Gold Medal Game
Canada 3, USA 6
The future may be now for a whole cadre of young talent on Team USA's roster, but Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel proved that experience matters and they've still got plenty to contribute on Sunday night as they led the Americans to a gold medal.
Knight crossed the 100 point threshold at the IIHF Women's World Championships and tacked on an addition goal after that just to make sure. After public and not-so-private conversations about her losing a step or being slow, she clapped back with the kind of dominant performance we'll be talking about for years to come.
While the young player narrative wasn't quite as strong with Team Canada, Sarah Fillier had been once again stealing the show for them, so it was fitting that in the end it was Marie-Philip Poulin and Brianne Jenner who powered the team in the gold medal game.
Poulin opened the scoring with a rip from the faceoff circle on a 5-on-3 power play. The Americans evened it up on a brilliant transition play from Abbey Murphy, who raced down the ice and then showed great patience to wait out the defender, toe drag and wrist the puck into the back of the net.
In the second period, fortunes flipped three times in the span of about five minutes. First, Brianne Jenner picked her spot from the point to put Canada ahead 2-1 before Knight and Kessel took off in transition and Knight's tap of the puck deflected up and over Ann-Renée Desbiens. But Canada responded again, this time as Jenner tipped in a Renata Fast shot from the point.
KK Harvey, who finished the tournament as the top scorer, set a new record for points in a tournament by a defender, showed off her skating, vision and control by stepping up to put away a writer early in the third to tie the game again.
Knight scored her 100th on a 5 on 3 power play where the US was patient and moving the puck before she saw her window. It would also prove to be the game-winner.
She added one more, tipping in a Harvey shot from the point to make it 5-3. Then Cayla Barnes scored on the empty net almost as soon as Canada pulled Desbiens.
It was complete performance from the Americans at a level we haven't seen in many years.
What we learned
- Play what you know – The US did not stray from the formulas that have been working for them. They trusted in their talented top line, and also leaned on the speed and power of their young second line. As a whole roster, they pushed hard for 60 minutes. They played smart and fast, didn't let the emotions of the game get to them and never got too low when falling behind. It can be easy to overthink these things and try to force just about everything while trying to find the magic combination to win gold, but it felt like everyone on Team USA played the best version of their own game, didn't try to do too much and relied on their comfort level and talent. It was a nice change from the overwrought attempts and uncertainty of the past few years.
- USA F Hilary Knight – What's there to say about Knight, who tied a record by winning her ninth World Championship gold medal? Her teammates are thrilled with how she took on the captain's leadership role; her coaches love her commitment and lack of ego. When her team needed her most, she was as clutch as they come. She'd already been a force over the course of the tournament, but absolutely shone under the brightest lights. In the end, she led all scorers with eight goals in the tournament and led her team to a gold medal that had felt out of reach for the past few years.
- USA D Caroline Harvey – Based on stats alone, this was a hell of a tournament for the 20-year-old college freshman. But was an absolutely remarkable performance from the player that was all but banished from the ice for Team USA in the Olympics, not playing in the quarter- or semifinals and seeing just 62 seconds of ice time in the gold medal game. In the interim, she has flourished with the support and confidence of the staff and been allowed to become an absolutely integral part of this team. She scored at least a point per game in this tournament, led all players in scoring, and set a new record for defender scoring, all while providing shutdown defense. This kid is special and she's got so much opportunity to grow.
- Canada F Brianne Jenner – It was a different standout player for Canada in every game of the tournament, and this was Jenner's time to shine. Sometimes Jenner doesn't end up in the spotlight because she works alongside players like Poulin, Nurse, and Fillier. This standout performance here was a reminder that she's one of the best in the game and she's an integral part of Canada's top line. She lead the team in shots and was as dangerous from the blue line as she was in front of the goal mouth. It was an outstanding game from the veteran.
"It takes a whole village to have one player be successful on the ice, and to have 25 players going at the same time is an incredible feat. We have so many great leaders in that room." – USA F Hilary Knight
"It's hard to beat Canada. It's hard to beat Canada in Canada. So we definitely felt like an underdog, we always feel like an underdog, people are always rooting against us. But somehow we persevere, and it feels sweeter that way." – Knight
"I play with great people. I love this game. I love learning. I love coming to the rink and growing every single day and doing it with outstanding individuals is like a dream come true." – Knight
"We have a great program, and it's not even everybody that's just here. It's everybody who's in Blaine; it's everybody who's in college, postgrads. We have a huge group, and we continue to push each other, challenge each other. The sky's the limit for this group." – USA D Megan Keller
"We said we had to put everything on the line. We came here for one thing... I'm proud as hell of this group." – USA F Abbey Murphy
"She a badass. Best role model I've ever been in front of. She filled that role fricking perfectly. For her to have three goals in this game, that's a fricking leader. She's one hell of a player." – Murphy on Knight
"I feel on top of the world." – USA D KK Harvey
"I was lucky enough to inherit an unbelievable core of veteran players and this young group that has so much promise." – USA coach John Wroblewski
"It's a tough one to swallow. Obviously you want to win, but it is part of sports. It's how you respond after that."– Canada F Marie-Philip Poulin
"We gotta figure out a way to hold those leads. Unfortunate the way it finished there, but we're not looking to skirt any blame and we have to figure out how we can be better." – Canada F Brianne Jenner
"The message was pretty clear. There's not a lot you can say in those situations where you can make them feel any better. I think they'll learn from this experience and just grow as a group." – Canada coach Troy Ryan
Bronze Medal Game
Czechia 3, Switzerland 2
Switzerland once again had trouble staying out of the penalty box and Czechia dominated possession to earn their second-straight bronze medal.
The Swiss team never seemed to find themselves this tournament and the stellar combo of Lara Stalder and Alina Müller wasn't enough to carry the team. They had the great goaltending they've come to rely on and the defense played solidly, but once they gained possession of the puck, it was like Switzerland didn't have any idea what they were supposed to do next. Errant passes, panicked choices, and wasted opportunities alongside a lot of special teams play made it impossible for the Swiss to gather momentum or confidence. Late in the game, they earned a 5-on-3 power play, but no one on the team seemed to be able to even think about shooting the puck – they kept trying to pass to Stalder and Müller even when the lane was there. It was a massive wasted chance to equalize and also increasingly par for the course for Switzerland this tournament.
After the game, Swiss coach Colin Muller struggled to find words for what had happened with his team. As the gap continues to close in the game and teams like Sweden and Finland show so much promise in young players, the lack of development from Switzerland is concerning.
On the other side, Czechia proved that their foray into Group A play is and should be a lasting one. They returned to the same position and played the fast, disciplined type of game we've come to expect from them and defended their medal. The next step is playing for shinier medals, said captain Alena Mills.
Czechia got timely scoring, made a number of key blocks and spread the puck around a bunch, making them tough to defend. Blanka Škodová was a revelation in net after spending so much time as a backup both here and in college and they got contributions up and down the ice. They are strong and fast and smart and make appropriate decisions in all the right places and that makes them very difficult to beat. There were high expectations for this Czech team and they met every single one.
What we learned
- It is that deep – Switzerland simply does not have a deep enough roster of players that can consistently play at this level, as Colin Muller said after the game. There is only so much they can accomplish on the backs of Stalder, Müller, and goalie Andrea Brändli. While those three have done so much heavy lifting, Switzerland's lack of depth was exposed with no one stepping up and taking a bigger role.
- Building blocks – Carla MacLeod praised both GM Tereza Sadilova and previous coach Tomáš Pacina on Sunday, talking about the building blocks that have set the team up for success. It's still not even been a year since MacLeod took over as head coach. She and the coaching staff were put together by Sadilova, and MacLeod said they complement each other well. There is still plenty left to do, including a focus on development at home, continued repeatable success, and being able to regularly challenge the North American teams. The club has been building and focused on holistic growth rather than stressing about their position or ranking.
- Switzerland F Lara Stalder – If there was a way to will your team to the finish line, Stalder would have found it on Sunday. She was up and down the ice, playing point on the power play and blocking shots on defense. The team keeps returning to the bronze medal game and keeps walking away empty handed, but not for lack of trying on Stalder's part. She was visibly upset at the final buzzer, breaking her stick on the ice as she slapped it in frustration.
- Czechia F Denisa Křížová – Křížová led the way with two goals, both of which came from an outstanding awareness of how to move through traffic and find soft areas to get a shot off. She's a slippery player who anticipates where the puck is going to be and that's such an important type of goal-scorer to have in big games.
"I often think about her in these moments [captain Alena Mills]. That's a woman that's really given a lot to this program and stayed the course through ups and downs. She's the utmost professional. For her to get this opportunity to lead two teams as a captain to her country's first medals. You need drivers like that as a group is growing and developing." – Czechia coach Carla MacLeod
"I think we've been able to blend their natural talent and natural skillset. Tomáš Pacina did an incredible job starting this foundation and recognizing that the puck possession game is something this country can own and these players can own. We try to just bolster that, not get in the way of it. Then we've sprinkled a little of the style I'm accustomed to, with the defending side of it – understanding you have to be aggressive and assertive defending-wise. We're trying to find that nice blend between the two. We've done well to this point, but we're not settled. We've got big goals in front of use and we're going to try and continue to get better." – MacLeod
"I knew they would come out hard at the start. They always do. I don't know why, somehow we looked really nervous. Then after awhile we looked really tired. They had the puck a lot. We just weren't skating from the start of the game. You can't let that team with that much technical ability to get in a rhythm like that." – Switzerland coach Colin Muller
"I just wanted to get shots and somehow we couldn't. Maybe I didn't have my best effort tonight, either, somehow. I was trying to get lines going somehow. I was just trying to find a way to get combinations that we could get a little momentum going." – Muller
"I don't really know. We looked so nervous when we had the puck. We didn't make plays yesterday. We didn't make plays today. I thought after yesterday's game we would have come out today a little more self assured. We just looked nervous. I got nothing. I don't know how to explain it." – Muller
"We had one goal for this championship and it was to win this medal." – Czechia D Daniela Pejšová
"It was a long tournament at the end of the whole season for us. In these games, when you play for a medal, you forget that you're tired." – Pejšová
"I really felt from the beginning that we have to win this game. There is no way we're going to lose this game." – Czechia F Tereza Vanišová
"It was definitely harder to defend the bronze." – Czechia F Alena Mills
"It has changed a lot. It started with us qualifying for the Olympics. It wasn't necessarily about the results. It was about how they felt when they watched. They were pulled in. All of the sudden they weren't judging women's hockey." – Mills on how the team is perceived back home
"They came out strong and we had a lot of penalties against and we lost a lot of energy and a lot of momentum to them. But I thought we kept battling, we were in the game." – Switzerland F Lara Stalder
"Today I really thought – I woke up this morning and I really thought we had it. I really thought we could do something today. That's why it's so devastating standing here on the losing side." – Stalder
Media All-Star Team
- G - Sweden's Emma Söderberg
- D - USA's KK Harvey
- D - Canada's Renata Fast
- F - Canada's Sarah Fillier
- F - Finland's Petra Nieminen
- F - Canada's Marie Philip-Poulin
Most Valuable Player
- Canada's Sarah Fillier
Directorate 3 Best Players
- G - Canada's Ann-Renée Desbiens
- D - USA's KK Harvey
- F - Canada's Sarah Fillier
(Photo: Courtesy of USA Hockey)