United States 11, Germany 0
The Americans put on a dominating performance Thursday night, limiting the Germans to just eight shots and controlling the entire ice. Ten different players scored goals, including three defenders. Through four games, fourteen Americans had scored goals, lending credence to coach Robb Stauber's claims that there are no "number ones" on the team.
He's preached a "full team" concept where everyone, on every line, is expected to contribute at all times, and that they all should be able to score. That, combined with the focus on speed, has added an extra depth to the US attack. Canada goalie Shannon Szabados talked about the American attack coming in waves and from all angles, making it difficult to defend against.
The score was just 2-0 after the first period, and German coach Benjamin Hinterstocker said he was happy with his team over the first 20 minutes, noting that a mere two-goal deficit was a win for his team.
The play picked up for Team USA in the second period and Stauber said that he reminded the players at intermission that in games like this one, you have to make a conscious effort to play quickly.
"We picked up our pace. In between the first and second period was just a reminder that we want to play with pace. Sometimes, when you have a little bit of time and space, which we did, you end up playing a little slower. We had to force ourselves to play fast," he said.
Despite some obvious signs of growth this tournament, the predicted outcome will take place on Friday, with USA playing Canada for a gold medal. Finland and Germany will meet in the bronze medal game at 3:30 PM Eastern. Regardless of the outcome of that game, it'll be the highest Germany has ever finished. Finland, however, was hoping for more. They've played in every World Championships bronze medal game since the tournament began.
Goalie by Committee?
After Thursday's game, Stauber wouldn't name a starter for Friday's gold medal game and shied away from naming a number-one goalie overall. It seems that his collective mindset extends into the net. Nicole Hensley got the start and earned her second shutout of the tournament. Stauber seems to be intent on getting her more ice time and continuing to test her.
Though she faced just eight shots from Germany, the semifinal game may have actually been her biggest test yet. In college at Lindenwood, Hensley was often peppered by opponents, and facing 40 or more shots was not uncommon for her. It's much more difficult to stay sharp, stay in the game, and trust your instincts when you're barely involved in the play.
The Germans had an opportunity in on Hensley late in the game and she came out to poke the puck away and interrupt the player's progress. Stauber pointed at that play to demonstrate how impressed he was with Hensley's instincts during a mentally difficult game.
Quote of the day, from Robb Stauber when asked about his team's commitment
"You know, I've been here for seven years and I've never had to ask them for more."
Canada 4, Finland 0
The Canadians had a lot on the line in Thursday's semifinal with Finland, after losing to them in the opening round. But Team Canada left no doubt that Saturday was an aberration and not the norm. Coach Laura Schuler was happy with how her team responded.
"I think the last game helped us to identify some areas in our game plan that we needed to refine. One of our goals was to come out fast and get pucks deep and early on them and I thought our girls did a great job with that," she said. "Today's game was important in our habits and our details, and that's what we're going to have to bring tomorrow no matter who we play."
Learning and moving on was certainly the refrain, as several players echoed Schuler's sentiments.
"Each game, we've taken a step forward. We've learned from our mistakes and used them as motivation," said goalie Shannon Szabados. "[We're] playing up to our potential, putting our goals into action, learning from our mistakes."
Canada had been struggling with some fundamentals, and that seemed to pull them out of the game and their system. When things broke down, they didn't seem to be either able or empowered to correct their mistakes. It was a bit of a total breakdown, and Canada needs to look at the parts of their system that smother the natural instincts and creativity of their players. At the time, the players seemed lost and unable to respond.
But Thursday's win was a return to their normal modus operandi, and Rebecca Johnston felt like that was the difference between the two games against Finland.
"The main thing for us was that we had a lot of energy, but we also had such close support. I found that if you did fumble the puck or you did lose it, we had that second person there fight away to help support and I think that was the difference," said Johnston. "I don't think we were playing aggressive or using our speed as well, and this time I think we really used that."
Finland struggled to do many of the things that put Canada on their heels in the first meeting, including scoring first and keeping the pressure on. The Finns were a bit sluggish on Thursday and took a while to get moving. By that time, it was almost too late. They weren't closing in on the puck, and that gave Canada a lot more room to be the team they are capable of.
"The difference was how we played, not how they played. We knew they'd come out hard, but we just didn't have an answer for it. They took it to us," said Finland's goalie Noora Räty.
Michelle Karvinen agreed. "We were pressuring them a lot more last time. It took a while for us to get into the game. I don't know why. We had our chances, but we couldn't score. We didn't get traffic in front of their net. That's hockey."
Second quote of the day, from Finland goalie Noora Räty
"You don't win games if you don't score any goals, and you don't win games if you let in three."
After doing so much to keep Finland in games for years, Räty was disappointed in herself over the past two games. She may have a point about the US game, but against Canada, she also received zero support. Even a perfect game from her wouldn't have done anything if her team couldn't also score. Still, she said she didn't feel like she faced any shots that she shouldn't have stopped.
Russia 4, Sweden 3
Russia outlasted Sweden in a shootout to take fifth place. It's a disappointment for them after winning the bronze medal in 2016.
The Swedes took an early 2-0 lead, but couldn't hold on to it. The Russians scored three straight and it took a power play goal from Pernilla Winberg with just about two minutes left in the game to force the overtime. Russia out-shot the Swedes 39-23.
Should the proposed change to tournament structure go through, Russia may well find themselves in the top group with a fifth-place finish, so it was an important win for them.
The Swedes, however, continue to languish in the same spot. Though they haven't regressed, someone at their federation has to look to what the other countries in this tournament have done to improve and consider their own shakeup. They shouldn't be happy to rest on what's worked in the past. They're getting passed by and will need to adapt to the new women's hockey landscape.
Switzerland 3, Czech Republic 2
This relegation series has been some of the most fun hockey in the tournament and it's a shame that no one is getting to see it. Few fans or journalists show up for these early games, but not only are these teams evenly matched, but they're effectively playing for their lives.
Switzerland forced a game three in this series with a 3-2 overtime win. Tereza Vanišová gave the Czechs a 1-0 lead in the second but the Swiss equalized just minutes later with a shot from Nicole Bullo. Lara Stalder scored on a gorgeous breakaway just seconds before the intermission to give the Swiss the lead, but Vanišová tied it up just a few minutes into the third.
Christine Meier won it for the Swiss in overtime, though she admitted she was just trying to get the puck to the net because she was tired. Her line had been on the ice for an extended time and she figured that the best bet for a line change was if the goalie covered up the puck. She found a spot over the goalie's shoulder and gave Team Switzerland a chance to win the series on Friday.
Despite it being a do or die game for the Swiss, Stalder said she didn't let herself think too much about it.
"You come into the game and you know you have to win, but during the game you don't think too much because you hold your stick too tight if you always think 'I have to, I have to.' We just stick together and have a game plan and then play hockey –- just like you've played hundreds before. We were the lucky ones today," she said.
Meier said she wasn't bothered by the need to win, because "sometimes a little pressure is good."
Signs of Growth
Coming into the tournament, it was clear the Czech team was young and inexperienced, but they've shown tremendous promise. Tereza Vanišová is just 21, but is tied for the tournament lead in goals scored.
The youth of the team showed in the 18 penalties they took throughout the week, but their penalty kill has been especially strong in this tournament -- they've allowed just two power play goals. After giving one up to the Swiss in their opening round meeting, they've shut down the powerful shots that Switzerland tries to take advantage of on the power play.
Medal Round Schedule
- 3:30 PM Eastern, Germany versus Finland
- 7:30 PM Eastern, Canada versus USA