USA 9, Czechia 1
I think I said this earlier in the week, but it's always amazing both how quickly this tournament goes and how much learning and growth can happen on teams throughout. Amanda Kessel captured that perfectly after today's game when she said this is a quick tournament that's long at the same time. It's been six days since these two teams met in the round robin, but USA looked much more connected and composed than they did in that game.
It wasn't just that the Americans scored a bunch – it was the one-time shots, no look passes, swatting pucks out of the air. They were clicking on seemingly all cylinders and finding the chemistry that takes them from a collection of elite players to better than the sum of the parts.
It was a close game through the first period as Kessel's power play goal stood as the only tally. But in the second, Hilary Knight scored twice in about 90 seconds before six minutes of the period had elapsed and that seemed to turn the tide.
Adéla Šapovalivová wristed a stone-cold snipe far post to ruin the shutout and Czechia had a couple of breakaway opportunities, but the pace of the tournament started to catch up with them and they weren't able to race down the ice as they had been and the Americans pulled away. Knight, Kessel and Tessa Janecke each scored twice, with Abby Roque, Abbey Murphy and KK Harvey each also adding a tally.
Harvey (1G, 3A) and Hannah Bilka (1A) both kept their point streaks alive, and have now notched at least one point in every game during the tournament.
What we learned
- Veteran presence– The kids have been great for US and they got on the board later in the game, but when the game was still close it was Kessel and Knight that broke it open. The team and program are evolving, but experience matters and these two are some of the best at finding space, staying calm and coming in clutch.
- Learn and grow – As good as Czechia has been, this is their first tournament starting in Group A and today was only their second ever semifinal game. It's easy to forget that they're still young and developing. They came out of Group B to win their bronze last year. That's important perspective to view this loss under. They made it back to the semifinals. They're still playing for a medal.
- USA F Hilary Knight – She and Taylor Heise tied for the team lead in shots with seven and it was her two goals in less than two minutes that broke the game open. This is a team in transition and her on-ice role is going to morph, as well. But she's still absolutely clutch, still a goal-scorer and still one of the best there is.
- Czechia F Alena Mills – She's been playing on the senior national team since she was 14 (she's now 32) and still led her team in shots in this game. She keeps the team grounded and calm and is just such an important leader for them on and off the ice. I loved seeing her involved and trying to help Czechia kick start their offense and make inroads up the ice.
"It's a learning opportunity. Putting it into perspective really does matter. I thought we competed. It's our second time ever playing in the semifinal. Ever. We can't lose sight of where we are in our growth process. At the end of the day, that game makes us better. It makes us hungry. It's part of the process. So I thought it was a great game." – Czechia coach Carla MacLeod
"I definitely think it's going to be harder a second time. In Denmark, we were there to surprise everybody. Everybody knows how good we are. They are going to be ready for us." – Czechia captain Alena Mills
"Nothing changes. We came here for a medal. If it's a bronze, a bronze still counts." – Mills
"Everything is clicking. It's been feeling pretty good." – USA D KK Harvey
"Ever since [John Wroblewski] joined this team, I've felt a lot more confident. He makes it easy." – Harvey
"The future is now, but for that to happen, they had to earn it. They had to take some spots from veteran players and they did." – USA coach John Wroblewski on the young players on the team
"You see this established player [in Hilary Knight]. You think that there might be a bit of an ego involved there. There's no ego at all. There's a ton of earned confidence. She plays, carries herself, practices as if it were her first camp." – Wroblewski
"You can't get much more by the book than she is in terms of being annoying to play against, touching first on pucks, skill as well." – Wroblewski on Abbey Murphy
"A lot of those players set the table an what that allowed was our D to have a tight steering column where they can shift the play and end plays. I thought some of our D played their best game of the tournament in terms of stopping plays, ending plays and facilitating line rushes." – Wroblewski
"I always feel like we're the underdog. If you had to see what we go through – I always feel like the underdogs. We definitely have a chip to our game. We never feel like we're on top, so to speak." – USA captain Hilary Knight
Canada 5, Switzerland 1
This was going to be an uphill battle for Switzerland from the jump and it became infinitely harder when captain Lara Stalder was given a game misconduct for a hit from behind just before the first intermission. Her team was absolutely stellar on defense for much of the game, but they could barely muster any offense without her and ended with just nine shots on goal.
Swiss coach Colin Muller was blunt in his appraisal that his team is just not deep enough to keep up at this level. While they kept Canada off the board for more than half the game and scoreless through their first 22 shots, they also gave up the puck far too easily once they gained possession and handed their opponents at least two of their goals on a platter with easy turnovers. Muller said they simply aren't able to play as fast as Canada makes teams play and that led to unforced errors and panicked decisions.
For Canada, Sarah Fillier was the star as she netted a hat trick, giving her 11 points for the tournament so far – putting her just behind the leaders.
What we learned
- Limited progress – Switzerland is stuck in a rut with not enough elite level talent and no potential upgrades on the horizon. Muller said he has five women who've developed thanks to time in North America and in the NCAA and he needs that number to be closer to 15. Stalder has already announced she's moving back to Switzerland after years playing professionally in Sweden to try and help bring attention (and money) to the domestic Swiss league to help kick start development. Until they can fill out a linesheet with players capable of playing at this pace, there will be a ceiling on what they can do.
- Keep calm – The Canadian team as a whole has struggled with slow starts, but they're still winning games and dominating play. Every team and path to gold looks different and while this one might not be as clean or straightforward as others have been, it's not like they're panicking. They have had standout performances from a different player every game and have been resilient. Hockey fans have been spoiled by how good these two teams are if they're questioning what's wrong with Canada based off a 5-1 semifinal win.
- Switzerland G Andrea Brändli – She was, in a word, stunning. In a tournament where top-tier goalie performances have been front and center, Brändli put on an absolute clinic, calmly nabbing pucks through traffic, stuffing players as they crashed in on her and stymying the most potent and deep offense in the world. It's nothing new as she's been doing this since at least her sophomore year of college, but it's still just a pleasure to watch a goalie who thrives in games like this to continue to rise to the challenge again and again. She is at her best when she's being challenged like this and it's a masterclass we all got to watch.
- Canada F Kristin O'Neill – Coach Troy Ryan brought up O'Neill's commitment and work ethic post game. She didn't end up with a point, but she was all over the ice, particularly in the first period. She was winning battles, chasing down the puck and generally being a nuisance to the Czech defense, forcing them into quick plays and mistakes by closing down time and space – looking much bigger than her 5'4" stature.
- Canada F Sarah Fillier – At 22, she's no longer a newbie, but she's also still in college and trying to find her place on a roster that's populated with players she grew up idolizing. Fillier is learning how to trust her instincts and be confident that she belongs on the ice and doesn't need to defer to players like Poulin. Her first goal was a beauty that picked an almost non-existent spot over Brändli's shoulder, pinging the post before the puck ricocheted in. The Canadians needed someone to come up big on Saturday and Fillier, who is from nearby Georgetown, Ontario, put on a show in front of a hometown crowd.
"I know what I have in me, I know what I'm capable of. I think I showed that today, that I'm capable of competing with the best in the world." – Switzerland G Andrea Brändli
"I think the most important thing about games like this is no matter what happens out there, just have fun and enjoy it. I think I did that today. I'm always trying to have a smile on my face. I love to be out there to show what I'm capable of and what the team is capable of. To show them who we are. We're Team Switzerland. We deserve to be here." – Brändli
"I think what we can take from this game is the speed and just the smart decisions. Playing against the US or Canada you have no time to think. I think we can take that into tomorrow's game. We have to keep being relentless in front of our net and in our zone and be super disciplined." – Brändli
"We gave them maybe three goals that we didn't have to. Okay, we stopped maybe five that we shouldn't have. We still made mistakes in bad zones where it's unfortunate." – Switzerland coach Colin Muller
"All they see when they go back is white. They don't know where to go with the puck. We try to tell them to make plays, but Canada is so good with their sticks. Yeah, it was like deer in the headlights." – Muller
"I think every game we find something to get better on. It hasn't been easy. The Sweden game went longer than we thought, but we responded. Today, it took a little bit for us to score that first goal, but we stuck with it." – Canada Captain Marie-Philip Poulin
"There's this passion that she has. Everybody sees the big smile and she's lighthearted. She's just got a killer instinct... She just finds a way. It's because she's so hungry. She doesn't need to score in a certain way." – Canada coach Troy Ryan on Sarah Fillier
"People judge us on the Olympics. That's almost catching lightning in a bottle. It's not sustainable. You're not going to score at that pace. One of the things we consciously did the next year after the quad was we looked at how do we need to evolve our game? Some people may see it as that we're not playing at that level offensively. I actually think we're growing our game. We're not giving up as much defensively. We're prepared to play a little bit more physically. I think in the long term I think it's going to serve us much better." – Ryan
"Playing with the lead is a lot more comfortable, and the last two was just a matter of getting pucks on net and being in the right place." – Canada F Sarah Fillier
"We knew they would come out strong and they have a good goalie, so we wanted to focus on what we do best. Once we scored that first one, it opened up the game and we created a lot more chances." – Canada F Natalie Spooner
(Photo: Nicole Haase)