Semifinals - Saturday April 15
Everyone who has advanced to the semifinals is competing for a medal, they just aren't sure which one yet. But, more so than ever before at this tournament, it's really anybody's game. I brazenly predicted that Canada would handle Sweden easily; that turned out to not be true. I also thought Czechia was a longshot to repeat as a medal contender without their #1 goalie. I was wrong about that too. I love being wrong about stuff like this. The top teams are all beatable and everyone knows that now. It reflects in the way the players handle themselves on the ice and in the way we write about them now. So everyone tomorrow has a shot. There's no more going through the motions in this sport anymore. It's all up for grabs. While these semifinals are the same matchups that we saw in 2022, I think there's a very good chance that the scores are different.
USA vs. Czechia - 12:00 PM Eastern
The Czechs are coming off of a gritty win against Finland where they blocked a lot of shots and had to hustle to limit opportunities on Blanka Škodová. A lot of shots got through to her anyway, but she was incredible at limiting the damage they did by controlling rebounds. Finland had lots of traffic in front, but when she froze the first shot on net, that didn't matter. But it wasn't just Škodová that won this – it was a full team effort. It was Klára Hymlárová blocking shots with her body; it was Natálie Mlýnková taking the puck to the net without hesitation to find a goal, something she's done all tournament. If Czechia can play this type of game against Team USA, they will have a high chance of success.
Team USA's task will be to play more like they played against Germany in the quarterfinals and less like they played against Czechia the last time these two teams met. They simply can't put themselves in the box that much or let Czechia's physical style frustrate them. They have to come into this knowing it's an uphill battle and that their play with the puck will speak for itself if they let it.
The Americans' second line of Tessa Janecke, Hannah Bilka, and Taylor Heise has really been the driving force behind the better aspects of Team USA's depth at forward. Bilka leads her team in scoring efficiency – she has put over 36% of the shots she's landed on net behind the netminder, and her shots always show an awareness of how the play is developing around her, whether to take advantage of an opponent's shift change, hang on a split second longer to give her linemates a chance to create traffic in front, or be part of that traffic and bury a sick deflection. Bilka leads her team in goals and Heise leads in points (tied with Caroline Harvey). It's a smart line that truly works together. Whether they score or not, they're the ones who will set the tempo.
Czechia knows they haven't even hit their ceiling yet. The off day was a good opportunity for them to treat some bumps and bruises but it could be a slower start for them. If they find their rhythm early, this could be a very close game. Even if not, I doubt it'll be the 10-1 result we saw in September.
Canada vs. Switzerland - 4:00 PM Eastern
Switzerland has finally found their offensive touch, something that has been lacking from their game in recent years, but most of the offense is still coming from their top forward line and D-pair, and it did in their big win over Japan as Nicole wrote yesterday. Defender Alessia Baechler with one assist, and defender Nicole Vallario with one goal and one assist, are the only two players outside of that top unit to score in this tournament.
A lack of scoring depth, plus an inability to keep up with much of the physical pace in the top division, has led to some lopsided scores for them in the past. Last year, Switzerland had this exact same matchup in the semifinals and they ended up losing 8-0. But, despite the lack of depth contributions on the scoresheet, they have still been scoring at a greater clip than in any of their past five World Championships, and this is a significant step ahead for them.
One thing you'll notice if you dig deeper into their numbers is that Colin Muller distributes ice time pretty evenly. Lara Christen leads her team in ice time so far in the tournament but she is only playing 19:31 per game on average. This is a nothing-to-lose situation for the Swiss, so it will be interesting to see if they lean more heavily on their top players in this game against Canada, or if they just treat it like any other game and go have fun out there. They'll have seen what Sweden pulled off against Canada, taking them to overtime. It's a good situation for Team Switzerland to be in right now. They're playing their best hockey as a team in awhile, and they should go into this game with the mindset that they're capable of making Canada work harder against them.
The Canadian team has to feel a sense right now that they aren't putting opponents away like they used to. While that might not be their fault, and is just the way the game is growing, it has to be a little frustrating. There's a reason why their goals against Sweden in regulation came from strong individual efforts rather than all-around dominance and clean execution. They can be defended against and they will need those strong individual performances to lift them sometimes. Luckily, they have no shortage of players who can do things like that. It was Sarah Nurse's turn on Thursday, but it could be someone else's turn tomorrow if it's a closer game.
Fifth place game - Sunday April 16
Finland vs. Sweden - 9:00 AM Eastern
With Finland's big 8-2 win over Germany and Sweden's 1-0 victory over Japan, the stage is set for a fifth-place game on Sunday. The stakes for fifth place feel higher than ever, and it's fitting that we return to this great rivalry between Sweden and Finland to figure out who gets promoted to Group A next year. Finland was in Group A when they lost to Japan last tournament, but Sweden has never been there. When they last medaled at Worlds in 2007, there were three groups, and they were in Group C. Finishing fifth would be Sweden's best finish since 2015. And Finland is hoping to get back to being the team that beat Canada and took Team USA to a shootout in the gold medal game in 2019.
Both teams have a lot to gain from a win. Emotions will be high. They've had incredible tournaments and have really succeeded in finding their strengths and identities as teams. On top of that, they have individual players making huge impacts, such as Mira Jungåker matching up against Marie-Philip Poulin and holding her to zero points in a playoff game, or Petra Nieminen leading the entire tournament in scoring thus far. Both squads have great goaltenders. Finland won their last game against Sweden 4-2, but they had a slow start and seem to have come together much more cohesively as a result of that comeback win. Sweden has only gotten better since that loss, too. I don't know who has an edge this time around, but it has the potential to be an instant classic. TSN will carry it on TSN4; NHL Network won't because they are cowards.