When coach and retired professional runner Lauren Fleshman attended the Olympic Marathon Trials in February
The final prelims saw Team USA and Team Canada beating Sweden and Finland, respectively, before heading to the usual bronze and gold medal games, cementing that the tournament's final standings would remain the same for a fourth straight year.
Finland vs. Sweden - bronze medal game
Pernilla Winberg nearly put Sweden on her back to take them to their first bronze medal in Four Nations since 2014, but three unanswered goals by Finland gave them the 4-2 advantage and the win.
Winberg opened the scoring by sneaking a long-range slapshot through Noora Räty's pads in the first period. Jenni Hiirikoski tied the game for Finland in the second, but Winberg managed to beat Räty again less than a minute later through a crowded crease.
In the third period, though, Räty was perfect while Maria Omberg faced a lot of traffic, and was unable to stop three straight tallies from Finland. Sanni Hakala tapped one in from the side of the net on the power play while Omberg was down to tie the game. Annina Rajahuhta added the eventual game-winner on a play that could have easily been called goaltender interference, as Tanja Niskanen went down while cutting to the net and plowed right into the Swedish goaltender. The goal wasn't successfully challenged, however, setting the stage for Petra Nieminen to deflect Isa Rahunen's shot from the point past Omberg as an insurance tally.
- This was fun back-and-forth from these two national teams yet again. The Swedish team is better than they have been in years under Ylva Martinsen and the matchup against Finland creates good, (mostly) clean, exciting hockey.
- Finland's win was built off of traffic in front–their third-period offensive didn't feature any one-timers in the scoresheet. It's a good strategy to beat any team. Conversely, Martinsen will likely be emphasizing cleanup in their own crease as an important takeaway for young Swedish defenders.
- A late goaltender interference call to Sweden's Lina Ljungblom was a bit of insult to injury; luckily, they killed the penalty. Both teams had strong penalty kills, with the only power play tally for Finland (Hakala's) being questionable.
USA vs. Canada - gold medal game
Team USA got started quickly and didn't let up, topping a stunned Canadian team by a score of 5-2.
Hilary Knight opened the scoring just 1:28 into the game, coming in from behind the net to score one from her office on Shannon Szabados. Laura Fortino tied the game for Canada a little over two minutes later on a bullet of a slapshot. Later in the first, a defensive lapse led to a brief 2-on-1 for Kelly Pannek and Melissa Samoskevich, who was able to redirect Pannek's pass behind Szabados.
The second period featured more offensive firepower from the Americans, who continued to catch Szabados moving and the Canadians continued to have issues with defensive coverage in their zone. Brianna Decker's tap-in on a perfect cross-crease pass from Sydney Brodt made it 3-1, and less than 30 seconds later, Sidney Morin slapped the puck towards the net from the top of the right circle, which went off of Hilary Knight (who was screening Szabados) and into the net.
Kendall Coyne picked up a rebound from a shot by Decker to make it 5-1 and chase Szabados. Team USA wouldn't add to their lead once Emerance Maschmeyer took over in goal. Canada's young guns got a chance on a power play midway through the third period which turned into a goal–Jamie Bourbannais took a great pass from Loren Gabel up high and rocketed a shot past Alex Rigsby, but time wasn't on their side with just 10 minutes left to play, and they wouldn't be able to add any more goals.
- On both sides, young forwards impressed. Loren Gabel was a treat to watch in her senior team debut for Canada this tournamnet, as was Sydney Brodt for Team USA.
- Team USA's veterans seem to be clicking on all cylinders again – a return to form after the pre-Olympic friendlies and even the gold medal game itself saw them looking unsure of each other after dominating at the 2017 World Championships.
- The Canadian side will probably be doing some minor soul-searching. They had flashes of brilliance but didn't really threaten the Americans at any point during this tournament–it seemed like they just got worn down. Whereas the American veterans at forward seemed at the top of their game versus Canada and complemented their rookies well, players like Marie-Philip Poulin and Rebecca Johnston weren't as effective as their younger counterparts and seemed out of sync.
The next major international women's ice hockey tournament will be the 2019 IIHF Women's World Championships in Espoo, Finland, beginning on April 4. In the meantime, Four Nations players will return to their pro clubs and school teams.
(Photo: USA Hockey)
Filed under: ice hockey; 2018 four nations cup; four nations cup; team usa; team canada; team finland; team sweden
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