2024 IIHF U18 Women's World Championship: Day 7 - Semifinals and relegation game
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2024 IIHF U18 Women's World Championship: Day 7 - Semifinals and relegation game

2024 IIHF U18 Women's World Championship: Day 7 - Semifinals and relegation game by Nicole Haase

Semifinals

Czechia 4, Canada 2

For the second straight year, one of the favorites to win the tournament will not play in the gold medal game. Two-time defending champion Canada will have to settle for fighting for bronze against Finland thanks to a massive upset by Czechia, who lost to Canada 8-1 in the round robin part of the tournament just six days ago. The Canadians set a new tournament record with three short-handed goals in that first game.

In 2024, Sweden upset the US to advance to the gold medal game. This is the first time the final will feature a European team two years in a row.

This game was not televised in Czechia or the United States, which is a shame of epic proportions, not just because of the upset, but because it was some of the best hockey we'd seen all tournament. Aneta Šenková was outstanding in net for the Czechs, stymieing the most prolific offense in the tournament as they pushed and pushed to get back in the game but could not find the back of the net.

It was a masterful showing from Czechia, who pressured Canada from the first whistle and did not relent. It pushed Canada into quicker decision-making and forced turnovers. Add in taking a 2-0 lead minutes into the second period and Czechia had Canada back on their heels.

Canada outshot Czechia 47-12, but the Czechs made the pucks that got to the front of the net count. Adéla Šapovalivová started the scoring for Czechia, tipping Madlen Chladová's shot from the point to make it 1-0. Early in the 2nd, Šapovalivová was moving the puck around below the goal line and saw a lane to drop the puck to the net front where Anežka Čábelová tapped it in.

Canada, of course, pushed back. First Chloe Primerano cut it to 2-1 with a power play goal off a wrister that had no doubt. Then Stryker Zablocki went to one knee to rifle home a pass from Morgan Jackson from behind the goal line to tie the game in the opening minutes of the final frame.

But Czechia did not back down and did not get intimidated. They stayed the course, with Čábelová leading a relentless forecheck that never let Canada a chance to set a rhythm or build out of the back. Team Czechia's top line, which has been their driving force all tournament, led their team to victory here, putting in at least 26 minutes of ice team each and doing as much work in their defensive zone as they did in front of the net.

The Czechs regained the lead on a broken play where the puck deflected off a Canada skate and landed on the stick of Klaudie Slavíčková. She beat Hannah Clark to make it 3-2 and inspired the Canada bench to make a goalie change, bringing in Rhyah Stewart.

Canada had their chances late, but could not find rhythm or puck luck. They hit the post and couldn't convert on a couple of pucks through the crease or sitting on the doorstep. Čábelová's empty-netter secured the win.

The shot count might make you think this was a fluke for Czechia, but the offense was not that one-sided. They were smart with the puck and looked for high quality chances that wouldn't lead to turnovers and Canada dashing off in transition. They were pesky and pushy on the forecheck, forcing Canada into cycling back to reset and not letting them pick up the momentum down the ice. They also blocked 19 shots over the final two periods.

After a heartbreaking opening game 3-2 loss to Finland and the 8-1 loss to Canada thanks to the three quick shorthanders that sucked all the air out of the arena, it was difficult to imagine Czechia could be in this position. Coach Dušan Andrašovský said even then he believed in what his players could do. He was thrilled they managed to put it all together, execute the game plan and play a cohesive team game that was led by their top line, but not exclusively ascribed to them.

Czechia had never won a semifinal in this tournament before Saturday's victory. Their previous highest finish was bronze, which they won in 2008 and 2014.

What We Learned:

  • No one is safe – Maybe that's too obvious, but this Canada team is one of those that was jaw-dropping on paper and lived up to the hype in person. They felt unstoppable. But they met a similar fate to the American team in 2022; back then, Team USA cruised through the early games, including a drubbing of Canada, only to lose the gold medal game to them. It says so much good stuff about the state of the game at this level that not one game can be taken for granted and I love it.
  • Second tournament – Coaches will talk about the games after the group round as the second tournament and this game feels like a perfect illustration. It's not that those first games don't matter – I don't think Czechia wins this game without having lost the first game. But there's a reset. Czechia used the information they gathered in that first game to craft a game plan that helped them win this game. Having not played Canada before, the players needed to understand the speed and passing and shooting of their opponent before they could understand how to beat them.
  • Grateful – Despite what the senior team has accomplished, this U18 team has not been getting much traction back home. I had a Twitter conversation with someone who was only able to know what was happening because of what I was sharing – the IIHF game tracker only lists goals and penalties. That conversation was the exact reason I wanted to be here. The game wasn't on in the US, either. The gold medal game is now going to be on TV in Czechia and in the US, NHL Network is showing it on a tape delay, while streaming it on ESPN+. I don't know why all the games couldn't be on ESPN+. But I just wanted to say thanks again to all our readers for their support and helping me get here. Yesterday was such a great illustration on why there needs to be media here.

Standout Performances:

  • Czechia F Anežka Čábelová  Her two linemates have drawn more attention and played a bit flashier, but the winger was the absolute heart of this team in this game. Her pressure way back at the Canada goal line set the tone for how difficult it would be for the Canadians to advance the puck. She chased down her opponents in the corner, disrupted their breakout, poke-checked away passes and generally seemed to be an indefatigable and pesky presence in the face of every Canadian who touched the puck looking to move up ice. When I asked if she got tired as the time went on, she said the adrenaline meant she wasn't really feeling her legs. She was patient and smart with the puck on her empty-netter, saying everything around her seemed to slow down.
  • Canada F Abby Stonehouse – It felt like any time I looked at who was making a push for Canada, it was Stonehouse. She was fighting for pucks, getting second and third chance opportunities and just generally felt like she was going to single-handedly make this happen for her team is she needed to. She was a force and has stood out again and again on a team with some of the biggest names in hockey right now.

Quotable:

"I never had the chance to play against Canada until this tournament. And to have the chance to win against them? Oh my God, I never dreamed of that!" – Czechia F Anežka Čábelová

"We played with our heart and together as a team and I think that was most important today." – Čábelová

"I'm so happy and so proud of our team. We put all our energy into the game and we won. We blocked many shots and we played with heart." – Czechia captain Adéla Šapovalivová

"We are a team together and we are really good friends. And I think you can see it on the ice. If we didn't play together, nothing would happen." – Šapovalivová

"We want to win a gold. We won the semifinal. We want to continue and I think we can continue." – Šapovalivová

"It was hard to imagine it, but I could." – Czechia coach Dušan Andrašovský on if he could imagine his team could be in the gold medal game after losing to Finland and Canada in their opening two games.

"We have to believe in ourself and build confidence every second on the ice and fight hard. We did all the things that we know what to do." – Andrašovský on what his team needed to do to get this win.

"It was our plan to be aggressive. We had to win all the battles and the girls did it." – Andrašovský

"When I saw her confidence before the third period, I believed that she'd win the game." – Andrašovský on goalie Aneta Šenková

"If you want to win something like the World Championships, you have to have players like them." – Andrašovský on his top line of Šapovalivová, Čábelová and Plosová

"We did everything we could. We played hard and we just didn't end up on top. We had lots of momentum, but the puck just didn't bounce the right way." – Canada F Stryker Zablocki

"Their goalie played really well. We had a hard time getting it by her. I tried everything I could." – Canada F Abby Stonehouse

USA 4, Finland 2

After last year's semifinal loss, I never thought the US making the gold medal game would be secondary news, but here we are. Though there were some dicier times than others in this game, it really never felt in doubt to me.

Team USA has depth and has gotten scoring up and down the roster, but it's not lost on me that when the game is on the line, it has been Josie St. Martin and Maggie Scannell that have shown up and led the team. They have six of the team's last eight goals. These two are playing in their third U18 World Championships and have yet to win gold. Sunday they'll try again and possibly complete their set of medals after winning silver in 2022 and bronze in 2023. They'll need the whole team to be performing at their best to win, but it's going to start and probably end with the leadership group – Scannell, St. Martin, and Bella Fanale.

This semifinal was not the Americans' best game, but they still won and felt like they were in control of the game overall on Saturday. At times, though, they were sloppy and flustered by the way that Finland was pushing them towards the boards. I don't think they'll be able to get away with that in the gold medal game. They have to play more decisively and less like they're still making the decision on what to do with the puck when they're already making an ill-advised pass. There was a lot of playing back into pressure a teammate had just passed the puck out of. The plus side for USA is they'll have watched all of this tape and had this experience as a warm up for the same type of game, but amplified.

What We Learned:

  • Best case scenario? – I by no means think Czechia will be an easy game for the Americans, but yesterday's Canadian loss opens up a road to the gold medal that looks far easier than it had a few days ago. They have to stay sharp and not get flustered by Czechia's pressure.
  • Earn your offense – USA coach Liz Keady Norton tells her plays that they need to earn their offense with their defense, meaning they have to put in the work on one end of the ice to have opportunities at the other. We saw that on Saturday as the Americans did a great job of getting everyone behind the puck when Finland had the zone. The Americans worked hard in the middle of the ice and along the boards, which created scoring opportunities. It was scrappy and effective. They have to be able to strategically use their size on Sunday to body the Czechs off the puck but not draw penalties.
  • Slow and steady – Finland are sad not to be playing for gold, but I felt like they had a really solid tournament, starting with their win over Czechia and continuing all the way through this game with the US. They've been kind of quietly consistent and I wasn't sure they'd be a top four team after the players that had aged out of the program in the last year. Emma Ekoluoma has been stellar and the breakout star for them.

Standout Performances:

  • USA F Josie St. Martin   She continues to shine. She not only scored the first two US goals, but made a key block late in the game as Finland pressed for the tying goal. She's a really complete player for her age as well as having some stellar hands. She's quick and has the skills to stickhandle around most everyone on the ice with her, has a laser shot and despite being small, isn't easily pushed around. It feels like she's the key. If she's feeling herself, I love the USA's chances for the recently elusive gold.
  • Finland D Tuuli Tallinen – It was not the most solid performance in net from Kerttu Kuja-Halkola and the fact that the US didn't have more goals is down to Finland's defense, led by Tallinen. There were a number of prime rebounds left out in front of the net, but Tallinen had that area locked down and was great at not just clearing pucks, but also at not allowing American sticks to get anywhere near the slot.

Quotable:

"Those were big team goals. We had a plan and did it together." – USA captain Maggie Scannell

"I'm so grateful to have that experience. In this kind of tournament, it works so well having been there. It's a whole different experience than most youth hockey tournaments. It's great to have that and be able to help out team as a whole and that helps us play together and have success." – Scannell on playing in her third U18 tournament

"You never know what could happen in these tournament. We're just going to bring our best. We're going to be dialed in. We're going to come out with our best hockey. We're going to continue to use our strengths and come out fired up tomorrow." – USA F Josie St. Martin

"One of our main things, especially for the penalty kill, but all around is that we have to eat pucks and 'earn them ice bag' as our coaches like to say," – St. Martin

"The bond we have as a team is so strong. This is such a great group of girls and I can't wait to go out there tomorrow and she what we've got." – USA F Bella Fanale

"It's really nice to get the win. It's a little easier to breathe now. I was really proud of our effort. They gave what we needed." – USA coach Liz Keady Norton

"It was nice for our power play to execute tonight. It's about having the confidence and going out and doing what they are capable of doing." – Keady Norton

"I'd call her a 200-foot spark. I think her biggest play tonight might have been that blocked shot at the end. You talk about a player who brings some good bench energy and is reliable and trustworthy in all situations, that's Josie St. Martin." – Keady Norton on assistant captain St. Martin

"I think they played very well today. I'm proud of each of the players. I couldn't have asked more of how they put themselves on the ice today." – Finland coach Mira Kuisma

"I think we did amazing, but it just wasn't enough. We did everything we could." – Finland F Nelly Andersson

Relegation Game

Switzerland 2, Germany 1

The Swiss ended their tournament on a high note, preventing relegation and retaining their position in the top league. It was a familiar situation for them, as Switzerland has played in – and won – the relegation game in each of the seven tournaments since they earned promotion to the top division. That's probably not something they want to dwell on too much, but it does say good things about the way the team plays when their backs are against the wall.

This was a close game that was scoreless through the first period. Switzerland seemed to have the control of play early on, limiting Germany's time in the zone and testing goalie Hannah Loist on the other end. But it was the Germans who scored fist, as Anna Rose dashed up the left side on the power play and did not hesitate to fire a shot that gave her team the lead.

The lead didn't last long as Norina Müller was able to see the puck in a scrum in front of the net after a shot by Ivana Wey. She put it in the back of the net to tie the game 1-1.

Switzerland took the lead early in the third when a turnover fell to the slot where Xenia Balzarolo was waiting. Her shot snuck under Loist's pads to make it 2-1. Germany pushed back hard in the third, but couldn't find the equalizer.

It was a tough game for the Germans, who were just promoted this season and will go back to the lower division with the loss. There were positives for the group to take him, not the least of which coach Jeff MacLeod said was seeing the level of fitness and strength from the top teams. He knows there's work to do to get the national teams up to speed and having these young players be around other athletes all week will help them understand what he expects of them in the future and why.

What We Learned:

  • Hope for the future – Jeff MacLeod took over as the senior women's team coach in May. He had the helm in Zug to cover for the maternity leave of Franziska Busch. It was a great chance for him to get to know the players and begin to understand the work that needs to be done. The Canadian coach was under no delusions about the state of girls' and women's hockey in Germany, but was candid about the challenges and the work the Federation needs to do to make sure the sport continues to grow. He spoke of long term plans for getting younger girls into the sport and building more of a program, but also seemed to have a great grasp on what things he could implement in the short term to keep things moving forward. There are several players on this U18 team that are eligible to play at least one more. I do not think this is the last we'll see of Germany in the top division. Hopefully next time around they can stick around.
  • Rivalry brewing - This was the third time in as many opportunities that the Germans failed to hold their position in the top group because they lost to Switzerland in their final game. The next time these two teams meet, whenever that may be, should be interesting to see.
  • Swiss persistence – They've been unable to move up in the division standings and rankings, but they've also been able to hold their position he and that's not nothing. Despite some tough losses and big blowouts, they walk away from this tournament on a high note. There's a lot of possibility hanging in the air for this team and there's hope that having this tournament at home can help them get the support they need to continue to improve.

Standout Performances:

  • Switzerland F Ivana Wey  She was the most outstanding player on this team for the entire tournament. She was good in the faceoff circle and better at getting and retaining the puck. She skated with speed in transition and was always looking for the net. I appreciated her hustle and how she used her body to win pucks and generate offense.
  • Germany F Anna Rose – While the team struggled to get settled and generate offense even strength, I was shocked at how quickly and easily she seemed to score on the power play. She has skill and good vision on the ice and I think as she gets more support around her, she'll become an even bigger threat for Germany.

Quotable:

"I'm proud of my team because we played really hard but I'm sad because we weren't able to accomplish what we wanted to. It was close, so the loss is even sadder. " – German captain Martina Schrick

"We have to work harder and make clear decisions about our game and our mentality. We have to believe in us and grow as team." – Schrick on what Germany needs to do to not yo-yo with promotion and relegation

 "I'm feeling very good. I'm just proud that we stayed in the highest division. We did a very job and it's great to finish with a win." – Swiss captain Naemi Herzig

"Germany was a tough, tough opponent. But in the end we won. That's the main goal. I don't care how many goals we scored. All that matters is we stayed in the top division." – Herzig

"It was an amazing moment when I scored. It was my first international goal and I was very happy in that moment." – Switzerland F Norina Müller

"We have to analyze this World Championship and see what we can do better, what we have to work on. But we have a lot of support from the federation and the [Swiss Women's Hockey League]. We have to build it up step by step. We know where we stand, we have both feet on the floor." – Switzerland coach Melanie Häfliger

"We wanted a tight game and we wanted some opportunities, and I think we did. It was evenly played and that's hockey. We wanted to have our best game at the end and I think we did." – Germany coach Jeff MacLeod

"Our progression. And they never lost their attitude. They've had an unbelievable attitude. As coaches, we're so happy they want to learn, they wanted to work hard, they wanted to be challenged." – MacLeod on what he's most proud of from his team in this tournament

"We want to try and refine what we have. We want to have a system in place so that they're not just hockey players but they're elite athletes. That's a big thing we can start to work on. That will give us a little bit of a push over the next couple of years when we have well-trained athletes. And the education side. We really pushed that this week. It's not about just playing hockey, you have to be able to know the game – your hockey IQ." – MacLeod on how Germany can improve in the short term

"We expected a really tight game. Every game is tough, but when it's close and we lose, it's sadder." – Germany F Anna Rose

Tournament Updates

  • This morning, Sweden defeated Slovakia by a score of 4-1 in the 5/6 placement game. This simply determines final tournament ranking.
  • Canada faces Finland for bronze at 9:00 AM Eastern. The game will air on TSN1 in Canada.
  • Team USA will face Czechia for the gold medal at 1:00 PM Eastern on TSN 1/5 and on the ESPN+ app in the United States. NHL Network will air the game on tape delay at 7:00 PM Eastern due to the fact that they were previously scheduled to broadcast an NHL game between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers (boooooo).

(Photo: Nicole Haase)