USA 4, Sweden 0
Sweden would argue that two of the Americans' goals were up for debate and while the one was very definitely offside, the fact of the matter is that Sweden didn't score and it's really difficult to win games that way. Take the two goals they dispute off the board and it's still a solid win for USA. There are plenty of what-ifs that can be followed on how things might have turned out if they weren't frustrated by the officiating or momentum was different, but Layla Hemp was spectacular in pitching a shutout and was equal to the shots that Sweden did get in on her.
The Americans capitalized on a power play, got better as the game went on, won the face-off battle and out-shot Sweden 16-10 in the third to help protect the lead and close out the game. I find plus/minus to have limited usage, but I think it's of note that the US scored all their goals against Sweden's top two lines. The Swedes are capable of a big physical game and have the talent and size to go toe-to-toe with USA and simply did not do it here.
The Americans were more physical and won more of the 50/50 battles. Sweden knew they needed to be able to engage in those shoulder to shoulder battles and they were not strong enough in that part of the game. The first goal was on the power play, but the back door was wide open. There may have been an inadvertent whistle, but Box was all alone with an open view of the net. The second and third goals came as a result of rebounds that weren't cleared and the US being able to hold position in front of the net to collect those rebounds. And the fourth goal came from the US winning a battle along the boards.
USA looked the best they had all tournament and it felt like a lot of the pieces that we'd seen in the previous two games started to fit together and we were seeing a cohesive team who was better than the sum of the parts. Both Maggie Scannell and Josie St. Martin have scored goals and been important parts of the offense, but the team isn't reliant on them, which bodes well for them in the upcoming games.
Sweden is better than the game they played against Team USA, but they just didn't move into the gear they needed to move into to repeat their semifinal upset from last year.
What We Learned:
- Follow the puck – The US is feasting on second- and third-chance opportunities and it's been nice to see their players ready and looking for loose pucks. I've watched a lot of juicy rebounds slide harmlessly across the crease and through the slot this week, but not in USA games. There have been few single-skater breakaways from the Americans and it has paid off for them again and again. It feels like the simplest concept, but that doesn't keep it from being wildly successful over and over again. The US players' willingness to crash the net and get in the dirty areas and fight for space to win the puck has been crucial to their success so far.
- Out of alignment? – I've been wondering all evening if Sweden suffered from not getting very challenged until this crucial third game. And if the change in format is going to necessitate adjustments in how teams prepare for the tournament that maybe they didn't anticipate being an issue until we got here? The top four teams used to all play each other and all of them advanced, with the top two getting a bye. It meant that the teams were tested in each of their first three matches and I wonder if coaches didn't anticipate how different group games would prepare their teams differently. I always think this tournament is a little bit nuts – the teams have a minimum of time together before the rosters are named and then the get together a week or two before this tournament and go directly into playing a ton of games at once. In that way it seems crazy to ask any of them to succeed, to be honest. Anyway, I do not think Sweden was cocky in terms of assuming they could win, but I wonder if there was an overconfidence in how prepared they were to face this opponent here.
- Sweden D Jenna Raunio – I feel like I want to constantly point out to people that Jenna spent most of the year fighting massively debilitating concussion symptoms from an injury at this tournament last year. Today she average 1:07 per shift like an Ironwoman and was an obvious presence on the bench and on the ice trying to keep her teammates focused and not frustrated. It's frankly amazing that she's still just 17. She is a natural leader, a really solid defender and, I think, a really grounding presence on the Swedish bench. I cannot wait to see her continue to develop.
- United States G Layla Hemp – The US netminder didn't see much ice time before becoming the starter this time around and she has made the most of her opportunity. She earned the shutout today and didn't have to stand on her head to get it – ghjbl.which isn't to say that she didn't face tough shots. I think she was just really well positioned, moved really nimbly side to side, didn't overcommit and was able to easily course-correct when the puck bounced or deflected. Sweden has had the best power play in the tournament, but were stonewalled four times today by Hemp and the defenders.
"It's nice to get the win. We got an excellent performance from Layla Hemp in net. That's the way that Layla can play. It helps give the rest of us confidence." – USA coach Liz Keady Norton
"We played with a little more pace. We moved pucks a little bit quicker." – Norton on what came together today
"We need everybody. We need everybody every shift. 100% of everything they have." – Norton
"She's a high-end human. She's a pro with her mentality. She puts other people first. She leads by example and she speaks up when she needs to. For me, she's a natural." – Norton on what makes Maggie Scannell a good captain
"I knew that one needed to be buried. I knew it would give us a momentum boost. It felt really good." – USA F Haley Box on the importance of scoring early
"A ton of confidence. A ton of our hope is in her, but we know that she'll come up big." – Box on how they feel about Layla Hemp in net
"It makes me feel so comfortable. We just do our jobs. They're scoring goals, I'm making saves. It's a really great team because we all do our job. It makes me feel so confident and comfortable when they're scoring and we have a good lead." – USA G Layla Hemp
"We knew how important winning this game was and what was on the line with this game. We knew we needed to prove a point and come back a get a great way. We've been waiting for this game for awhile, so it was great." – Hemp
"We didn't shoot so much. We tried to do things alone and we didn't help each other and we know USA is a good team, so we can't do it all alone." – Finland D Jenna Raunio on what wasn't working for the team
"We need to use each other and play like a team. That's the most important thing tomorrow." – Raunio
"I think we played well. We just didn't score. Their goalie had a really good game." – Finland F Hilda Svensson
Slovakia 2, Switzerland 1 (OT)
Hana Krákorová tipped in a pass from Nela Lopušanová 61 seconds into the overtime period to give Slovakia their first win of the tournament in the final game of group play. In the mixed zone, Krákorová was still breathless, both from the effort and the effusive excitement she was unable to contain on how the game ended.
The game was back and forth, with Lopušanová scoring on a fast break on a great feed from Alica Juríková, who carried it up the boards and fed her in the slot to put Slovakia up 1-0 five minutes into the game.
Switzerland played their best game of the tournament, seeming to find a new level after going down a goal. They pressured well, frustrating Lopušanová and creating opportunities for themselves on offense. But the same troubles they have had finishing all tournament were apparent this game. Some of that is attributed to stellar play from Slovak goalie Lívia Debnárová, particularly on the power play. But they also just couldn't seem to put the finishing touch loose pucks in front of the net.
It was once again defender Sonja Inkamp who put the Swiss on the board with a rocket of a shot from the blue line at just about the midpoint of the game.
The back and forth game continued as the teams raced up and down the ice, but could not break through. Not to be outdone, Swiss goalie Talina Benderer made several outstanding saves to maintain the tie.
The loss sends Switzerland to the unfortunate fate of playing Canada in the quarterfinals. With the win, Slovakia will face Finland, a team they lost to in overtime in December. With buoyed spirits and confidence for the Slovaks, that instantly became one of the more intriguing quarterfinal matchups and feels primed for an upset.
The final group play game might have been my favorite. There was a large group of Swiss children on one end in jerseys for the local club who waved flags, cheered and sang for most of the game, adding an awesome atmosphere. Our first overtime game ended in heartbreak for the home team, but was by far the best game they'd played this tournament. For their part, Switzerland felt like they let this game slip through their fingers, but in the mixed zone the players were relentlessly positive. It's impossible not to feel for them. And the Slovakian giddiness was electric. Today's game was one where I was reminded how young these players really are.
What We Learned:
- Young stars – Emphasis on the young. It was an up and down game for Lopušanová, who had the first goal and game-winning assist, but also showed signs of her youth throughout the game as she would stop skating or show frustration when the defense held her up and a play didn't go the way she hoped. It's easy to forget when she's handling the puck like a pro, but I felt like her life and game inexperience showed through. By the time OT came, I really wasn't sure she'd pass the puck on the eventual game-winning goal and if she hadn't, I don't think the game would have ended there.
- Shoot the puck – After her goal earlier in the tournament, Sonja Inkamp said her team needs to shoot the puck more and I feel like her second goal from the blue line was just one more item of proof for that. The team has certainly been a little snake-bit in terms of puck luck, but that has been mostly true directly in front of the net. I don't think they should exclusively move to perimeter shots, but I wish they'd unleash more. As Inkamp said post game, her teammates do a great job of screening.
- Switzerland G Talina Benderer – I'm giving the goalies all the love here as they both played spectacularly – not just making highlight reel saves, but just solidly doing the work to give her team a chance. She was perfect on the power play and clearly upset at the last goal, but her team was quick on the ice and in the mixed zone to praise her and point out it wasn't her fault. The team seemed to gather momentum from her, particularly in the second period where she shut down a power play and the team had a little more life and I think started forechecking harder and being a little more aggressive overall.
- Slovakia G Lívia Debnárová – There's not much she doesn't do well. A smaller goalie in size and stature, she plays much bigger and does not give up a lot of open net. She plays the angles well, is really calm and patient on breakaways and allows the
"We know what's coming tomorrow and now we have to build back a good emotion in our team. Let's hope maybe we have a chance. Nobody knows. We are at home. It's not like it's an easy game. We know that the Canadians are a very good and strong team. They have pretty good individual players and so we can learn tomorrow, I think." – Switzerland coach Melanie Häfliger
"At the moment I am pretty sad about the results. I think we were on the right path and the momentum was on our side. It's tough for young girls to have this experience, but it's the way to grow up, also." – Häfliger
"Now we need a good night and new energy for tomorrow. It's 24 hours before we play against Canada. It's not easy. We have to stay together. Be strong in the defensive zone. Make the easy plays. Maybe we can frustrate them a little bit with a good goalie and a good wall on defense." – Häfliger
"I'm really proud of the team. We really played well. The luck wasn't on our side. We gave it our all. And we can do a lot more than just hope for a better result next time. We need to change the scoring efficiency. I think that would help us a lot." – Swiss D Sonja Inkamp
"I only score goals because my teammates screen really well and the goalie never sees anything. And then I only have to shoot high and it's in!" – Inkamp
"She's amazing. We're very lucky to have her in our team. She's a great goaltender. In the end, it wasn't her fault." – Swiss F Naemi Herzig on goalie Talina Benderer
"It was a tough game. I think we did pretty well. We need to score these goals. We need to fight more in front of the net. It's hard to process that, but the tournament goes on. We have to talk about this game but then look forward to the next game." – Herzig
"I just hopped on the ice and I saw that she was coming. I was in front of the Swiss player and I yelled at her as loud as I could and she gave it to me and I just closed my eyes and I fell over the goalie's stick. I was just so happy." – Slovakia F Hana Krákorová on her game-winning goal
"She's amazing. She just sees everything on the ice. She's super skilled." – Krákorová on Lopušanová
"It's an incredible feeling. I'm so happy that I was there. I didn't hear her. I just saw [Krákorová] there. I just passed it to her and she scored an amazing goal." – Slovakia F Nela Lopušanová on the game-winning goal
"I'm super excited and super proud of our team. The emotion was very big. We were all shouting. I said to the team, we must believe in ourselves and go step by step." – Slovakia F Tatiana Blichová
"It's our first victory here. Mentally you grow up. And now against Finland, we have nothing to lose. We played them in Chomutov a month ago and lost 3-2 in overtime. Maybe now it's our turn and we can surprise in the tournament." – Slovakia coach Gabriela Sabolová
"I think patience." – Sabolová on the key to today's game
"I think this is the first overtime we won in our history for as long as I remember so we are very glad because it was an important win for us." – Sabolová
- Czechia has upset Sweden in the first quarterfinal!
- Slovakia and Finland's quarterfinal is in progress.
- Switzerland and Canada will face off at 11:00 AM Eastern and Team USA will face Germany at 2:30 PM Eastern.
- Check out our quarterfinals preview here.
- The tournament blessedly has an off day tomorrow with semifinals and a placement game scheduled on January 13.
(Photo: Nicole Haase)