Thursday was packed with action – here's the rundown on the second two quarterfinals of the day.
Canada 3, Sweden 2 (OT)
An outstanding 51-save performance by goalie Emma Söderberg anchored Sweden in a near-upset of defending champions and hosts Canada. The Swedes came out determined and had the first shot of the game as Josefin Bouveng got around Ella Shelton and in on Emerance Mashmeyer. But Blayre Turnbull got Canada on the board with an absolutely jaw-dropping individual effort as she carried the puck from her own blue line past everyone on the ice.
Sarah Nurse doubled the lead seconds after exiting the penalty box, muscling the puck off the boards and using her defender to screen Söderberg as she picked a spot on the far post.
But Canada didn't pull away and that left room for Sweden. In the waning minutes of the period, Lina Ljungblom found herself with space and a clear shot at the net from the slot and she made it a 2-1 game. With five minutes left in the third, it looked like Sarah Fillier had scored for Canada, but a review showed the puck hit the post and landed in front of the goal line.
Sweden pulled Söderberg late, with under a minute to play, but that was enough as a long distance shot from Maja Nylén Persson missed the net, but ricocheted off the back boards and trickled through traffic to Hilda Svensson's stick. She did not miss and the game was tied with 9.2 seconds left. It was the second straight game Canada had allowed a game-tying goal in the final 10 seconds of play.
Söderberg made five absolutely spectacular saves in overtime before Nurse ended the game on a bar-down snipe to give Canada the win.
What we learned
- Canadian resilience – While there's no getting past that fact that they gave up the late-game goals to allow overtime, the Canadians still came away from those games with wins. They bent, but did not break and that's a really important characteristic to have and an important lesson in being resilient, overcoming challenges and continuing on. They've been the clear best in the world for the past few years and games like these are important to remind them that nothing is a given and they have to keep doing work and they're what they'll rely on mentally when things get really difficult in practice and other games – they know they can withstand the pushback and still come out on top.
- Sustained Sweden – The Swedes also gave Canada a scare in the 2022 Olympics and at this point, these aren't just one-off performances or a matter of Söderberg stealing a game. Sweden has made huge strides domestically in support for their women's program and we're seeing that pay off. Some of their best players this tournament have been U18 players and that group defeated the Americans in the semifinal and took silver back in January. They're going to continue to be a factor here at the senior level.
- Sweden G Emma Söderberg – She has proved time and time again that she's one of, if not the, best goalie in the world. And she's only 25. She seems to find new heights in the toughest situations and is incredibly skilled at positioning. She has a knack for sprawling saves and getting her toe to the puck or the post to prevent a goal. She's the standard for calmly handling the onslaught of the US and Canada and giving her team a chance to win.
- Sweden F Mira Jungåker – The 17-year old was a thorn in Marie-Philip Poulin's side the entire game. It's a testament to her game and the trust she has from her coaches that she drew the assignment. She was physical and a pest and clearly frustrated Poulin. She contested every inch of ice and made Canada work hard to find chances. She's also a threat on offense and has great instincts on when to step into the play. Jungåker is only going to get better and she's going to give opposing teams a hard time for many years to come.
- Canada F Sarah Nurse - It might be obvious, but beyond her two goals, Sarah Nurse just continues to grow more fully into herself as a player and it's an absolute pleasure to watch. She is quick with a wicked shot, but she's also strong along the boards and displays a really keen talent for reading the ice, picking her spots and using her left-handed shot to her advantage. The goals are great, but it's the details that make her such a delightful player to watch.
"Late in an event like this, the more time I can spend with our own athletes I think is more valuable." – Canada coach Troy Ryan
"Nothing needs to be said on the bench. I'm not giving a big speech. They just know they have to win a faceoff and go play some overtime." – Ryan
"She's such a good athlete. She's coachable. she just has an ability to play any way. There's people like her or Poulin or Turnbull – some of our top players – it doesn't matter what type of team we're playing or what type of game we're playing, they just bring it all the time." – Ryan on Sarah Nurse
"Just go out and play our best hockey. It was close, but it was not enough." – Sweden D Mira Jungåker
"We said we haven't played our best hockey before this game and so now it was time to show that and I think we did that today." – Jungåker
"On that level [U18s] we know that we can beat US and Canada, so to have that experience here means a lot." – Jungåker on how playing for gold at the U18 World Championships gives her confidence
"We had put up a good fight for two periods already and we knew they were not going to be happy with how they had been playing, that's when stuff can happen. We knew we needed one shot, one attack and anything can happen. I'm very proud of how we fought today." – Sweden G Emma Söderberg
"We have been able to raise our intensity in our game a lot. We're playing more physical. We know the effort that goes into it." – Söderberg
"The pressure is not on us in this game." – Söderberg
"Her release is something that kind of catches you off guard because of how it comes off her stick, but it's one of the quickest there is." – Canada D Erin Ambrose on teammate Sarah Nurse
"We stayed composed. I thought our overtime was great. We executed a lot of good looks." – Ambrose
"I was going to yell at [Nurse] for taking that shot with no net-front, but her release speaks for itself. She's able to get that done." – Ambrose
"It felt like it was going to come for us. We just had faith in each other and our game plan." – Canada F Sarah Nurse
"We're resilient. I think it would have been easy to stress and break down right there in front of our own crowd, but we didn't." – Canada F and captain Marie-Philip Poulin
Switzerland 5, Japan 2
It took a period for them to settle in, but then Switzerland's top line seemed to find their comfort zone and came together in a way we haven't yet seen from them this tournament.
Japan scored first on a rush where Rui Ukita pulled Andrea Brändli's focus and then dished the puck to Haruka Toko, who made it 1-0. A power play in the final two minutes of the period gave Swiss the opportunity to tie it up as Lara Christen's shot from the blue line deflected through traffic and into the net.
That goal seemed to shake something loose for the Swiss and they came out energized and clicking in the second and their elite top line went to work. Alina Müller, Lara Stalder, Rahel Enzler and Christen combined for the next four goals. Müller scored first, :31 into the period, showing off speed and puck handling abilities to slash in on net. Then Stalder kept a puck on the rush and went bar down. Enzler put back a rebound on a Stalder shot to make it 4-1. In the third, she redirected a shot from distance by Müller that knuckled into the net.
In all, Müller, Stalder, Enzler, and Christen combined for 18 of the team's 35 shots on goal and all 13 points the team accrued. Stalder led the way with a goal and four assists.
What we learned
- Game order matters – Switzerland has struggled a bit with the way their tournament schedule fell. They had Canada and the USA right out of the gate and then played Japan. Those games required different things of them and they had a little difficulty adjusting. Then they were in a position against Czechia where the winner of that game got a tougher opponent in Finland. There's been some mental gymnastics needed and there are lessons for them to learn about not letting that affect their performance and outcome, but it has also provided interesting insight into how teams handle the tournament and how things fans might never consider can affect outcomes.
- Room to grow – Switzerland's top line have been playing on the national team since they were young teenagers and while they've seen some growth from those players and others going to the US to play in the NCAA, coach Colin Muller said he wished even more players were doing the same thing. Stalder has committed to returning to play professionally in Switzerland to help push growth of women's hockey at home. We're seeing teams like Sweden and Germany combine veteran talent with up and comers, but Switzerland isn't quite there in terms of identifying a new generation of young talent and developing them.
- Great goalies – The simplest way for a team to continue to improve is to build out from a strong goalie that gives them the confidence and ability to begin to be more aggressive on offense. Nana Fujimoto was stellar for Japan and now Miyuu Masuhara and Riko Kawaguchi have shown they are next in line. Masuhara has been the starter, but coach Yuji Iizuka knows that Kawaguchi also has massive potential. He took Masuhara out of Thursday's game to save her confidence and rest her for the placement rounds, but Kawaguchi is playing her way into it being less cut and dry about who should start. The players are pushing each other and that means nothing but good things for their squad.
- Japan F Haruka Toko – The goal scorer was also a force from the faceoff dot and led the team in shots. She's a smart, smooth skater who's great at handling the puck and has the instincts to be where she needs to be to help her team be dangerous on offense. Being able to control the puck and win possession is such an underrated part of the women's game and her ability to do that on faceoffs and in transition is a game-changer for Japan.
- Switzerland D Lara Christen - The top line forwards on Switzerland are the most well known and get the most attention, but Christen gets ice time with that group and has been an underrated contributor to their success. She's a huge play generator for them in the offensive zone, dishing the puck to their outstanding forwards and directing play from the point, but she's also a strong, smart defender that can muscle a player off the puck and recover quickly.
"We have to get the ladies to play with more confidence. We lost, but they played well. We need to keep them positive on the way to win fifth place." – Japan coach Yuji Iizuka
"They got an early lead and we knew we had to stay calm. It's difficult in those situations when you're one down and you're trying to pressure. They [Japan] work really hard. They're very disciplined." – Switzerland F Lara Stalder
"We got some chances, but it was pretty even. That power play goal was huge because that first power play wasn't so good. We came out really strong in the second period. We came out flying. The first five minutes [of the second period] decided this game. After that, we had the momentum on our side. We were playing calm and with the puck." – Stalder
"Last World Championship was really tough. Facing adversity makes us stronger... In those games it's huge that we stand together and stay calm and the leaders in this group took over and decided this game." – Stalder
"We just need to play smart with the puck. We're going to be under pressure all these games. We need to play smart and move pucks quicker and play as a team. It's been tough so far. In these games you're chasing a lot. You have to play solid defense, but we want to play better with the puck." – Switzerland coach Colin Muller
"We knew this game meant a lot of us. We tried to be patient. Not trying too much at the beginning. We slowly came into the game. We made them pay for their mistakes." – Switzerland F Alina Müller
"It's not bad news!" – Müller in response to a question saying the good news is they won, the bad news is they have to play Canada
"We had a quick start. We had a good start. We have to keep that through all three periods." – Japan F Akane Hosoyamada
"We've been able to bounceback every time. It's important to stay positive and keep looking forward. We want to stay in the top five." – Hosoyamada
(Photo: Nicole Haase)