Finland’s Noora Raty sets sights on gold (and possibly Olympic hockey stardom)

Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia — From Jim Craig in 1980 to Dominik Hasek in 1998, the Winter Olympics has seen its share of hockey goaltending heroics. Saturday in Sochi, the United States women will kick off their tournament against a Finland team that features as good a candidate as any to become the next netminding legend.

Noora Raty has already beaten the Americans once, in November, when she made an incredible 58 saves on 59 shots, helping the Finns to a stunning 3-1 upset at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid. Some called it the Finland women’s very own Miracle On Ice – even more appropriate given where it took place.

“I was seeing the puck really well,” Raty said Wednesday. “We were able to keep them outside from the best scoring areas. … That’s huge against the USA.”

Making life a bit more difficult for the 24-year-old former Golden Gopher should be the game plan for the Americans on Saturday.

“She definitely competes hard, positionally she does very well and I think she does a great job of keeping them in every game,” U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter said. “We will have to work hard, move the puck around and create deflections to score on her.”

While most of the talk ahead of the women’s tournament has focused on the rivalry between the two powerhouses, the Americans and the Canadians, U.S. coach Katey Stone has maintained all week that her team’s attention is on the Finns.

“The last game we didn’t win was against Finland in the Four Nations Cup,” said Stone, “and there’s not a player in that locker room that doesn’t remember that.”

After Finland on Saturday, the U.S. women have two more preliminary-round games, Monday versus Switzerland and Wednesday versus Canada.

Lara Gut wins Lake Louise super-G, closes gap on Mikaela Shiffrin

SOELDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 22: Lara Gut of Switzerland takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Giant Slalom on October 22, 2016 in Soelden, Austria (Photo by Michel Cottin/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

The early portion of the Alpine skiing season indicates the battle for the women’s World Cup overall title could be very close between Lara Gut and Mikaela Shiffrin.

Gut stated her case again Sunday, winning a super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta, picking up 100 points and drawing to within 28 of the leader Shiffrin in the standings. They are through seven of a scheduled 37 races.

Shiffrin, so strong this fall, took a step back with a 34th-place finish under falling snow Sunday, the race delayed by 75 minutes due to the weather.

LAKE LOUISE: Full results | Race replay

Shiffrin had placed 18th and 13th in her first World Cup downhills the previous two days. She was 15th in the Lake Louise super-G one year ago, her World Cup debut in that discipline.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion and a World Cup giant slalom winner, is turning into an overall title threat for two reasons.

One, her addition of speed disciplines to pick up extra points (she added 33 points this weekend). Two, the absence of past overall champions Lindsey Vonn and Anna Veith due to injuries and Tina Maze due to a retirement (after a home finale).

Shiffrin’s best World Cup overall standings finish before this season was fourth two seasons ago.

Gut, though, is a proven winner in downhill, super-G and giant slalom and arguably hitting her prime at age 25. Shiffrin is 21 and not entirely comfortable in speed races.

Shiffrin can look forward to the upcoming World Cup schedule. Nine of the next 12 races are technical events — her specialties — giving her a great chance to hold the World Cup overall standings lead into mid-January.

The women’s World Cup moves to Sestriere, Italy, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom. Shiffrin has won her last 10 World Cup slaloms, two shy of the record streak for any women’s event.

MORE: Ted Ligety seconds behind in continued return from torn ACL

Ted Ligety seconds behind as he continues return from ACL tear

VAL D'ISERE, FRANCE - DECEMBER 04: Ted Ligety of USA competes during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Giant Slalom on December 4, 2016 in Val d'Isere, France (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

If Ted Ligety is to become the world’s best giant slalom skier again, it’s going to take some time.

On Sunday, the Olympic and world champion placed 11th in his second GS since tearing his right ACL in January.

The 32-year-old Ligety was 2.63 seconds behind first-time French winner Mathieu Faivre after two runs in Val d’Isère, France.

“I didn’t feel that comfortable to push that hard and it showed in the time,” Ligety told media in Val d’Isère, according to the U.S. Ski Team.

Ligety was ninth following the first run, 1.37 seconds back of Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who fell to second, .49 behind Faivre, after the last run.

Ligety failed to build on his season-opening fifth place in Soelden, Austria, from Oct. 23, his first race in nine months. He said after Saturday’s finish that he feels like he’s skiing better than he was in October.

“I just need to be able to put it together and have the confidence to push hard,” Ligety said.

He has gone five straight World Cup giant slaloms without a podium, his longest drought since the 2006-07 season.

The U.S. put five men in the top 30 overall, with Ligety joined by Tommy Ford (14th), Tim Jitloff (18th), Ryan Cochran-Siegle (22nd) and David Chodounsky (27th).

VAL D’ISERE: Full results | Run 2 replay

NBCSN will air coverage of the Val d’Isère giant slalom on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET, also streaming here, with six-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller as an analyst.

The men’s World Cup stays in Val d’Isère for a giant slalom and slalom next weekend.

VIDEO: High-speed crash in Lake Louise women’s downhill