made pre-Olympic headlines when the U.S. Olympic Committee asked her to modify designs on her mask that were deemed to run afoul of international rules, including the words “We The People” from the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling came in plenty of time for artist Ron Slater to redo the mask with alternate patriotic motifs Vetter liked -- an eagle and the Statue of Liberty, among others -- that stayed within guidelines for equipment.

"It didn’t affect me," Vetter said of the makeover. "He did a great job."