Czechia 4, Slovakia 3
When these two teams played a few weeks ago, it was a double-digit blowout for Czechia. We know how strong the Czechs are and they once again won the group, but it wasn't an easy task. Slovakia has the ultra-talented 14-year-old Nela Lopušanová, but she's not the only good player on the roster and they seem to be elevating their game to match her. After making their first-ever quarterfinal in June, Slovakia has proved they have staying power and it wasn't just a fluke.
Adéla Šapovalivová had Czechia up in the first, but Lopušanová scored a short-handed goal to tie it up. The Czechs scored early in the second to carry a 3-1 lead into the final frame, but Slovakia didn't go down without a fight, including scoring a goal with about 90 seconds left to bring the game within 1. This is a team on the rise and they make a compelling argument for an expanded bracket.
What We Learned
- Up-and-comers – In June, Slovakia were the Cinderella team who made their first playoffs in the top division. Their joyful dance and celebration after the preliminary rounds was a highlight of the whole 2022 tournament. This year, we learned that wasn't a fluke and that Slovakia has what it takes to hang with some of the best in the world. They won’t be an easy team to eliminate and they'll be looking to join – or perhaps surpass – Czechia in terms of pushing the top four and hoping for a Group A spot.
- Slovakia F Nela Lopušanová – She's the standout player of the tournament so far. She plays so much older than her 14 years and has no artifice. Asked through a translator where she learned her moves, she said she just tries things to see if they work. She dragged a puck back and through her legs while at near full speed in a move that wouldn't be out of place in the NHL and acted as though it was mundane. Her play is jaw-dropping, but the almost bashful way she spoke about it stands in contrast to the confident swagger she has on the ice.
- Czechia F Barbora Juříčková – She brings depth to the line chart and is not afraid to take the puck to the net. She moves well down the wings and has a great shot.
"We managed to not get scored on on the 5-on-3, which is really good, but it was just hard to bounce back and get into the rhythm of the game. The same in the third. The second was very clean." – Slovakia D Lily Stern
"Those were very important goals. [Juříčková] got two scores and the second line played well today." – Czechia coach Dušan Andrašovský
"I know that all of them can be better. There is still something missing." – Andrašovský
"I think the power plays were the key to this game. That is what tipped the scales a little bit. I'm glad that we managed to get those three in because sometimes power plays aren't our strongest thing, but I'm glad that we got those three in." – Czechia G Michaela Hesová
"I always try to keep an eye on her the whole game. I was watching her yesterday when she scored a hat trick. She's really talented. It's always tough to have these players playing against you, but you just have to keep an eye out on her. And I think except for a couple of exceptions, we managed that." – Hesová on Nela Lopusanova
Sweden 6, Finland 1
After two hard-fought and close losses to the US and Canada, the Swedes got a big win over their neighbors and rivals. They played a quick game, using speed, particularly in transition, to put Finland on their heels and were able to strike before the Finns got set up on defense. Sweden showcased what their roster is capable of on open ice, with some long, crisp outlet passes. The speed of their previous games helped prepare them here and suddenly they had time and space to dish the puck and find each other on ice. The result was a beautiful game where their best players were able to show off. While Finland did their best to press and showcased some strong puck possession at times, they never came together as a unit to challenge their opponents.
What We Learned
- Finland falling – We already knew that this Finnish team was not the same as the one that won bronze in Madison in June, but this command performance from Sweden showed that the gap between the medal winners and the rest is relatively big. Sweden was prepared to play them and exploit their weaknesses and Finland was struggling to tread water, much less mount much dangerous of their own.
- Sweden depth – With five different goal-scorers and 12 different players tallying points, this is as deep a Swedish squad as we've seen in years, at any level. They aren't relying on a good goalkeeper and hoping for a goal or two. They are great goal-scorers who move the puck and can light the lamp with all three lines. It’s a sign of the development happening in the country and hopefully shows that the program is on a steady upward trajectory. They also took advantage of line matchups and exploited the Finland third line in particular.
- Sweden D Mira Jungåker - She was able to show off all the things that make her one of the best in the game in her age group. She used her lethal shot from the point to get on the board, but she also directed play from the point and shut down Finland's chances at breaking out and heading the other way. She's such a dynamic player and I can’t believe we get to watch her for so many years to come.
- Finland D Sofie Kari - Not only was she a big part of getting the puck on the draw, but she was so impactful with just a couple of minutes of ice time in the first and third. Her defense was so strong that Sweden started looking to other lines to take advantage of.
"It wasn't a good game by us. It's hard to pinpoint what we need to change. I think the issue is mostly between the ears now." – Finland coach Mira Kuisma
"We had five different goal scorers and we played for a whole 60 minutes today. They showed that they can do that." – Sweden coach Andreas Karlsson
"We focus on playing with speed when we play Finland." – Karlsson
"We all like each other in the group and we want to play for each other." – Sweden F Hilda Svensson
Switzerland 2, Japan 1
Switzerland took a 2-1 win thanks to goals from Alessia Baechler and Alena Rossel. The teams will meet again in a best-of-three series to decide who will be relegated from the top division.
Switzerland is set to host the 2024 Women's World Championship.
Canada 3, USA 1
It was a rough outing for the Americans, who never looked like they were locked in and struggled with just about every aspect of the game. They mustered just 11 shots on goal despite numerous power plays. In the third, their first shot on goal was Cassie Hall's unsuccessful penalty shot.
In the waning minutes of the third, they earned a power play, called a timeout and then pulled goalie Annelies Bergman to make it a 6-on-4. They promptly lost the zone and then were called offsides upon attempting to re-enter. Less than :30 into the power play, Molly Jordan took a cross-checking penalty and the advantage was wiped out. That right there feels like a distillation of how this game went for the US. Nothing clicked and they looked overmatched. The bright side for them is that they were already assured a bye to the semifinal round and the last four gold medals in this tournament have been won by the team that lost the preliminary round matchup between the US and Canada – but it's up to them to make that possible.
Canada controlled the puck, got better as the game went on, and grew in their confidence. The Americans actually scored first, as Joy Dunne put them up 1-0 midway through the second, but Canada responded and within fewer than four minutes, had a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish. Their third goal was controversial, with a more than five minute review needed to call it a good goal, but other than padding Caitlin Kraemer's stats, that goal didn’t change the outcome of the game.
What We Learned
- Uncertain US – This was a very different American team than the one we'd seen through their other two opening round games. They weren't connecting on passes, the power play looked like they were playing a player down instead of with an advantage, and they showed none of the ability to drive the net we'd seen against Sweden. There were glimmers of what they're capable of, like Dunne's goal directly off the faceoff, but those faded as the game progressed. They pulled away from Sweden in the third period of their prelim game, but at this point, I don't think we can assume the Americans will make the gold medal game. The semifinal matchup with Sweden would be a difficult proposition. That being said, even with the uneven shot totals, this was not a blowout win for Canada. Had the US been able to regroup, this game was still in reach. All is not lost, but they've got some adjustments to make.
- Await their fate – The teams will have to wait for the outcome of Thursday's quarterfinal games to find out their semifinal opponent. If Sweden wins, the US will play Sweden in the earlier semifinal and Canada will play the winner of the Finland/Czechia quarterfinal. If Slovakia wins, Canada will play Slovakia in the earlier semifinal and the US will get the Finland/Czechia winner.
- USA G Annelies Bergmann – No offense to Joy Dunne, but Bergmann was the American player of the game. Credit to the Canadians because I think Bergmann made three mistakes all night and they turned each one into a goal. She's the reason the uneven shot total didn't lead to a bigger score disparity. It felt like the only two rebounds she gave up ended up on Canadian sticks and then in the back of her net. Her puck control was great, she moved well across her crease and her quick glove hand was on full display. The Cornell commit was outstanding in this game and it's a shame that will get lost to the scoreline.
- Canada F Emma Pais – I really like her movement with and without the puck and her knack for feeding players. And while she’s very good at that, she's also got the instinct for when to hold the puck and take a shot herself. In a whistle-happy tournament, she's one of the few players not to spend any time in the box. When she's on the ice, good things happen.
"She's a 200-foot player. She's strong, she's fast, she's physical. She's got great hands. She's got every tool in the box, for sure." – Canada coach Courtney Birchard-Kessel on Caitlin Kraemer
"Before the game, the girls came up with three objectives and they stuck to them. Each and every period they got better. I think what they learned is that if we really do play as a team and lean on each other, we're going to be successful." – Birchard-Kessel
"The puck was in the net. In my opinion it was a full goal. The replay showed that and you've just got to really do everything to make the refs really believe that it was a goal." - Canada F Caitlin Kraemer
"[The play] was set up so I'd shoot and go to the net for a rebound. But it just went in instead. We'll take it. We were just trying to get it to the net. It was a team effort. I had the easy part." – US F Joy Dunne
"We had the zone time, but we were getting pucks deep and I thought they did a pretty good job of keeping us outside." – US coach Katie Lachapelle
"We were making too many passes and trying to make that perfect play." – Lachapelle
"We have to figure out a way to stay even-keeled and be able to string next shift to next shift and we just couldn’t do that tonight." – Lachapelle
(Photo: Hockey Canada)