Zoë Hayden

IIHF Women's World Championships: Medals and Stepping Stones

Russia wins bronze

Russia upset Finland to win the bronze medal in a shootout on Monday evening. Olga Sosina and Anna Shukina scored on Meeri Räisänen to bring Russia their third ever medal at the Women's Worlds -- they also won bronze in 2013 and 2001.

The game was tightly contested and went scoreless through three periods and overtime. Nadezhda Morozova was perfect in net for Russia stopping a total of 32 shots and also getting some help from her goal posts in the shootout contest.

One for the ages

The gold medal contest between the United States and Canada was a roller coaster. While there was very little offense to go around on the scoresheet, watching the best in the world dance around each other for quality chances never got old through 60 regulation minutes.

The story of the game was in the blue paint at either end of the ice. Alex Rigsby and Emerance Maschmeyer both had legendary performances in goal -- actually transcendent, given the quality of the competition they were facing. Rigsby is 24 and Maschmeyer is 21. Both started the championship game, as they had in the teams' first meetup in the prelims, with veterans Jessie Vetter and Charline Labonté on the bench. While it's still too soon to be sure who will take the No. 1 job for each nation in the 2018 Olympics, both Maschmeyer and Rigsby made it clear that if called upon, they can perform in pivotal games. Both made 32 saves.

It was Team USA's 33rd shot of the game that went in behind Maschmeyer. The Americans killed a penalty to Lee Stecklein in OT, and then went on a power play of their own with Halli Krzyzaniak in the box. Despite having an improved power play in the gold medal game, Team USA went 0 for 3 on the advantage, and the overtime power play felt wasted -- until a few seconds after Krzyzaniak left the penalty box.

Megan Bozek kept the puck in at the blueline and wristed it deep, where it bounced from Jocelyne Lamoureux to Alex Carpenter. Carpenter got two cracks at Maschmeyer -- the first slipped five hole, and she didn't miss tapping it across the line. Team USA won the gold medal 1-0 in a game that was just decadent -- offense, defense, and goaltending came together and created an unforgettable spectacle of what women's hockey at its highest level consistently provides. It was 72 minutes and 30 seconds of tension and adrenaline -- back-and-forth chances, crisp passing, physical puck battles. It was really, truly anybody's game; and that level of parity at such a high level only helps to elevate everything beneath it, and everything competing with it. No other country can yet compete with the US and Canada in women's ice hockey for the gold, but the blueprint is there, and it could come sooner than we think.

Speaking of. . .

How did everyone else do in the 2016 Women's Worlds? Even those not competing for a medal ended up solidifying their rankings for next year. Check out this Wikipedia article for full details, but here are some quick hits:

  • Finland hangs on to their #3 global ranking by a mere 10 points after losing to Russia. Russia will be seeded fourth going into Pyeongchang.
  • Sweden brings up the rear of direct qualification, after being upset by a 4-1 score in the WWC quarterfinals by the Czech Republic.
  • The upset victory is huge for the Czechs even though they were eliminated in the next round. They finished the tournament ranked sixth in the WWC and ninth in the entire world, and beat teams such as Switzerland and Japan in the prelims that also have strong programs. 19-year-old Czech goaltender Klara Peslarova played every minute for her team and was solid, including stopping 5 of 7 shots in a shootout against Japan. They'll be in the hunt for one of the final two Olympic berths still available, getting a bye, essentially, until the final round of qualification tournaments. In February 2017, they'll be in a tournament group with Switzerland (the host country), Denmark, and a to-be-determined qualifier.
  • Japan is in the same boat, except they'll get to host their final qualification round against Germany, Austria, and another TBD qualifier, also in February 2017.

The final qualification rounds are the next big step on the road to Pyeongchang, and might prove especially competitive. 2016 in Kamloops stands out among other Women's Worlds tournaments because of how high the quality of play was across the board. Women's hockey has been substantially elevated over the last year alone by the growth of the professional leagues and their visibility. It's blossomed outwards, giving people tangible links to the NCAA and international programs that are the lifeblood of the sport. Every big game feels like a potential powder keg, setting off smaller explosions around the world. The gold medal game in Kamloops this year was especially extraordinary because it feels like there's so much more where that came from.

(Photo credit: USA Hockey/Twitter)

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