Czechia 6, Slovakia 3
After their quarterfinal loss to Finland, Czechia coach Dušan Andrašovský said that for his players, the tournament was over. He wasn't being disrespectful, just trying to convey how big that game was, how much energy his team had expended and how disappointing the loss was. With that in mind, expectations for Saturday's placement match for 5th and 6h place were low.
But Czechia can’t seem to help themselves. They hit the ice and scored three goals in 66 seconds to jump out to an early 3-0 lead.
Adela Šapovalivová scored 10 seconds in. It is the fastest goal from the start of a game ever in women's international competition – three seconds faster than the fastest goal at the Olympics or senior World Championships and seven seconds faster than the previous fastest U18 Women's World Championship goal.
It was a dream scenario for the Czech team as they staked out a 5-0 lead before the midpoint of the game and it helped them close the tournament on a positive note.
But Slovakia did not back down in the face of a five-goal deficit and the tournament's breakout star, Nela Lopušanová brought out more of the sick moves that have captured worldwide attention this week. She earned herself a breakaway by sliding the puck past the defender as she streaked in toward the net. The initial save was made, but the puck popped in the air and Lopušanová softly tapped it in the net.
Her second goal was even better, featuring a between the legs move that she said was meant to emulate the late Slovak star Pavol Demitra.
After the game, players who knew their U18 careers had finished were in tears and players from both teams mingled and hugged. Šapovalivová called the camaraderie between the two teams a sisterhood. As media duties concluded, the two teams were talking to each other, laughing, chatting and being silly in the hallway connected to the mixed zone. That culminated in a sing-along to a song Slovak defender Lily Stern said is called príbeh nekončí. "The contestants of a Czechoslovakian singing contest sang it after the final episode," she explained.
What we learned
- Joy - It's frankly impossible to spend any time around the girls from these two teams and not fall a little bit in love with them. They are delightful, fun, passionate, talented – they are what makes this game great. They're not just the future, but the present of this game. They're the ones who will inspire more girls to pick up hockey at home, who will force people to pay attention to this game globally and who are showing that there are so many reasons to watch women's hockey outside of North America. Watching them after the game, all I could think was: "This. This is why I wanted to come."
- Czechia F Linda Vocetková – As a third line player who played significantly fewer minutes than the top line, she was a factor in every one of Czechia's games. She's just 15 and already showed sparks of what she'll bring to the table in the coming year.
- Slovakia F Tatiana Blichová – The second line skater managed to stand out even when all the attention was on her teammate. She provides depth for the team and moves well.
"I got a great pass. I told myself in that moment I was going to score and get the team going." – Slovakia F Nela Lopušanová
"I think that we did our best. I think we worked our hardest. It was an amazing tournament. Everybody had a lot of fun and we did what we could." – Slovakia D Lily Stern
"It was really important. We wanted it like this. It gave us the confidence for the rest of the game." – Czechia F Tereza Plosová
"It's the end, but we keep smiling and that's a good thing, A lot of girls had great experiences on the ice and they need to keep working. This top division is so hard. I'm so proud of the girls and for the team." – Slovakia captain Zuzana Dobiašová
"I don’t have words for it. It's amazing. She's young. She's a second [Connor] Bedard for me. She's so good." – Dobiašová on Lopušanová
"It's amazing. We were so surprised. I was very proud of them. They came here like professional athletes and wanted to win the game for the Czech Republic." – Czechia coach Dušan Andrašovský
"They are our friends. In a game, it's a battle. But they are our friends." – Czechia F Adela Šapovalivová
Sweden 2, USA 1
The host nation stopped a 14-year run of the Americans winning their semi-final match – in every U18 tournament that has been played – and will now play in their first gold medal game at this level. While I suppose any time the US or Canada are kept from the championship game is a surprise, this certainly shouldn't be a shock to anyone who has been watching this tournament. Sweden played the Americans close for more than 40 minutes of their opening round game a week ago and have shown how strong they've gotten as the week has progressed.
Sweden has benefitted from fortuitous timing in that 10 players who skated for them in June in Madison were still eligible to skate in this tournament. That team finished fourth, but those players learned so much about what it takes to make it through the tournament successfully. There were more than 2,000 fans in the building on Saturday cheering for them and they did not disappoint.
Penalties were once again an issue, as 15 were called – 9 on the US, 6 on Sweden. Both of Sweden's goal came on the power play, while the Americans were unable to convert.
Team USA got on the board first at the end of the first period on a fantastic play by Finley McCarthy, who hustled after the puck to the boards behind the Sweden goal. She hit her stick on the ice and seemed to startle Maja Alenius. McCarthy quickly stripped her of the puck and passed it to a waiting Lucia DiGirolamo in front of the net. DiGirolamo easily made it 1-0.
But in the second, the US was hit with two penalties in a row. A cross check was called as a delayed penalty and then tripping a few seconds after. USA was :38 from killing the 5-on-3 when Mira Jungåker ripped a shot from deep to tie the game. Two minutes later Astrid Lindeberg scored in similar fashion as her shot from the point during a power play from an illegal hit call on Joy Dunne beat Annelies Bergmann to put the Swedes up 2-1.
Felicia Frank was stellar in goal for Sweden, as she has been all tournament. She made 37 saves as the Americans came at her in waves in the third period, looking for the equalizer.
The US had more than half the game to try and tie it up, but the Swedes loaded the center of the ice, blocked shots and stymied anything Team USA tried to get going. They played 6 on 5 for the final 2:26, but even the extra attacker couldn’t help them solve Frank.
What we learned
- Fabulous Frank – What if I told you that as recently as last year, Felicia Frank was splitting time between being a defender and a goalie? This is truly her first full season as a goaltender, making her play even more impressive. She credits having been a skater with her goaltending success, as it gives her a different approach and view of the ice and understanding what both her defenders and approaching forwards are going to do. She has been unflappable, moving well in her crease, shaking off mistakes and playing her biggest in the most important situations.
- SDHL development – It's a little oversimplified, but Sweden's performance in this tournament feels like a pretty good endorsement for Sweden Hockey Association President Anders Larsson's belief that the way to improve Sweden’s national teams is to support the SDHL. It is not a coincidence that Felicia Frank has handled herself so well here. The Brynäs IF goalie is 8-0 in league play, has two shutouts, a .921 save percentage, and a 1.47 goals against average. Nor is it a coincidence that players like Mira Markstrom, Mira Jungåker, and Hilda Svensson, who've been playing in the SDHL for 2-3 years already, are competing at such a high level in this tournament.
- American confusion – While not quite the same situation, this is the second time in a manner of months where Team USA has started strong, but faded in the games that matter. The team simply has not been able to stay out of penalty trouble. While there's definitely questions to be asked about the way the games throughout this tournament have been called, it's also on the players to adjust, something the US has not been able to do. They seemed bewildered last night and I think that started to get into their heads, resulting in even sloppier play, including a penalty for too many players on the ice late in the second. As Sweden started to pack in front of the net, it did not feel like the American players were able to adjust well on the fly. They were trying to thread passes into the mass of bodies and sticks to no avail and seemed unsure what else to try. Some of that is certainly down to age, but it did feel like when they weren’t able to play their game plan, they were at a bit of a loss.
- Sweden G Felicia Frank – She was poised, prepared, and able to handle whatever the US threw at her. She made a number of saves in close, handled the puck through traffic and did not give them anything to be able to exploit.
- USA F Finley McCarthy - There's a lot she does away from the puck, or in pursuit of the puck, that doesn't show up on the final stats but that makes a big difference in the run of play. Her assist on Saturday was a good distillation of it. She was visible all over the ice on Saturday, chasing the puck and never seeming to slow down.
"Their goalie was fantastic, and their team got pucks in deep, It was a good game, but unfortunately, they came out on top." – USA coach Katie Lachapelle
"We tried everything. We tried going high. We tried going low. [Frank] just did a really good job and they defended well in front of us, as well. I thought we got to the inside and got a lot of rebound opportunities, but you have to put something in." – Lachapelle
"We had plenty of chances. We just couldn't get anything above [Frank] and we couldn’t get anything underneath her." – Lachapelle
"We don’t want to have this feeling ever again and we're going to do everything to not have it again." – US F and captain Joy Dunne
"Don't give the US so much time and space. Play simple. Get the puck deep and take it from there." – Sweden D Mira Jungåker on the team plan for the semifinal
"I think the reason we won today is we started really good." – Jungåker
"Fantastic. They were a fantastic team that worked together and did the job every shift. Fantastic." – Sweden coach Andreas Karlsson
Switzerland 2, Japan 1
Switzerland remains in the top group while Japan is relegated to 1A. Alessia Baechler scored both Swiss goals. Sophia Odermatt scored for Japan.
Canada 3, Finland 2 (OT)
If viewers thought Sweden's win was exciting, it was just a precursor to the evening game where Finland pushed Canada to their absolute limit. The Finns left everything on the ice, with players literally crawling to the bench to get off the ice in overtime.
Canada scored first, as Abby Stonehouse redirected a shot from Emma Pais midway through the first period. In the second, Canada ran into penalty trouble, which allowed Finland more prolonged zone time and helped them grow in their confidence. After being outshot 12-6 in the opening frame, they held the advantage by the same margin in the second. Sanni Vanhanen, who led the team with eight shots in the game, tied the game just after a penalty expired when she dove and knocked in a loose puck sitting just outside the crease.
Pauliina Salonen stunned Canada goalie Hannah Clark and the crowd with a goal just eight seconds into the third. Finland quickly turned a broken play into a scoring opportunity and Salonen’s quick wrister on a pass from Vanhanen put the Finns up 2-1.
From there, it was a fight between Finland and the clock. Going down in the game seemed to awaken the Canadians and help them find their balance. They hit the post or crossbar a number of times before Alex Law found the equalizer with a nifty bar down shot released at the perfect moment as she cut between two defenders.
Goalie Kerttu Kuja-Halkola was very good in net for Finland and she was helped by a near-perfect defensive effort from the team in front of her. They were incredibly effective in slowing down Canada in transition and keeping them from getting set up in the zone. There's a balance in not giving the offense too much space in front of or behind you and with Canada’s speed, they can exploit either. Finland pushed at the blue line and confronted Canada in the neutral zone on every entry.
Like the US, Finland had plenty of opportunities to move ahead in the third period or win the game in overtime. Canada took two penalties in the third after the equalizer and one in overtime, but Hannah Clark made the saves and the Canada defense blocked a number of shots.
As the extra period ticked down under three minutes, Ava Murphy and Alex Law streaked into the zone, leaving two Finnish skaters behind and only Salonen between them and the net. Murphy pulled Salonen to her, leaving Law open for the pass. Kuja-Halkola made the initial save, but did not know where the puck was and it eventually trickled into the net behind her.
What we learned
- A week is a long time – Maybe I shouldn't be surprised by it at this point, but it still feels incredible to me that a team can grow, improve and play better over the course of a single week. It's incredible to think that the Finland team we watched last night was the same team that lost 8-0 to Canada on the first day. Regular games, time together and practice make such a huge difference in what teams can do.
- Incredible Alex Law – She has three goals and three assists in three games for Canada. She’s just been stellar in high pressure situations, keeping calm and rising to the occasion. The Boston University commit has shown she’s more than ready to make the jump to the NCAA.
- No guarantees – If you'd told me before this tournament that both the US and Canada would be in danger of not making the gold medal game, I'd have raised my eyebrows. If you'd said it after I watched the first day of games, I might have laughed. It’s cliche at this point, but the gap is closing, North America is assured nothing and we're all better for it. The Americans have looked flat, Canada was a bit too casual to start their semifinal and Sweden and Finland saw opportunity and rose to the occasion. Sweden's win was a surprise, but not a shock after seeing how they played this week. But this game was a shock and as I told a friend during overtime, the only people that didn't want Finland to win that game were Canadians.
- How to beat Canada? – Obviously it wasn't fully successful, but I feel like Finland wrote a guide on Saturday night on how to defend against Canada. That defensive pressure was so amazing to watch. They balanced it perfectly, used stoppages to win pucks and turn play the other way and put Canada back on their heels.
- Finland G Kerttu Kuja-Halkola - The image of her laying facedown on the ice as Canada celebrated the win in overtime is going to stay with me a long time. Salonen is on a knee next to her, gathering herself, and then she immediately comforts her goalie. I hate that this "mistake" is how the game ended. Kuja-Halkola was outstanding in this game and it the reason they were in a position to win and I hope, once this is over, she can see that. Yes, Canada hit a lot of posts, but that's because Kuja-Halkola was not giving them much to shoot at. They were aiming for the slimmest glimmers of space that disappeared as quickly as they appeared thanks to Kuja-Halkola’s movement.
- Canada D Ava Murphy and F Emma Pais – These two were the engine that drove the team in the third period and overtime. They seemed to never leave the ice, they were constantly moving and they were dishing the puck to others for the chance to score. I love the way Murphy skates and how quickly she can turn the run of play. She doesn't even have the puck yet and it seems like she knows where she's carrying it and where the pass is going. '
- Finland F Pauliina Salonen – Forgive me for putting her here again, but honestly, she might be my player of the tournament. I thought she was impressive in the quarterfinal, but she put that performance to shame on Saturday. She was everywhere, including helping her goalie up after the loss, pumping up teammates on the bench, scoring and defending. She's an all- around player, an absolute dynamo and the first player I'd pick for my team if I had the choice. Her effort was absolutely unmatched.
"I think we're relieved. The Finns showed up. They played a fantastic game. I don’t think we played our best. You have to show up. It's the semifinals." – Canada coach Courtney Birchard-Kessel
"I think maybe our mentality wasn't where it needed to be. As coaches, that's on us a little bit. We came out flat and they came out flying." – Birchard-Kessel
"It worked. I think we struggled all game to figure out how we were going to break that. In the last ten minutes we really picked it up and started to play our game." – Birchard-Kessel on Finland's defense
"It was a great day for women's hockey. Sweden upset the US, the Finns took us to overtime. That's what this world needs. We need more of that. We need more competitiveness and it was fantastic to see." – Birchard-Kessel
"Going into overtime, other than when we were shorthanded, I feel like the team started to pick it up and keep possession in their zone. Once we finally were [at even strength], we had the momentum." – Canada D Ava Murphy
"I had open ice and speed coming around. Alex [Law] was in a good spot. She made it easy for me to pass it to her." – Murphy
"I told them I'm [expletive] proud of them and I could not ask for more." – Finland coach Mira Kuisma
"I think everyone wanted to win and everyone gave their best today. We played really well." – Finland F Pauliina Salonen