Hockey: Canada thumps Italy 16-0

Canadian Press

2/11/2006 8:02:07 PM

TURIN, Italy (CP) - Canada got the win but it was the losing Italians who got more out of the 16-0 thrashing.

While the Canadian women's hockey team was heavily favoured in its opening game against the Italians at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, it was the most lopsided score in the sport's short history in the Games. The previous high was Canada's 13-0 win over host Japan in 1998 when women's hockey made its Olympic debut.

For Canada, the host Italians were practice fodder for tougher competition to come later as the defending champions take on Russia on Sunday.

Italy has a total of 373 female players compared to Canada's 66,000, and has only four women's hockey clubs.

So the game was actually a breakthrough for the Italian women because they played in front of 8,399 - far more spectators than they'd ever had before - at Palasport Olympico, and woke their country up to the fact that women do play hockey here.

The Canadians were excited to get on the ice and play their first game and further jazzed by the news that moguls skier Jennifer Heil won Canada's first gold medal of the Games earlier in the day.

But it was tough for them to sustain that intensity as they repeatedly drove through Italy's porous defence and scored at close range. The Canadians took their foot off the pedal in the final five minutes, but still scored two more.

''We expected Italy to be weak,'' forward Hayley Wickenheiser said. ''I don't know if we would have predicted that score, but we're not going to apologize for winning by that much. It's the Olympic Games and we've got a gold medal to try and win.

''Personally, I don't like blowing out a team like that.''

Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette each had hat tricks and two assists.

Cheryl Pounder and Gillian Apps each scored twice and Canada also had goals from Sarah Vallaincourt, Carla MacLeod, Jennifer Botterill, Jayna Hefford, Danielle Goyette and Katie Weatherston. Cherie Piper had five assists.

There weren't many blade marks in the ice in front of Canadian goaltender Kim St. Pierre after each period as Canada outshot the hosts 47-5 in the first 40 minutes and 66-5 overall.

Italian starter Debora Montanari was replaced by Luana Frasnelli to start the third period, when Canada led 9-0 and Frasnelli fared worse as either the defence in front of her collapsed or she simply let in a soft goal.

Canada was the bigger, stronger and faster team and cycled the puck around the offensive zone almost at will.

Unlike the men's Italian team, which has several Canadians on it, the women are all from Italy and the team did not go looking for Italian nationals in other countries.

Forward Sabina Floria said the players took pride in that and head coach Markus Sparer added the team couldn't afford to recruit anyway.

They played hard to the end, spurred by singing and chanting by their home fans, but couldn't match the Canadians' individual skill.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel must have sensed what was coming and tried to soften the blow by preaching patience at a news conference earlier in the day.

He addressed the continuing imbalance in international women's hockey by pointing out the Canadian men's team beat Sweden 22-0 in 1920 and it took the Swedes 64 years to beat the Canadian men at the Olympics.

''I tell you, it will not take 64 years for Sweden to beat Canada in the women's game,'' he said. ''Here in Europe, football is for men, hockey is for men, and women have to try to fight internally in their federation to have their place, to have the support from their own federation.''

The Russians lost 3-1 to Sweden on Saturday in a Group A game. The defending world champion U.S. opened with a 6-0 win over Switzerland and Finland downed Germany 3-0 in Group B games. The top two teams in each group advance to the semifinals on Feb. 17.

The Italian women were visibly relieved following the game and they were also touched by the support they received. The game had a festive atmosphere as the spectators sang and chanted ''I-tal-ia'' and performed the wave in the second and third periods. There were also many Canadian supporters at the game, including actor Donald Sutherland.

''These Olympic Games are an opportunity,'' Montanari said. ''People don't know in Italy that the women play. The only know there are males.''

Canada is a veteran team, but had a few players making their Olympic debut, so head coach Melody Davidson said it was an opportunity for them to work out the jitters.

''I thought it was a great game to just play and everybody get your feet wet,'' she said. ''Tomorrow, there's no excuses. You've played in an Olympic game now.''

Sparer said he was relieved no one was seriously injured, although Italian defenceman Nadia de Nardin lost her footing just after Ouellette scored her second goal and struck her neck on the goalpost.

While de Nardin left the game under her own steam, Sparer said later that she was suffering from lack of feeling in her fingers.

Prior to Saturday's game, no Canadian player had scored more than one goal in a period at the Olympics, but Ouellette erased that with two goals in the first two minutes of the game.

Ouellette and Wickenheiser became the second and third Canadian players respectively to score hat tricks in the Olympics after Goyette accomplished that in that win over Japan in 1998.

Wickenheiser has said playing in the new Palasport Olympico is like skating in a crystal ball and it does gleam. The light shines through the clear plastic seats and reflects off the metallic and light grey surfaces. The arena holds 12,116 and is situated beside Olympic Stadium where the opening ceremonies were held the previous evening.

Notes: The game featured the oldest and youngest players in the women's hockey tournament. Danielle Goyette, Canada's flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies, is 40 and Valentina Bettarini is 15 . . . Canada wore new black Canadian jerseys that will be auctioned off on Ebay . . . The Canadian men's team opens against Italy on Wednesday, so the hosts may be in for another hockey drubbing.