GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) – U.S. women’s hockey coach Robb Stauber said he doesn’t expect captain Meghan Duggan to face disciplinary action that would keep her out of the Olympic gold medal match after a collision in the semifinals that required two people to virtually carry Finland’s Ronja Savolainen off the ice.
Duggan and the Finnish defenseman banged legs in the faceoff circle nearest the Finland bench, and Savolainen went crashing face-first into the boards. A couple of teammates gathered around her, the medical staff came out to tend to her and for several minutes the Gangneung Hockey Center remained quiet awaiting a positive sign.
Savolainen was eventually helped off, with one person under each arm, her legs dangling almost uselessly beneath her. But she returned in the second period and said after that she had no symptoms more serious than cold legs from being on the ice so long.
“I’m OK, so it’s good,” she said after the Americans won 5-0 to advance to the gold medal game. “I play all the time, no matter what happens.”
Women’s hockey doesn’t allow checking like the sport familiar to NHL fans. Duggan was not penalized for the hit, and Stauber said the referee told him it was an unavoidable collision.
“She came over right away, the ref came over and said, ‘Hey, it’s a collision,'” said Stauber, who was unable to see the hit from the U.S. bench. “Based on everything they said, it looked like a collision. Two players going hard at a puck. It happens.”
The International Ice Hockey Federation provides for a review of potentially illegal plays, regardless of whether a penalty was called. The Americans would be notified of the review, and Duggan would undergo a hearing, usually the next day.
“That’s certainly out of our control,” Duggan said.
The gold medal game is Thursday, against either Canada or the Russian team.
There was no announcement about Savolainen’s condition during the game, but her return also raised questions about the concussion protocol the international federation created to deal with the spate of head injuries in the sport that can leave players with permanent brain damage.
The IIHF protocol lists “rubber legs” as one sign of a concussion that should lead to an evaluation by a team physician. A player can only return to the game if the physician determines that she did not sustain a concussion.
After spending only 2 minutes, 30 seconds on the ice before leaving the game midway through the first period, Savolainen played 3:16 in the second and 5:23 in the third.
“Really happy that she was able to get up,” said Duggan, who said there was nothing dirty about the hit. “Our team plays clean and within the rules whenever we can.”