USA v. Finland
This game began with mild confusion as the captains were called to center ice for a ceremonial face-off. The U.S. starters looked back and forth at one another and at their bench before Gigi Marvin, who was neither on the ice nor wearing the captain's C, hopped over the boards to take it. She also did not come bearing gifts, unlike Finland's Riikka Välilä. (For the record, the Swedes and Canadians didn't have gifts either -- Finland is apparently just generous with its mini-flags -- but it made for a strange interaction.)
Both teams then stood at the blue line listening to the... Estonian national anthem? They played it in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan for Finland's pre-tournament game against Canada, and they played it again ahead of the tournament opener. The two anthems are musically somewhat similar, but it's the kind of mistake you probably shouldn't be making.
As it turns out, the American bench didn't have anyone wearing letters on their jerseys, which is a breach of IIHF rule 28. It's not the end of the world, but it's the kind of basic oversight that a governing body as experienced and established as USA Hockey simply shouldn't be making.
The first period was a little messier than expected, with a slower pace of play than I'd anticipated from these sides. Team USA had more chances, but Finland's seemed to be more dangerous. They capitalized when a shot from Emma Nuutinen bounced off a U.S. defender and in on some altogether questionable defending from Team USA, and the Finns finished the first period with a 1-0 lead and cause for optimism.
Then the second period started, and Brianna Decker immediately walked into the zone and shot the puck past Noora Räty, to remind us all that Brianna Decker is very good at hockey, and perhaps also to remind Räty of that time two weeks ago when she scored the Inferno's sixth goal over Shenzhen and chased Räty from the crease for the first time in her CWHL career.
In any case, it worked, because the U.S. dominated from that point on. They scored three more goals within a five-minute span before the halfway mark, rarely left the offensive zone, and added a fifth tally -- the game's last -- just before the end of the frame. The way the U.S. turned it on after trailing was reminiscent of the Finland-USA game in the preliminary round of the 2018 Olympics, but more commanding. Team USA outshot the Finns 26-5 in the second period alone. The Finnish defending was a weak spot. They didn't do a very good job marking their players, and two of the first four U.S. goals were scored on wide open nets that probably shouldn't have been wide open.
The third period was a little more even, which is mostly to say that the Americans occasionally had to visit the other end of the ice. Total shots were 49-10 in favour of Team USA.
Finland is going to need to be stronger defensively and take better advantage of its offensive breaks. This was a team that was desperately missing forward Michelle Karvinen, who is in Saskatoon but seemingly out with injury. It'll be interesting to see how they recover from two big losses to face Sweden. The Finns have generally had the upper hand in the Nordic rivalry, but the Swedes have played them tightly in recent meetings. Sweden has had tremendous success at the U18 level under Ylva Martinsen, who now leads the senior team, whereas Finland hasn't made it past the quarterfinals since 2011. The post-Olympic period is a bit of a youth movement, so I'm curious to see whether those U18 results start to translate to the senior level in the coming years. That said, Finland's a team that's proven it can compete with the best, and they're aiming to peak for Worlds in 2019 (which they are hosting), not in November.
Team USA started slow, but turned on like a machine. All their goals came in the second period, though, so the challenge will keeping it up for 60 minutes. They're as skilled and speedy as ever, so they'll just want to play a more consistent game going forward (and perhaps iron some letters onto their jerseys).
Sweden v. Canada
This game started out a little sloppy, with passes not quite connecting, but went about as expected. Both teams seemed a bit tentative until Laura Stacey scored shorthanded just 19 seconds into a 4-on-5, and while I wouldn't personally recommend taking penalties as the way to spark offense, it worked for Canada. They proceeded to score two more and end the period up 3-0.
The Canadians had the bulk of possession through this game, though it never reached Team-USA-in-the-second-period levels of dominance. Sweden was quite effective at breaking up plays and interrupting passes, and when they got into the zone, their chances were good. Canada was up 6-0 when Emma Nordin took advantage of some messy defending and scored a power-play goal in the dying minutes. The hosts had perhaps gotten a little too comfortable treating shorthanded play as if it were even strength and got caught in transition with players deep, leading to a bit of a scramble when Sweden gained the zone.
The Swedes were still a team that lost 6-1 while being outshot 52-18, but they looked better doing it than they have in quite some time. There's a lot to build on here.
Canada is going to need to clean up its transition play, because faster teams will take advantage of sloppy errors. Their offence looked strong and made good on its opportunities, which is promising compared to recent years. The question will be whether they can keep it up against more experienced back lines.
Sweden plays Finland at 4:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, November 7, and the United States and Canada face off at 8:00 PM Eastern. Both games will be streamed live on Hockey Canada's website.
(Photo credit: Dave Holland/Hockey Canada Images)