Canada 2, Finland 0
We had some trouble getting a verified/accurate roster for Team Finland before puck drop at the beginning of Four Nations Cup. However, our friend @Renkly on Twitter pointed us to an updated roster at nationalteamsoficehockey.com, which is pretty similar to the roster that was eventually posted on Hockey Canada's website shortly after puck drop. We also got a friendly email from a volunteer who maintains www.jatkoaika.com to alert us to the fact that Team Finland's roster had been available on this site for about a week. Of course, because the Victory Press does not read very well in Finnish, we didn't succeed in finding it. If you do read Finnish, you probably already know about Jatkoaika, which appears to have a wealth of Finnish hockey info. (Language lesson of the day: "jatkoaika" means "overtime" in English.)
Here's some quick thoughts on Canada's relatively easy 2-0 victory, with a few belated thoughts on a few players for Finland:
- Finland has a unique roster of older and younger players. At 42, Riikka Välilä is the oldest player on the team, and yet she was one of the more effective forwards, especially late in the game. Hopefully, she's teaching the entire roster about her conditioning.
- Goaltender Noora Räty, who is perhaps the most notable figure from the Finnish national team outside of her home country, played incredibly well in the loss. Her style is aggressive, and it was fun to watch her take the angle away from Canada's shooters and make them think twice about their shot.
- The power play had two golden chances in the second period, but Finland failed to score on both. Canada's penalty kill was not incredibly strong, and Finland saw long periods of puck possession, but either fumbled the puck or hesitated, which brought play to the middle of the ice.
- Venla Hovi, who plays CIS hockey at the University of Manitoba, was another forward who stood out. She handled the puck well and was able to make some nifty passes.
- Overall, Finland displayed the ability to keep pace with Canada in terms of speed and skating ability, but their weakness was in puck control. Much of the game was lost for them in transition and while cycling in the offensive zone -- the Canadian forecheckers were simply able to take the puck away.
- ...which brings me to my first point about Canada: their transition from defense to offense in this initial game was very well-executed. Both of their goals came off the rush.
- Emerance Maschmeyer posted a shutout and made it look easy, even though she only had to make 17 saves. The only time she was in real trouble was midway through the third period, but her teammates were able to clear her crease while she was down.
- Meghan Agosta scored shorthanded for the first goal of the tournament, on a 2-on-1 at 5:03 of the second. I thought it was shorthanded, though the initial score sheet said it was even-strength -- a postgame update to the game sheet corrected the error.
- The shorthanded goal came during the first of Emily Clark's two penalties for slashing. The University of Wisconsin sophomore took the only penalties for Team Canada. It's hard to cite a weak spot in a 2-0 victory, but those penalties might be it.
- Natalie Spooner's insurance goal came after Noora Räty failed to control a rebound from a left-wing shot by Sarah Potomak. Spooner got in deep and was able to flip the puck in where Räty had lost her net to challenge Potomak's shot.
USA 6, Sweden 2
Well, this was a strange one -- and it was strangest at the beginning.
Sweden got the first goal just 11 seconds in to the game after stealing the puck along the boards on the forecheck in the USA zone. Lisa Hedengren had no hesitation when she took it to the net, and definitely got Alex Rigsby's evening off to a bad start. It was 1-0 for the home team.
However, Jocelyne Lamoureux was able to tie it up quickly right off the rush, as she caught goaltender Sara Grahn off her angle. Hanna Olsson was able to give Sweden the lead again before the five-minute mark as Olivia Carlsson took the puck around behind the net and Rigsby went down, leaving much of the net and her posts wide open. Olsson put in the rebound easily.
With the score at 2-1, though, Team USA did what they knew they could do and slowly took over the game. They immediately went back to work and had several shifts of sustained pressure in Sweden's zone. Kacey Bellamy took the puck deep and took a shot, which Brianna Decker was able to redirect past Grahn to tie the game at 2-2.
Sweden was able to start playing a more defensive style, keeping the Americans to the outside and defending well between the bluelines. Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, and Kendall Coyne took the ice together as a line, though, and made magic happen -- Knight's goal came as she barreled down the slot and picked up a rebound from Coyne, finding the back of the net so quickly that you could have blinked and missed it.
Team USA never looked back. Knight would get her second towards the end of the period, as Sweden turned it over at their own blueline and the Americans came three strong towards Grahn. Knight cut to the middle, shot once, and picked up her own rebound to secure the 4-2 lead.
Midway through the second period, a goal from Meghan Duggan made it 5-2, and Jocelyne Lamoureux scored her second to make it 6-2 on a clear from her own zone that somehow completely eluded Grahn.
The score held through the third period, despite a few power plays. Notably, Brianna Decker appeared to be injured, and play continued without a whistle. She returned to the game a couple shifts later.
- Grahn faced 42 shots and stopped 36.
- At the other end, Alex Rigsby only saw 11 shots through 60 minutes. She finished with an 0.82 save percentage.
- Emily Pfalzer won player of the game despite not having any points in the affair. She was all over the ice and was a huge part of Team USA's transition game and nearly-constant puck possession.
- For Sweden, this game could have been a lot closer. After the wild beginning, it was hard for either team to calm down and play defense. Team USA can easily say that their offense is their best defense -- the type of firepower they have up front can bail them out of most situations, especially this early in a tournament. Sweden doesn't have that luxury, but they still showed bright playmaking in the offensive zone (when they could get there).
Canada faces off against Team USA in their only preliminary matchup at 1 PM Eastern. Also at 1 PM, Finland takes on Sweden for the only game at an alternate rink in Njurunda. All of the streaming links are here.
(Photo credit: USA Hockey/Twitter)