Gold Medal Game
Canada 10, Sweden 0
It was clear from the first day that Canada was the best team in the tournament, but it took barely escaping Finland in the semifinal for them to actually play like it. They were dominant from start to finish in this game. Caitlin Kraemer tallied a hat trick over a span of 6:44 in the first period of the game – the fastest in tournament history – and would go on to add one more, giving her ten for the week and setting a new Canadian record for most goals by a player in a single tournament (surpassing Marie-Phillip Poulin).
Before 12 minutes had elapsed in the game, Canada was up 5-0, Sweden was stunned and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over. Sweden had pockets of chances, but it seemed every push from Sweden was met by more Canadian goals. Alexia Aubin scored the second of her two goals less than four minutes into the second period and Charlotte Pieckenhagen lit the lamp :52 into the third, effectively ending any momentum or hope the Swedes may have had coming out of intermission.
While everything came into focus for Canada, Sweden moved in the opposite direction and the gap left was massive. Credit to the Canadian coaches, who had their team prepared to answer everything Sweden had for them. While the Swedes seemed like they were hoping to play the same game they'd been playing all week, Canada was prepared for the forecheck and lack of space in the offensive zone by building out of the back and moving so quickly down the ice that they were past the Swedes before they could even react. It was a full on dismantling of Sweden by the Canadians, who passed their way around the ice, moved with speed through the neutral zone and generally made Sweden look like they were standing still.
Canada has only won back-to-back titles one other time in the history of this tournament, taking gold three years straight from 2012-2014.
What we learned
- Big Game Canada – It wasn't quite as big a turnaround as they had in 2022, but once again, Canada saved the best for last and played the game of their tournament in the most important game. This format requires quick adjustment and acclimation. Teams have to come together quickly and it's the first time many of the players have experienced something like it. Canada made corrections, survived their mistakes and peaked when they needed to.
- Format funk? – This tournament lasted just eight days from start to finish and teams play 5-6 games over that period. The IIHF has a rule against games three days in a row, so the off days come after two days on opening round and then again after the quarterfinals. It means that after two epically good semifinal matches, teams had little time to regroup mentally or physically. There does not seem to be any reason to rush these games and it seems particularly cruel to do it to teenagers experiencing this kind of atmosphere for the first time. More experienced players learn the mechanisms to recover and compartmentalize, but it feels like we're dropping the players into the deep end and telling them to figure it out. The results of such an approach we're on full display on Sunday as both Sweden and Finland had emptied the tank in their semifinal games and struggled to match that intensity a day later. It would be better for the players and better for the sport if they had an off day between the semifinals and medals. When the stated goal is to grow the sport, I can't imagine how putting an exhausted Swedish team on the ice to lose so massively in front of the home crowd and national TV audience accomplishes that. It just does not feel like the best way to keep improving parity.
- Canada F Caitlin Kraemer – The new tournament, program and Federation records speak for themselves. Kraemer was dominant this tournament, but took it to an even higher level in the gold medal game. She was the beneficiary of a number of good passes, but she was also always open and in space to make big things happen. She read breakouts perfectly and when the puck was on her stick, she did not miss.
- Canada D Ava Murphy – I had Murphy on my All-Tournament team prior to this game and then she went and added three assists. If Kraemer was the finisher, Murphy seemed to be where it all began. She has great vision on the ice and was the player who started the breakout with speed. She has an instinct for when to step up more actively into the offense while still playing shutdown defense. She impressed in Madison in June and was better here in Östersund.
"I am really proud of the girls and how they played. They created a lot of offense. It’s a different type of hockey that these girls have played these two weeks." – Sweden assistant coach Pernilla Winberg
"It means a lot, especially on home ice and with a lot of media around so they can see how good these girls are and how offensively creative they’ve been during the tournament. They were never scared to play the US and Canada. The future is bright for these girls." – Winberg
"It sucks right now, but I think looking back, what we have accomplished this week is really big for Swedish women's hockey." – Winberg
"No, every time it has been amazing. It's hard to describe. I'm so grateful to win with that team and that coaching staff. It was a great experience." – Canada D Ava Murphy
"I found when I was playing simple hockey but jumping into those openings, I was the most successful." – Murphy
"We showed up today and that was the game we were looking for. Perfect time. You want to peak heading into the gold medal game and that's what we saw today, so it was pretty incredible." – Canada coach Courtney Birchard-Kessel
"It’s huge for our program. These young women are so, so talented. They're driven, they're willing to learn and their careers are just at the beginning, really. It’s tremendous for Canadian hockey, for our national team program. Troy Ryan has to be pretty excited." – Birchard-Kessel
Bronze Medal Game
USA 5, Finland 0
The Americans rallied after the disappointment of their semifinal loss to Sweden to put on their most complete game of the tournament in a 5-0 win over Finland to win the bronze medal. Five different players scored as Team USA was able to get pucks to the net and second-chance opportunities on pucks, something that they'd been unable to do over their two previous games.
The demeanor of Team USA was subdued after the win as players tried muster excitement for a medal they never thought was a part of their equation.
After the game, players spoke almost exclusively about winning as a team and playing with a team mentality, something that had been noticeably missing in their loss to Sweden.
In a departure from the rest of the tournament, this game had just three penalties. (There was an average of more than 17 minutes of penalties per game in this tournament.)
What we learned
- Decker difference – Brianna Decker was a late addition to the coaching staff, but head coach Katie Lachapelle said she was an invaluable resource for the team, particularly after the semifinal loss. It was her personal experience and no-nonsense demeanor that helped the team refocus, put the loss behind them and remember that they still had a medal to play for – as well as pride. Coaching words of wisdom don't always resonante or reach players, but the fact that many of these players watched many of Decker's wins and losses in real time gives her a gravitas and relatability that makes her words sink in.
- Shifting landscape – I can only speculate, because there weren't any obvious cracks behind the scenes, but I think Team USA suffered a bit from the assumption that a place in the final was a given. The players bonded off ice, but didn't coalesce on ice and I feel like it was taken for granted that it would come naturally and they'd be okay. The team is young and the lesson was learned the hard way. I can't help but think that this will benefit these players and the program in the long run. Nothing is given or guaranteed and players – a team – have to work to earn it.
- USA F Joy Dunne – She was a great choice for team captain and seemed to be the calming, commanding presence the team needed. She is a smart and scrappy player, constantly following her shots and fighting for pucks in front of the net. She handled the tough questions head on, kept the team focused on what was important and made her presence known on the score sheet. I'm not sure USA could have asked for more.
- USA D Molly Jordan - USA's lone winner of any tournament awards or recognition, she led the team in time on ice. She was strong defensively – poised and calm – while also getting involved in offensive play and winning the puck in the neutral zone.
"We both wanted the bronze medal. We both had the mentality to do whatever it takes. We all left it all out there." – US captain Joy Dunne
"It's been a great honor to represent USA. Just getting a great honor and a great accomplishment." – Dunne
"We knew what we had to do to win this medal and we knew we were going to do everything to [win] it." – Dunne
"I think we proved that we have good character and we came out on top today. I'm proud of this team for that." – USA D Molly Jordan
"I think that we have a bright future with this program and I'm excited to see what's coming next." – Jordan
"On a big stage like this, it's easy to not play as a team and that's a lesson we learned. Those are lessons we'll take as we grow older." – Jordan
"The kids were ready to go today. I'm really proud of the way they played today. They bounced back. They gave it their all." – US coach Katie Lachapelle
"It’s the elephant in the room. We all know the reality of what we wanted and the reality of it, but we have a great opportunity to play for a bronze medal." – Lachapelle
"Empty." – Finland coach Mira Kuisma when asked how she was feeling after the game
"Those '05-borns that I have been working with for the last four years, they have been growing into good people and very good players and they have a very bright future." – Kuisma
"The desire to win was so strong. We were ready to take the role that was given to us." – Finland F Tilli Keränen
Media All-Star Team
- G - Sweden's Felicia Frank
- D - Sweden's Mira Jungåker
- D - USA's Molly Jordan
- F - Slovakia's Nela Lopušanová
- F - Finland's Pauliina Salonen
- F - Canada's Caitlin Kraemer
Most Valuable Player
- Slovakia's Nela Lopušanová
Directorate 3 Best Players
- G - Sweden's Felicia Frank
- D - Sweden's Mira Jungåker
- F - Slovakia's Nela Lopušanová