PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
The Czech Republic showed off their offense against Denmark, opening the scoring six minutes into the first period with a blast from the blueline on the power play by Alena Mills, and they never really looked back.
The only Danish goal cut the Czech lead to 2-1. After a shot from the point by Josefine Jakobsen deflected wide, Josefine Persson picked up the rebound as it bounced off the boards and backhanded it past Klára Peslarová.
But the Czechs regained the two-goal lead by the end of the period on a sweet deflection from the slot by Vendula Pribylova (also on the power play).
Somehow, the Danish team took four penalties in the second, and didn't surrender another goal (three of them were tripping penalties by the same player, Malene Franssen). But the Czechs added three more goals in the third to ice the whole thing, including two more goals by Alena Mills for a rare hat trick by a defender – Danish goaltender Lisa Jensen definitely wants those back.
Finland jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and it looked like things were going to get really dark for Team Canada there for a moment, but they ultimately regrouped and spent the second and third periods absolutely hammering Finland into submission.
Despite the early lead on goals from Nelli Laitinen and Minnamari Tuominen, plus getting stellar performance in net Anni Keisala, Team Finland simply couldn't hold back the onslaught of Canadian shots (44 by the game's end). Jamie Lee Rattray finally broke through with about five minutes left in the second period, battling in a pileup around the net and shuffling her own rebound past Keisala. 20 seconds later, Marie-Philip Poulin was left unattended near the top of the left circle and shot through traffic to tie the game at 2.
Canada took the lead in the third on a goal from Erin Ambrose. Finland tied with a nice deflection by Elisa Holopainen, but it seemed like they were gassed. Sarah Fillier would ultimately score the game winner, getting into the slot and taking a perfect pass from Mélodie Daoust to wrist it home. Finland was unable to find the equalizer despite having extended time with two extra attackers thanks to a power play and pulling their goaltender. Brianne Jenner added an empty netter for the 5-3 win.
So Team Canada has said, rather loud and clear, that this isn't 2019 anymore – though they did beat Finland 6-1 in Group A play that year, too.
The floodgates didn't open, despite the constant denigration heaped upon the Swiss squad by Rod Black and Cheryl Pounder on TSN, but Team USA still captured a 3-0 victory against a team that is still struggling to find out how to create offense.
Brianna Decker opened the scoring from a cross-crease backhand pass from Kendall Coyne Schofield, tapping it in on the far post past Andrea Brändli. In a near mirror image of the same play, Coyne Schofield scored a goal of her own on a feed from Decker later on that gave Team USA a 2-0 lead.
Grace Zumwinkle impressed for Team USA throughout the game by establishing a physical presence in the middle of the ice and carrying the puck well in tight situations. She got the goal to take the USA lead to 3-0, cutting into the middle with the puck and shooting a neat wrister past Brändli.
The Swiss team had a lot of great instincts in this game. They often attempted to turn defense to offense and were successful in creating breakouts that led to shots on goal from blocked shots and turnovers. Still, they weren't successful. Alex Cavallini wasn't tested greatly but she did make the saves she needed to make and didn't give up rebounds. It was a tidy win for Team USA, and a gut check for the Swiss who ended the day without scoring, and outshot by a whopping 58 to 10. Did I mention that Andrea Brändli is an outstanding goaltender?
But anyway: what's the point of even broadcasting this game if you aren't going to call what is happening and are basically going to shit on the lower-ranked team and make mindless small talk for 60 minutes? Rod Black and Cheryl Pounder have somehow gone from mediocre to just plain insipid.
The first day of competition in the Women's World Championships was an exciting day of hockey for those of us who have missed this amazing sport so much over the last year and a half, but it was also an embarrassing day for hockey media and broadcasting. Between Rod and Cheryl doing lazy play-by-play and Ken Campbell showing his entire ass by referring to a Top 3 Patty Kaz finalist who won an NCAA championship with one of the best known college hockey teams in the country as "obscure" (and subsequently citing Pounder's ignorance about her as well as a reason why it was okay for him to do this while getting in a bunch of people's mentions for daring to criticize him) – well. The highest level of international women's hockey deserves better than this type of amateur shit. We are so lucky to have this tournament this year, so lucky that everyone playing in Calgary is healthy and hasn't brought COVID into the bubble and we can really enjoy this. But every time women's hockey gets national attention it feels like we have to pay a very steep penance by listening to some of the most boring and most contrarian people alive.
This is the last I will say about it for now, but some of the best hockey you'll ever see is being played in Calgary this summer. Don't let these assholes ruin it. Watch the games on mute if you have to.
There's a lot of fight in this Hungarian squad. When they had the puck, they were able to generate chances, but they needed a lot more than just a few chances to beat Jennifer Harß – they would have needed sustained pressure. And that wasn't something they were going to get losing pretty much every offensive zone faceoff they were able to create. That sucked for them on Saturday, but there is also great news for this team – improving a few basic skills (like faceoffs and the first pass out of the D zone) will go a long way towards getting them the edge they need to start scoring goals in this division.
Indeed, it was a bad pass trying to exit the zone that led to Germany's first goal. The puck was intercepted along the boards as Sarah Knee tried to chip it out, and Sonja Rose Weidenfelder was able to pass it to Nina Christof for a one-timer that beat Anikó Németh. Christof also added Germany's second goal on the power play with a great tip on a shot from the point by Katarina Jobst-Smith.
A minor storyline in this tournament is that at least a couple of players have gotten their stick blades stuck in the boards during the course of play. That was part of the play that led to Germany's third goal. Alexandra Ronai went to play the puck behind her own net, but instead got her stick caught. That allowed Kerstin Spielberger to pick up the puck and make a perfect pass to team captain Julia Zorn, who flipped a nifty backhander over Németh's shoulder.
Jennifer Harß made 19 saves for the shutout and Germany's forwards showed outstanding skill through 60 minutes. It was a well-earned victory against a Hungarian team that has all the building blocks of being a contender in Group B, even if they haven't quite put them all together yet.
This was a close one, as it normally is between these two teams. While Switzerland grabbed an early lead on a great play off the rush leading to an easy tap-in for Alina Müller, they couldn't hang on, failing to score on multiple power play opportunities in the process. Though it wasn't necessarily for lack of trying – the Russian defense broke down several times and allowed clean opportunities on Valeria Merkusheva, and she stopped them all after Müller's goal. Despite Russia's consistent shot advantage (ultimately 34-20 by game's end), Merkusheva had to be their best player for much of regulation, including five saves, some of them quite spectacular, on Phoebe Stänz alone.
As Merkusheva shut the door, Russia's confidence built, and they finally broke through on a roof shot that grazed the bottom of the crossbar from Valeria Pavlova. Just 14 seconds later, Viktoria Kulishova snuck behind the Swiss defense and got a short breakaway, ultimately putting it five hole on Saskia Maurer to take the lead 2-1.
Maria Batalova added a late insurance goal and the ROC would take the 3-1 victory.
Alina Müller left the game with an injury in the second period after being tripped and coach Colin Muller did not have an update on her status after the game.
Oh, the excitement of a close game between two teams that seem made to play each other! This was easily the best game of the tournament so far and a testament to how lower-ranked programs are improving and changing the game for the better. Team Japan looks miles ahead of where they were as a team just a few years ago, just in terms of their conditioning and speed. The Danish team has larger bodies and used their size to be physical, but Japan was able to give it right back to them. This was a game filled with penalties (some of which felt a little extra, let's be honest), aggressive play along the boards, breakaways, odd-player rushes, and excellent goaltending.
Both Nana Fujimoto and Cassandra Repstock-Romme had their work cut out for them, making point blank saves and cutting down on shooting options with great positioning. And each team had standout players driving the offense. For Denmark it was Josefine Persson, also their goal-scorer against the Czech team, who was able to body her way into scoring position on multiple occasions.
For the Japanese, it was Haruka Toko, who took a beautiful, decisive pass from her sister Ayaka Toko from the defensive zone, entered the Danish zone onside, and passed a feed to Hikaru Yamashita driving the net, who buried it to give her team the 1-0 lead. Haruka Toko created many more opportunities like this throughout the game, but this was of course the sweetest and it turned out to be the only goal throughout 60 minutes of high-paced action.
Nana Fujimoto stopped many strong opportunities from the Danish team throughout the third period in a variety of situations – both going one-on-one with the shooter and finding the puck to cover through significant traffic in her crease. Because of Fujimoto, her team only needed one goal to win.
If the first two days of this tournament are any indication, the best is yet to come.