Friday was a rest day before the medal rounds for the top teams and the first round of placement games to determine who finishes 5-8. We already know Hungary and France are getting relegated. The winners of these two games will play in the 5/6 placement game Sunday at 9:00 AM Eastern Time. The winner plays in Group A next tournament.
Finland 8, Germany 2
The quarterfinal loss to Czechia would have been heartbreaking enough to crater a lot of teams. But having that opportunity slip from their grasp just made the Finns even more determined to take advantage of the last opportunity available to them in this tournament.
The game got off to a slow start for the Finns and Germany took a 1-0 lead midway through the first on a power play goal from Sonja Wiedenfelder. That seemed to be enough to shake Finland out of any possible funk and they responded immediately – 16 seconds later– to tie the game on Jenniina Nylund's goal.
The teams headed into the intermission tied, but Finland would have most of a power play left to start the second. Petra Nieminen took advantage just :35 in to give her team their first lead. Bernadette Karpf fed Theresa Wagner on a quick transition and just more than a minute later, Germany knotted the score at two.
That's as close as it would get, as Nieminen completed a second-period hat trick in eight minutes and 15 seconds of clock time to push her team ahead for good. Julia Liikala, Jenni Hiirikoski, Emilia Vesa, and Nelli Laitenen each lit the lamp in the third to complete an emphatic statement win for Finland.
What we learned
- Old guard, new guard - It was refreshing to see Finland hitting on all cylinders and their game right now is showcasing both the long-time veterans and younger talent. Nieminen is just 23, but has been on the national team for years and is both veteran and the future of this team. Nelli Laitinen is 20 years old, but just a freshman at the University of Minnesota. She's paired with Jenni Hiirikoski as Finland's top defensive pairing, giving her an amazing opportunity to learn from the best in the world. Nelli is currently sixth in the tournament in scoring.
- Abstreiter's importance - With no offense to her goalie partners or the rest of her team, but Germany's chances still hinge on having Sandra Abstreiter be absolutely solid in net. They have shown so much growth in the past 12-18 months as they've been able to play together more, but ultimately, if she isn't able to keep the score in check, they simply don't yet have the ability to pick up the slack defensively or score enough offensively to bail her out.
- Finland F Petra Nieminen – She was an absolute dominant force on Friday and her performance put her at the top of the tournament scoring leaders. She now has six goals and six assists for 12 points. It felt as though she came out of the first intermission personally determined to ensure her team was playing for a spot in the top group on Sunday morning. The first two goals were lasers from the point, but third included a spin away from the defense, speed into the zone and a drag across the net front that she made look way too easy.
- Germany D Nina Jobst-Smith – The Minnesota Duluth player logged more than 26 minutes on the ice and averaged 52 seconds per shift. In a game where goalie Sandra Abstreiter was uncharacteristically beatable, Jobst-Smith stepped up even more to try and stop the pouring in of Finnish goals. Normally a fairly offensive defender, she was up in play more in the opening frame, but as Finland pushed, she hunkered down in front of her own net and did a stellar job of blocking shots, helping to position teammates and keeping her team's head up.
"Of course yesterday was so bad and we were so upset, but then we just talked about it, that we want to go in the A group. We want to go back and play against USA and Canada." – Finland F Petra Nieminen
"I think it was nice to get some goals today. I think we had the right mentality for today and we didn't push too much. We were relaxed and having fun, I think that was the key factor." – Finland D Jenni Hiirikoski
"Sunday is a big game for us. It's our like our final for this tournament. The goal to get to the A group is still there and that's what we're fighting for." – Hiirikoski
"Right now it's there where we belong. We are really sad that we lost against Czechia but we had three goals this tournament - win the round robin, win the quarterfinal game and make sure we are in group A. And we have that one still to go." – Finland coach Juuso Toivola
"I think we have to get past today really quickly. Obviously it sucks right now. You have to think about it a little bit and think about the stuff you have to get better at. Look at the good things we did do and learn from the negative, but look back at the tournament overall was good." – Germany G Sandra Abstreiter
"After that game, we're not feeling really good. But I talked to the team and said that the end was not the best, but we can be proud of the games before." – Germany coach Thomas Schädler
"This tournament was really good for us. We saw development. But it's a long way to the top." – Schädler
"This season we have three tournaments and all the same opponents and that's really good teams to play against and for us to develop. The experience we get through these games means a lot for us. We need this for the next year's, but also for our young players. The game today wasn't good, but the experience we get out of this for the future is." – Schädler
Sweden 1, Japan 0
For the first time in six years, Sweden will play for the opportunity to join Group A as this win gives them a berth in the 5/6 placement game against their neighbor, Finland.
After gutting out a stellar performance against Canada on Thursday, there may have been an expectation that the Swedes would make quick work of Japan. But despite earning just one point this tournament, the Japanese team showed the kind of resiliency and peskiness that helped them get to Group A in the first place.
Josefin Bouveng scored the game's only goal midway through the first on a wrister from the slot that Riko Kawaguchi got a piece of, but it still found the back of the net.
Akane Shiga seemed destined to tie the game. Her wraparound shorthanded chance had Emma Söderberg scrambling in the second. Near the end of the third, Shiga pounced on a loose puck and a wide open back door, but her shot hit the post and Sweden survived.
What we learned
- New day – After (and maybe because of) an absolutely stellar performance in their near-upset of Canada, Sweden was able to score a single goal on Friday. I'm always amazed at how growth and change we can see from teams over the course of a single tournament that lasts less than two weeks. Japan was faster, smarter with the puck and a much tougher opponent Friday than they'd been in their round robin games. At this point it's impossible to feel like you can predict what each game will bring.
- Play the best to be the best – I have no idea where I fall on the debate to go groupless in this top tier, but I do know that there is merit in these teams playing tougher opponents. It's how they grow and get better. Being the dominant force in a group, whether that's the groups in the top tier or in the next division down, doesn't serve them well.
- Japan F Akane Shiga – Goodness she was brilliant. She showed off not just a ton of speed, but a really great instinct for creating turnovers and taking off on odd-player rushes and breakaways.
- Sweden F Hilda Svensson – After scoring four goals at the U18 tournament in January, she has slotted into the senior team well and not expereinced much in the way of growing pains. She has not been shy about getting pucks to net, leading the team with four shots in this game and generally playing way beyond her years. She's an exciting, talented addition to this lineup.
"I think we gained a lot of confidence yesterday playing against Canada, taking them to overtime." – Sweden F Josefin Bouveng
"I think we did everything we had to do today, and if we can win fifth place that will give us a great advantage at next year’s Worlds."– Bouveng
"I felt when I got the puck that I had a lot of time to see where I wanted to shoot, and I looked for a spot where the goalie wasn’t." – Bouveng
"We had some good scoring opportunities, but we couldn’t score. We practice our power play a lot but we couldn’t bury our chances." – Japan coach Yuji Iizuka.
"You never know who will finish fifth, but for us we couldn’t win that one game that would have made the difference." – Iizuka
(Photo: Sweden Hockey Twitter/@trekronorse)