Slovakia 3, Sweden 6
The first period was all about special teams. Slovakia once again scored the first goal of the match, this time with Nela Lopušanová picking up a rebound and sniping it past the goalie to make it 1-0. It was her first goal of the tournament. Sweden replied in the final few minutes when Mira Hallin scored two almost identical power play goals when passes from Ebba Hedqvist found her open in the slot where she beat Livia Debnarova to give Sweden the 2-1 lead heading into intermission.
The Swedes seemed to have a strategy for beating Debnarova, aiming low and for the corners early on and then elevating pucks later in the game, but most of their success came on the power play, when there were fewer bodies to force the Swedes to the perimeter. Debnarova ended the game with 51 saves.
Hilda Svensson put Sweden ahead 3-1 with a nice snipe, but Slovakia started to claw back.
One of the younger and smaller players at the tournament, Lenka Karkošková, earned her first U18 goal with a massive effort on the forecheck, chasing down Rebecca Holstrom as she circled behind the net and pushing her into Tatiana Blichova, who nabbed the turnover. Karkošková circled at the blue line and was far post to receive the pass and beat Lovisa Lundstrom. Ema Tothova went coast to coast, cutting in on her defender and finding the back of the net as she lost her balance to make it 3-3.
But midway through the third, Sweden pulled away with two goals in less than two minutes as Anna Brenkle and Svensson quickly made it 5-3.
It takes a little while for the sting to wear off before a team that loses the gold medal game can enjoy their silver medal, but Sweden says they surprised themselves a bit last year but now come back with some swagger and confidence. Every team says they want to win the gold medal, but only a few teams get to come to the tournament feeling like it's a genuine possibility, not a pipe dream. It was a nebulous goal for Sweden before the 2023 tournament, but is now a much more tangible and reachable goal that is motivating this squad.
What We Learned:
- Why returners matter – Their opening two wins are building on the confidence Sweden already had coming into this tournament as reigning silver medalists. They have a really experienced team full of returners which means coaches don't have to start over with the group – they can jump into their limited time together focusing on the finer details. Those are the things that have been on display early on for Sweden: crisp passes, tic-tac-toe breakouts, back door power play goals. The team is really in sync and have had the schedule luck to be able to ease into this tournament a bit before having a semifinal rematch against the Americans.
- What it takes – For the second straight game, Slovakia took a tie game into the third period, but could not carry it to the end. I hate to keep harping on the new format, but in this case, it has had Slovakia playing teams they might not have faced in the previous set up or not faced until later rounds of the tournament. They've been forced into a much higher level of play, which is good for them in the long run but definitely exposes the work they still have to do. They started to fade in the final 20 minutes of their first two matches and I think one of those big steps lower ranked teams have to make in order to be in the conversation as a good team is being able to play consistently for 60 full minutes.
- Sweden F Hilda Svensson – She returned to the U18 team after leading the senior team in points at the Women's World Championships in Brampton in April, and had two goals and two assists on Monday. The 17-year-old is showing patience and poise and really using her experience to lead this team. She sniped a goal from the faceoff circle to open scoring in the second and tipped in a shot from distance by Jenna Raunio to really put the game out of reach. Svensson ended the night with 10 shots, tied for team lead.
- Slovakia F Tatiana Blichová– The Slovak captain went awkwardly into the boards behind the Sweden net in the second period after helping engineer a bunch of her team's offense to start the game. She had to be helped off the ice, but went to the bench and received some attention before returning to the game where she pretty quickly helped create Karkošková's goal. Blichová was up and down the ice and it felt like she was involved in every play. She showed the kind of fierce aggressiveness that makes it very difficult for other teams to counter her.
"The third period yesterday and today was bad. We have to be better." – Slovakia F Nela Lopušanová
"It's a really big opportunity for me. I think I'm stronger. And I want to bring some really good energy to the team and be a leader on our team." – Lopušanová on how she's grown in the last year
"It was a tight game almost to the end, but again, we lost the third period, so it was not good enough." – Slovakia coach Gabriela Sabolová
"We hope we can play the game to the end. We hope we can improve and play smarter until the end. Wait for our moments, for our next chance, score and hold it until the end." – Sabolová
"It was too many shots. We need to block more shots." – Sabolová
"It feels amazing that we tied the game and had the opportunity to win, but the third period was bad. We made mistakes and that cost us." – Slovakia F Ema Tóthová
"The biggest players are not as coordinated. Being small is an advantage. It's easier to skate and move around." – Slovakia F Lenka Karkošková
"We were just talking about staying calm and focusing on ourselves and working hard together to get the lead back." – Sweden F Mira Hallin
"It was really important for the whole country" – Hallin
"I think we have played together for several tournaments and we've gotten to know each other really well. We complete each other well." – Sweden F Hilda Svensson
"We really want to show everyone that we can do better [than last year's silver medal]. Last year we didn't know how far we were going to go, but now that we know we can, we have higher expectations." – Svensson
USA 8, Switzerland 1
Eight different players scored goals for the US in this win that was more complete and less anxious than their opening win over Slovakia. This is a young roster for the Americans and those younger players showed up all over the scoresheet and all over the ice. They were active and involved and no one on this roster has been letting any other single person take the lead. Coach Liz Keady Norton was really happy to see them play with confidence and also show exactly why they were the players that made the roster, regardless of age.
Alanna Devlin opened the scoring with a nifty spin around move in the slot to make it 1-0. She then did much of the heavy lifting on the second goal, dashing out of the zone with a turnover and racing to the net before dropping the puck to Ava Thomas, who beat Talina Benderer to make it 2-0 US.
The Americans began to pull away in the second. Maggie Scannell crashed the net to bury a rebound off a shot from Mary Derrenbacher after turnover and quick rush. Then Jordyn Petrie picked up her own rebound and started to cycle back. She picked out Maggie Averill as she flew into the zone and hit her with a perfect cross-ice pass that Averill buried. Josie St. Martin continued her casually lethal ways when Morgan McGathey picked up a turnover at the blue line and quickly slid it to St. Martin, who immediately picked her spot and banked the shot in off the far post. Kendra Distad found some puck luck when it landed at her stick on the back door and she easily tipped it in to make it 6-0 at the second intermission.
Swiss defender Sonja Inkamp ruined any hopes for a US shutout with a seeing-eye shot from the blue line during an early third period power play. It was the kind of shot she'd like to see her team put on net more often in situations like that. The goal lit up the hometown crowd.
The US added two power play goals in the third to complete the 8-1 win.
What We Learned:
- What is time? – This tournament happens all within the course of nine days. It's a massively quick schedule with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it quality to it. But somehow within that, there's a part that feels very slowed down in which teams can show massive change and growth period-by-period and game by game. Every coach here will tell you that they're trying to build and show the players that every shift, every period and ever game has to be better than the last. The Americans have been a pretty good example of this so far. After a pretty abysmal opening frame in their first game, they started to figure it out in the second and pulled away in the third. They carried that baseline into today and didn't seem to have the same problems of clustering together they did against Slovakia. For all the many reasons shoving this many games into nine days is a lot, it is a rare chance for a team to play together consistently and be able to work on and work out issues that arise. I think the US is going to be one of those teams that actually benefits from the bonkers schedule as it doesn't give them much time to get in their own heads. They have to play and forget and take a few minutes to correct mistakes and go and put what they're learning into action immediately.
- Finding the positives – It feels like Swiss coach Melanie Häfliger is doing a really good job of keeping her team focused on goals each game that have nothing to do with the score sheet. They were very good in this game at matching the physicality of the US and not allowing them free ice, particularly along the boards. The Swiss players said they wanted to make the Americans work for it here and Häfliger felt like her team achieved what they set out to do. Despite two big losses, the Swiss players have been relatively happy and positive in the postgame mixed zone and I think that has to do with the coaching staff setting realistic goals and expectations that will compound and work to make the team better, but also in the short term helps them feel like they're moving in the right direction instead of being downtrodden by the score.
- What it means - The very best thing about being here is watching host country players light up when they talk about playing in front of big crowds, filling the stands with friends and family and how impactful the tournament can be. Sonja Inkamp is from Schwyz Canton just south of Zug and said she had a massive support group in the stands. She spoke about the importance of growing the number of girls hockey players and how this tournament shows what is possible and can inspire girls to pick up a stick.
- USA D Maggie Averill – This felt like a bit of a coming out party for the young blueliner. With two Averill sisters on the roster, their connection has been a focus of a lot of media and the Caroline scored twice in the opening game, so it was good for Maggie to have a great game and even score as a defender. At just 15, she's still trying to find her footing with this team and stake her own place, but if her team-leading six shots are any indication, she's feeling okay settling into her role and expanding the US field of play by being a dangerous threat from the back who's also willing to sneak into offensive play and capitalize on opportunities when they arise.
- Switzerland D Sonja Inkamp – Yes, Inkamp scored the goal and it was a big moment, but she was also just a really impactful player all over the ice on Monday. She was vocal on the bench and talking to her teammates on the ice. She's scrappy and resourceful up against bigger players along the boards and I really like how thoughtful she was about the goal, looking for the right spot to release it. I wouldn't be surprised if we see more shots from distance from them in their next game after she showed her teammates why it can be a high percentage move for them.
"I hope we win, that's obvious. But I hope we can also stand together as a team again and score and have fun and really make it a good tournament." – Swiss D Sonja Inkamp
"It's an awesome feeling. It's really fun... I think we have to shoot more in the power play. I got an amazing pass. Everyone was in a line so I could shoot and the goalie couldn't see it." – Inkamp, on her goal
"I think the score doesn't show how the game went. We should have scored more. But it happened and it will be better in the next game." – Inkamp
"We wanted to make life hard for them. We really wanted to annoy them and I think we did that." – Inkamp
"It's an amazing feeling and it's a really special moment because my family was here. The home crowd especially, everything exploded. It was really loud." – Inkamp
"We can build on many things. Focus on the little steps and go step by step for the next game." – Switzerland F Alena Rossel
"I'm happy with the team goals that we had before the game so we can build up and we learn a lot. That was the goal for the whole team. The emotions in the team and the sixty minutes that we fought. I'm proud. We took one more step." – Melanie Häfliger
"For Switzerland, it's so important. We haven't grown for a long time now." – Häfliger, on the importance of hosting the tournament in Switzerland
"I think we improved a lot. Our compete level was definitely up for sure. And I think our chemistry grew as well." – US F Alanna Devlin
"When you're having fun, I feel like it's easier to play better – no more pressure." – Devlin
"Confidence is so critical for these players, especially at this age. For them to know that what we're putting out there is working and what they're practicing they can execute [is important]." – USA coach Liz Keady Norton about the power play clicking
"When you're out there, age isn't a thing. People don't play differently against you. For us, it's nice to see them hitting their stride and showing everybody else in the world they're here for a reason." – Norton on the younger players contributing
- This morning, Germany faces Czechia in Group A play at 10:00 AM Eastern. There is no stream available in North America.
- At 2:00 PM Eastern, Canada faces Finland in Group A play. The game will be televised on TSN 1/TSN 4.
- Group play concludes tomorrow with Sweden vs. USA and Switzerland vs. Slovakia in Group B play.
- All four quarterfinals will take place on January 11. Look for a playoff preview from us sometime tomorrow night.
(Photo: Nicole Haase)