PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
After watching the first few games, it sure felt like the Americans were the best team in the tournament, but I don't think anyone could have foreseen the blowout USA engineered Thursday evening. It was a masterclass in puck possession – something their coach Katie Lachapelle emphasized on Wednesday's off day as being important for her team's success. The less time the opponent has the puck, the less dangerous they are. The Americans made sure they held the puck, distributed it around the ice, and took smart, deliberate shots to get the win.
Seven different players scored the goals for the Americans and 12 players tallied a point. It was a total team effort as skaters up and down the line sheet took advantage of their time on ice. Laila Edwards' late goal moved her to a tie for first place in scoring this tournament with seven points. Teammate Sydney Morrow had her seventh assist of the tournament on Edwards' goal.
Not only was it the first time USA had shutout Canada in the U18 Women's World Championship, but it was the largest margin of victory for the US and the most goals the US has ever scored on Canada. (The previous margin of victory was by 4 goals.)
These teams have played 20 times in this tournament's history – including 12 of 13 gold medal games – and ten of those games were decided in extra time. Lopsided victories like this are truly an anomaly.
"I try to take advantage of all the opportunities I can to shoot on the goalies and, you know, they make me better and I try to make them better as well," she said.
"It shows that we're relentless. We don't give up even if we have a high lead, just always battling and just showing what we have for talent." – US captain Danielle Burgen
"We've got some fast kids and they play hard and they're really starting to gel and I think I think we keep getting better every game." – US coach Katie Lachapelle
"It's hard to pinpoint what the key problem is. We're playing against a really good team over there. And we've got to play our best. We've got to bring whatever we can to try and better them. And we're just not quite there yet as a group." - Canada coach Howie Draper
"I think we're doing a good job handling our emotions. Obviously, it's a huge rivalry, and we wanted to win. But we're ready to go for the next team. And we hope that we can meet [the U.S.] again, coming later in the tournament. It's definitely fuel." – Canadian forward Sarah MacEachern
"We're finding our scoring and finding our shooting. We're causing a lot of turnovers. Every person on this team has 100% bought in to the little things that we want to teach." – Lachapelle
"It's nice to capitalize on those chances that we get, and especially moving forward, the power plays are going to be more and more crucial. So it's nice to have it clicking at the right time." – US forward Kelly Gorbatenko
"I think there was actually a lot of positives from that game, despite the score. It's hard to look at it that way. But it was a lesson that we learned." – MacEachern
"We talk to the players about making sure that we're playing the way that we want to play. I think if you do that and you're not satisfied – or you're satisfied with how you're playing – that's how we'll continue to stay getting better and not being complacent." – Lachapelle
"Nobody's afraid to block shots. The players read the lane so well, and they just really work off each other and there's a lot of communication." - Lachapelle
The Swedes needed to win by two to have a chance at finishing in the top two in Group A and getting a bye to the semifinals. They took the lead twice in the game, only to have Finland respond and then get the lead back. With four minutes left in regulation, coach Madeleine Ostling pulled goalie Lisa Jonsson. The move paid off, as Emma Pfeffer tied the game with 2:10 to go.
Jonsson was back on the ice for about a minute before Ostling once again pulled her. A tie did Sweden no good in the standings, so Sweden risked it. Finland took a couple shots down the ice at the empty net, including one by Sinna Varjonen that just glanced off the post. Seconds later, Mira Markstrom fed the puck from behind Finland's net to Jenna Raunio, who somehow slid it past Emilia Kyrkko and into the net with just 7.8 seconds on the clock. The goal underwent a lengthy review, but was ultimately called good.
Though they didn't get the two-goal margin they wanted, the win was still an important building block for Sweden, who had not played up to this level in their previous two games. They'll take confidence and momentum into their quarterfinal game on Friday.
Finland was four minutes away from another big win in this tournament. They had come from behind and were that close to beating their geographical rivals in Sweden. Coach Mira Kuisma was audibly exasperated post game and seemed at a loss to understand why her team had lost focus and let the game slip away.
The Canada loss means Finland still gets a bye to the semifinals. Before Wednesday's off day, Kuisma wanted to ensure her players didn't think about hockey during that rest time. She didn't think that was the issue with her team in this game and planned to have a similar approach to the two days in a row the team now has to rest and recover before Sunday's semifinal game.
"I guess we decided that we were not going to lose." – Sweden defender Ida Karlsson
"It's a smaller rink. So we talked about it to shoot the puck more. Make them more chances to be chances." – Sweden forward Mira Markstrom
"This is just one step on the road. Now we'll keep climbing." – Sweden assistant coach Pernilla Winberg
"Believe in it and play smart, play simple, but also go for it. We needed to score and the girls believed in it when we [the coaches] told them that we do. We're excited to see the hard work, too, and we were really going for it." – Winberg
"They have to prepare much better for the next game. I don't know if they're having so much fun that they forget why we are here. And we talked about that after the game. The Canada game, because we won that, is that the reason that we think that we can beat anyone without preparing?" – Finland coach Mira Kuisma
"I think we should have won the game, but we weren't at our best as possible already from the first puck drop. We did better at the end, but the last four minutes was really bad and Sweden got two goals." – Finland forward Sanni Vanhanen
Goalie Michaela Hesová pitched a 21-save shutout to keep Czechia perfect so far in the tournament and send them to the quarterfinals on Friday against Finland. Anna Vaníčková scored the game-winning goal, on which Dominika Malicka had an assist. Malicka added the second insurance goal late in the game.
The Swiss had a number of player advantage opportunities, but could not break through and the Czech speed was too much for them to overcome.
It's a shame this happened at the other rink while USA/Canada was playing and was only available on HockeyTV, because it was a wild one. Slovakia advanced to the top division quarterfinals for the first time in their country's history. They are in Madison by virtue of Team Russia's suspension from the IIHF. Slovakia had been relegated after the 2020 tournament.
The Slovaks had not won a game yet. However, they could advance to the knockout rounds with a win of four or more goals. They took a 5-1 lead just a few minutes into the third period, but then Germany scored with under eight to play to bring the margin back to three goals. Barbora Kapičáková scored her second of the game with 3:47 left on the clock to send the team forward.
The team and their fans were beside themselves with joy over the historic in and celebrated in style.
Slovakia will face Canada in the first quarterfinal at 4:00 PM Central at LaBahn Arena. This will be Slovakia's first game at that rink.
Canada is obviously looking to rebound, but they'll be playing a completely hyped Slovakia team that has nothing to lose. That could make this a more interesting game than it might first seem on paper. The key will all be in how Canada responds to last night's drubbing.
Czechia will play Sweden in the second quarterfinal at 8:00 PM Central at LaBahn. The Czechia coach said he made a point to bring his team to that arena to look around and try to feel more comfortable.
Switzerland and Germany will play at 4:00 PM Central today as well in a relegation round matchup.