USA 7, Slovakia 1
The folks at home that wake up to this score may be surprised to hear that the game was tied 1-1 after two periods and the US had to come from behind to get there. The Americans looked disorganized early on, often skating in the same spaces and over-handling the puck. Slovakia took advantage on a US power play, when the puck was dropped to the top of the zone to start cycling again, but three Americans sort of ran into each other and Alica Juríková jumped on the open puck and raced off toward the US net. She beat Layla Hemp with a shot to the far post, giving Slovakia a 1-0 lead five minutes into the game.
USA wasn't able to find an equalizer until midway through the second. After long stretches of perimeter shots that weren't dangerous and didn't generate much in the way of second chances, Kendra Distad had the puck in the corner below the blue line and spotted a lane for Caroline Averill. Her past with perfect and Averill was able to take the puck and after a short pause pick her spot to one-time it back in the net. There was a visible exhale on the US bench after tying it up.
As the second moved into the third, the Americans started to find their game a little more, making smarter choices on the puck starting back in their own defensive zone that led to fewer touches and not trying too hard. Maggie Scannell scored 32 seconds into the third period on a play she said she and linemate Ava Thomas had practiced often. Thomas carried the puck up the boards and passed to Scannell in the slot, where she just reached out her stick and poked the puck in. Scannell was shoulder to shoulder with two defenders before standing up to take two big strides, leaving them behind and giving her the chance to receive Thomas' pass.
Both getting the go-ahead goal and having it be a pretty play they'd practiced unfurled the Americans' confidence even more and the flood gates opened. In short order, Josie St. Martin, Averill, Jordyn Petrie, and Ava Thomas each lit the lamp to break a U18 Women's Worlds record for the fastest give goals by more than two minutes – it had been 6 minutes, 4 seconds and the Americans did it in 4 minutes, 2 seconds.
St. Martin's goal, in particular, was a great effort as she split the defenders and almost had the puck poked away before regathering it and picking out a spot over the goalie's far shoulder.
After a messy start, it was a hell of a recovery.
Captain Bella Fanale did not dress for the game. I hope to get more info today.
What We Learned:
- It's how you end – I was concerned about the Americans in the first, felt a little better in the second and then the third blew everything up. I definitely won't be forgetting about the issues I saw early in this game, particularly if they start cropping up in other matches, but for now, we'll celebrate that they got it together and put together an epic third period. The game will be out of reach before they even remember they're playing it if they pull this against stronger teams, so there's a big need for course correction, but the point is that they did eventually find their extra gear.
- Leap in talent – The previous format kept the lower ranked teams from having to face the top tier, but with the new set up, Slovakia got their first taste of playing the Americans and while they showed they absolutely can play at this level, I think there was a learning curve here for the Slovaks. On the positive side, they kept up with the skating speed and physicality, but they also struggled with how fast the game moves. Nela Lopušanová was shut down a few times and I think overall the team was unprepared for how little time and space they'd have on offense to make plays and decisions. When coaches talk about how the game keeps getting quicker, they don't mean stride for stride, but more in terms of puck movement, closing defense and transition play. It was good for Slovakia to face this in their first game of the tournament. They're got plenty of time to get better.
- The build up – What might be most important about the way the US piled on in the third is how each new shift picked up the puck and kept at what the team was building together. In the end, they had six different goal scorers. In the first two periods, it wasn't clear whether the Americans had the mentality to come back from the early deficit. The final frame showed off a depth and scoring ability up and down the line sheet. That will be really crucial for this team as the tournament progresses. It's one thing when two of the best forwards on the team are playing well – when Scannell uses her power and size to body for position or St. Martin weaves her magic. But when the third and fourth line are scoring, it bodes well for the team's ability to push through to the gold medal game.
- US F Josie St. Martin and Maggie Scannell – These two were so impactful in the final period it was impossible to choose one. They led the team in shots and time on ice and each ended with a goal and an assist. They are two of the leaders and the most experienced players on the roster - you need your big players to come up big in big spots and they did. Liz Keady Norton said the coaches had a lot to say at the secondi intermission and it's important that these two took that to heart and that they not just modeled how to respond, but were also vocal on the bench and on the ice in pushing their teammates for more.
- Slovakia D Alexandra Mateickova and F Lillien Benakova – Honestly, I could have named the full second line for Slovakia, but these two really stood out in the third period as they logged a bunch of minutes and did their best to stop the momentum the Americans kept gathering. I liked how they were encouraging their teammates and how they seemed to be leaving everything they had on the ice.
"It was a great play. We've worked on that in practice multiple times, so it was second nature to us. We knew what we were doing before we even had the puck. It was a great pass by Ava and Mary, too, setting up the play. All I had to do was tap it in." – USA captain Maggie Scannell
We knew that shots were going to go in eventually. Keep the puck going to the net. We put a couple of shots and the puck went in." – Scannell
"Coach always says, build on it. No matter what the score is, shift by shift we can build on it and then we can have success in the big picture." – Scannell
"We did. We did. We said big dogs gotta eat. For us it was sticking to the game plan and not getting frustrated. We have a young group and we have to learn every period." – USA coach Liz Keady Norton on what she said to her team during intermissions
"A lot of our shots were really perimeter early on. I think when you're trying to get that first goal coming from behind, there's a lot of hey, just get shots on net. Having the confidence to hold on to the puck, play with your head up, move it when you need to move it, possess it and wear them down, that goes a long way in games like that." – Keady Norton
"Through transition we were better on our entries, on our net drives, we were smarter there and lost a few extra touches and the extra stick handles. Between that and a good net front presence, it goes a long way." – Keady Norton
"We always talk about leaving the puck in a good spot for the next group coming out and I think we did that in the third." – Keady Norton
"We have to get ready right from the start. We really found out what we can bring in the third period." – USA F Josie St. Martin
"We kept building off the energy [in the third]." – St. Martin
"Two periods were like a miracle for us, but unfortunately we didn't keep it until the end of the game. I'm very proud of our girls and our goalie." – Slovakia coach Gabriela Sabolova
"Penalties in the second period were a lot because we couldn't use all our lines so we lost the tempo of the game." – Sabolova
"It was an amazing moment. It was my first international score and it came against USA." – Slovakia F Alica Juríková
"We learned that we need to play 60 minutes. It is not possible to only play 40 minutes." – Juríková
Finland 6, Germany 0
Less than 24 hours after their welcome to the top division at the hands of Canada, Germany was back on the ice to face Finland. The result might have been the same, but coach Jeff MacLeod was very happy with how his team played through 40 minutes. The team got tired, frustrated and sloppy in the final frame, whereas Finland started playing even better and the result was a 6-0 win for the Finns.
Emma Ekoluoma scored her second-straight hat trick, staring off her U18 career with six goals and an assist in two games. Amazingly, that's not even a record – Haley Skarupa scored a hat trick in three straight games in 2012. Linemate Abigail Byskata got on the board with two goals and an assist. Top line defender and team captain Tuuli Tallinen added three assists.
Finland had a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission thanks to a Senja Siivonen one-timer in the opening five minutes and Ekoluoma's first. But Germany ground their progress to a halt in the second. The Finns possessed the puck for long stretches, including on the power play, but could not work it in deep or puck anything dangerous on net.
Germany took a power play into the third frame and had been buzzing in 34 seconds of advantage they had before the horn. They received a second before five minutes had elapsed. And then things started to unravel. Captain Martina Schrick received a game misconduct penalty for contact to the head and Germany would go on to take five more penalties. Finland did not let the opportunity pass them by, scoring three power play goals plus adding an even strength tally from Byskata to pull away and make it a 6-0 game.
With a comfortable lead, Finland was really able to settle into themselves. As the third progressed, they were skating fast, making better connections and playing with a fluidity they hadn't been able to create until then.
What We Learned:
- Quick escape – Sunday's games felt like a demonstration on how quickly things can get out of hand. Both Slovakia and Germany had their opponents in a pretty good spot and had to have been feeling themselves in terms of how they had played entering the third period. Germany was stepping up to Finland and really pressuring them. The play of Loist in net seemed to be getting in the Finns' heads as they looked to take the perfect shot more often than just getting the puck to the net. It was truly amazing how quickly the game went for near to a moral victory to completely out of hand. Germany coach Jeff MacLeod is trying to get his team to see everything that happens here as a chance to learn and grow. Obviously they hope they're not just here for a year before relegation, but even if they are, he wants the players to have learned skills that will help them – and the program – in the future.
- Keep calm – It might be an oversimplification, but I think there's something to be said about how Finland have moved to 2-0 in group play by just playing their game and not getting too high or low. They haven't tried to force anything or do anything outside their comfort zone. They've waited for the opportunties they knew would come to them and then made the most of them. The Finns have a reputation as being very staid and while I think that's sometimes not a compliment, I think their ability to be even-keeled in any situation has been a boon for them here.
- Germany D Hanna Hoppe and Alexandra Manns – These two anchored the defense, putting in tons more ice time and generally keeping this organized and focused. As the game wore on it, it got harder and harder to stick to to what they learned, but these two German defenders were still pressuring, still dropping back and still encouraging their teammates.
- Finland F Emma Ekoluoma – I try hard not to give this to the same person over and over, but there's no doubt that Ekoluoma was the star for Finland once again. She pushed and pushed and got pucks to the net. Her shots are lethal, including a one-timer that seems to stun the goalie. She and her linemates intertwine well and play off each other. They complement each other and make each other better.
"It was better the first period. The second it was not so good. But in the third we upgraded our play and that's why we got the results." – Finland coach Mira Kuisma
"Yesterday the power play wasn't good, but we scored. Today it was better. I think they have good self-confidence on the power play now." – Kuisma
"I don't know. I don't know how to answer that question. It's been going well all season. We like to play well with each other." – Finland F Abigail Byskata on what is working well for the top line
"The second period was a little bit difficult, but we came back stronger in the third and managed to score some goals." – Byskata
"It was a perfect pass from Tallinen." – Byskata on the assist to her first goal Abigail Byskata
"I think as a team we worked pretty well together. We just took a bit too many penalties and that made it a little bit hard." – Germany G Hannah Loist
"The game yesterday was a good preparation. We had a lot of shots and goals against, but I knew I had to keep going." – Loist
"We're a little upset that [Loist] did her thing and we didn't support her in the third period. It should have been better from our side, but she's playing great." – Germany coach Jeff MacLeod
"We have to learn from this. You can't afford to take shifts off or even a period off." – MacLeod
"We've got tomorrow off, which is good so we have a practice day and some teaching - I think some of our younger players need that." – MacLeod
"It's tough. If you give up any kind of minutes where you're undisciplined, you've got elite players on these teams and they're going to take advantage sooner or later. I thought we did a decent job killing penalties earlier. You can't keep killing penalties, either, because your lines are going to be tired and a little out of sync. We have to take what we learned from the third and not do it again." – MacLeod
Canada 8, Czechia 1
Canada set a new record, tallying three short-handed goals to take their second victory of the tournament. The Canadians could not stay out of the box, earning five penalties in the first period and nine penalties overall. With a different team, that might have been enough to sink their chances, but Canada put everyone on notice midway through the opening frame that they are looking for opportunities to nab the puck and break up ice. Czechia had a player advantage for nearly half the first period and the teams went into the intermission with Canada leading 1-0.
It was a frustrating situation for the Czechs, who were able to push the Canadians off their normal game plan by pressuring high and not allowing them to build with the puck out of the back. Czechia was aggressive, but that same strategy left them vulnerable to fast breaks, long passes and the short-handed rushes. That would have been okay – they didn't expect to keep Canada scoreless – but they also could not see to make the puck bounce their way and they ran into the superior puck tracking skills of goalie Rhyah Stewart, who had the play happening closer in front of her than might normally be the case but was able to keep the net empty despite pucks coming in through traffic.
Tara Watchorn and staff have emphasized defense first, but have also worked with their team on anticipating the play and looking for opportunities. Short-handed chances can't come at the expense of securing the zone, but the players are encouraged to use their skills if they have the chance.
Abby Stonehouse, who was already having a stellar tournament before scoring in this game, wrestled the puck from the offense and Caitlin Kraemer started to breakout and was in empty ice to receive the pass and take it in for the first goal. The it was Stonehouse who picked up the puck off a neutral zone faceoff and came through some defenders with a tap from Claire Murdoch to end up one on one with the goalie. Later in the frame, she picked up a loose puck and skated around a Czech player to get out of the zone. Murdoch went with her and their give and go ended with another Stonehouse shorty.
What We Learned:
- Big tool box – When Czechia put pressure on the Canadians with a strong forecheck that didn't let them gather speed or momentum coming down the ice, the Canadians had to adapt. What worked against Switzerland was not going to work here. The ability to find new ways when what's familiar and comfortable is taken away is a necessary skill in women's hockey in particular and one young players have to figure out. Systems only get you so far and both the coaching staff and the players have to be flexible enough to handle changes and trust in the players to use their natural skills. It says good things about this coaching staff that the players feel the freedom to take off on short-handed opportunities and that they didn't fall apart or freeze when the game didn't shape up the way they may have thought.
- Fickle game – As much as I expect Canada to kind of roll through this tournament, I still didn't think this game would end up with such a lopsided score – specially after seeing how well Czechia was playing them in the first few minutes. One or two different puck bounces and I think this game would have looked very different. And it's not two straight games where Czechia went from high to low very quickly. Now they're 0-2 and looking at a tough hill to climb if they want to play for a medal. The downside of this quick tournament that happens once a year for me is that I'd love to see these teams play again in say a month after they've had time to breakdown tape and learn.
- Canada F Claire Murdoch – I picked Abby Stonehouse yesterday because I liked all the things she did that didn't necessarily show up on a scoresheet. Today she tallied a team-high five points. We'll see if Murdoch gets the same bump. She was a major part of several Canada goals on Sunday and showed off a great instinct for finding her teammates and placing passes on their tape.
- Czechia F Tereza Plosová – She was at a loss for words in the mixed zone trying to understand what had gone wrong in that game and how it had turned out so poorly for her team, but she was a machine on the ice, chasing down pucks, holding the zone and trying to find any way to will the puck into the back of the net. It was a frustrating game for Czechia but she was still pushing until the very last buzzer.
"Once we get a strong defensive zone and get the puck cleared, we can go if we have the chance." – Canada F Abby Stonehouse on looking for shorthanded opportunities
"She made phenomenal saves. She kept us in the game. Without her I think it would be a different score." – Stonehouse
"They were really physical, like we expected, but we didn't have luck today. We had the puck on the goal line and we didn't score. We had multiple times that we didn't score. That was a problem." – Czechia F Tereza Plosová
"We tried everything, honestly. But they are really good. But we have to beat them next game." – Plosová
"They are very aggressive and that's very hard to play against. We just couldn't find a way to score. We need to learn from this experience." – Czechia F Aneta Paroubková
"We didn't score. We had a lot of chances. Had a lot of power plays, but we didn't score. But it's a great experience for us. We fought hard. I'm happy with this game. They fought hard. It's important for us to play in games like this." – Czechia head coach Dušan Andrašovský
"It was important to us to keep them under pressure. It's important that they are not dominating all game in our zone. We missed a couple of details and we will work on it and it's a great experience for us because our players have never played against Canada. It was a very fast game for us." – Andrašovský
"They gave us a good game. It was cool. It kept us honest. They're really talented, fast and skilled and made us really focus on our puck management and making smart plays. I'm proud of how our girls adjusted." – Canada coach Tara Watchorn
"The biggest thing is just the mentality. To not let penalty calls get under your skin. To think, let's go out there and get a shorthanded goal. The biggest thing we try to teach them is how to anticipate pressure and how to pressure together so that no matter what the power play is doing we can read off those triggers and try to generate offense." – Watchorn
"It shows we can find a way to win, but there's still a lot of things we can get better at." – Watchorn
"We faced a lot of adversity through that game, but I think we stuck together really well. People stepped up when they needed to." – Canada captain Emma Venusio
"She's amazing. I'm happy she's in our net and not the other net." – Venusio on Rhyah Stewart
- Slovakia is currently facing off with Sweden in Group B play, televised live on TSN4
- Team USA will face off with Switzerland at 2:00 PM Eastern time in Group B play, televised live on NHL Network and TSN4
(Photo: Nicole Haase)