Gold medal game
USA 5, Czechia 1
The first period of this game felt like it was on steroids after watching two less frenetic games to start the day. The pace was fast and both teams had early opportunities. The US blocked shots early and often. They thought they'd scored on an early power play, but the review had the refs calling it back for goalie interference.
The Americans kept at it and got on the board twice in the first thanks to some scouting that had them shooting low and wide on Aneta Šenková and the team hunting for rebounds. First Maggie Scannell burying one off Ava Thomas' shot and then Haley Box followed up Morgan McGathey's shot to put USA up 2-0.
Despite holding the puck more and outshooting the Czechs, the Americans could not pull away in the second and Adéla Šapovalivová made things really uncomfortable when she scored a power play tally to make it a 2-1 lead for Team USA heading into the second intermission.
A few times during the game I watched Kassidy Carmichael fully deaden a puck or nab an errant pass with ease. She later gave the US some piece of mind by scoring the third and fourth goals, first by knocking a Molly Boyle pass out of the air while her back was to the goal. It quickly ricocheted off the ice and in. She added another rebound putback to the USA collection to make it 4-1 and at that point, the game was out of reach for Czechia. Ava Thomas added an empty-netter to complete the win.
The atmosphere in Bossard Arena was special, with the biggest crowd of the tournament and competing factions of fans for both teams cheering, singing and banging drums. It was a fitting culmination of the week.
Despite the loss, this was a huge accomplishment for Czechia, who'd never won a semifinal game before and no women's team at any level had won a silver. The U18s won bronze in 2008 and 2014 while the senior team took bronze at the last two Women's World Championships.
The gold medal completes a set for Maggie Scannell and Josie St. Martin, who were playing in their third U18 World Championship. They won silver in 2022 and bronze in 2023. They were motivated to capture gold this time around and achieved it.
What We Learned:
- You have to have depth – Šapovalivová played 29:26 minutes of this game, Anežka Čabelová was right behind with 29:10. All five of the top line players for Czechia averaged more than a minute per shift. It's simply unsustainable, particularly when all of them went just as hard the night before to get the win over Canada. There is talent further down the Czech roster, but the gap between what the top forward line is capable of and everyone else is pretty massive. With the number of medals the women's hockey players in Czechia are winning, I hope their country is paying attention. They have to grow hockey at a young age and it has to start now.
- Getting recogition - The Czech president recognized the women on social media and the state sports TV station picked up the gold medal game broadcast after not showing any of the earlier games. There are signs of great things in Czechia, but they're coming at the same time as positives on the men's side and I hope the women don't get left out of the growth and investment that's sure to come.
- Preparation matters – I think we saw the touches of the coaching staff a lot more this tournament than maybe we have in recent years. Czechia adjusted mightily from their opening round games until the gold medal game. Kudos to Dušan Andrašovský and staff for reading what was needed to be done and having trained their teams to be able to handle the new plans. On the American side, there was clearly some great goaltender scouting on how to beat Aneta Šenková. The Americans found a weakness and went after it.
- Delayed gratification – I asked Scannell and St. Martin if the medal was worth the wait and they both boisterously said yes. It took them a lot of extra work and on the hardest days, St. Martin said this feeling is what kept her going. When the tournament got hard and long and she really had to dig deep, this is what she thought about. It drove the leadership group so much to not just finally get gold, but to get revenge for last year's loss in the semifinal.
- Dogs – Liz Keady Norton likes to say that "a big dog's gotta eat" to her team, so "Who Let the Dogs Out?" is something of an anthem. When it was played over the PA after the win on Sunday, the team swarmed Norton. She had some interesting turns of phrase, but it was clear the team really responded to her and her staff's style.
- Stacked '06 – Tereza Plosová was in tears in the mixed zone long after the game ended as she thought about how her U18 career was coming to a close. She's been with the senior team and has a long career ahead of her, including enrolling at Minnesota, but she was lamenting the bond she had with the other 2006-born players on her team. That group has carried this team for a while and are both super talented and incredibly in tune. It's unlikely they'll find that kind of chemistry with teammates again. The same goes for the US, who have a bunch of players who age out of the tournament. The 2006 players are a heck of a group and this will not be the last we see of them.
- USA F Kassidy Carmichael – Maybe the US wins if the game stays at 2-1, but her two goals were absolute daggers to Czechia's confidence and made the game completely out of reach for them. On a team with a lot of big personalities and high-octane forwards, Carmichael stepped up in the biggest moment and made sure everyone knew her name.
- Czechia F Adéla Šapovalivová – There whole Czechia top line gets a massive congratulations on leading their team and having a stellar tournament. There's just no denying that Šapovalivová is the star. She was my pick for tournament MVP. She is nimble and smart, is good at taking up space even as a smaller player, is relentless and does not stop (hence the playing half the game on Sunday). She's a 200-foot player who'll block shots and hunt the puck, and she's got a deadly shot. We are so privileged to get to keep watching her.
"We just set a goal for ourselves. And we accomplished it. We did the little things right tonight, and we buried those rebounds when they came to us." – USA F Josie St. Martin
"I think that [Czechia] are an excellently coached team and they should be really proud of their efforts. That is by far the toughest opponent we faced and I wouldn't want to do it again." – USA coach Liz Keady Norton
"I thought it was a Christmas miracle! There were some huge blocks. I thought that throughout the whole tournament, it wasn't our strongest point. And so for it to come together today is a tribute to the kids and the rest of the staff." – Norton on the fact that Czechia didn't score during the 5 minute power play
"I think we had a bad start, but you know, we are finalists. I'm proud of the whole team because for a Czech hockey, it's the first time we made a final. It's sad, but it's so nice that we have a medal, and we won a semi-final. We have to keep going and maybe in a few years..." – Czechia F Adéla Šapovalivová
"I think Czech women's ice hockey will keep going and get better and better every year." – Šapovalivová
"It's still a medal! The last two years we were in fifth place. I think it's rally nice that we have a medal. Now, it's a little sad, but I think in a few hours that we'll be really proud of a silver medal." – Šapovalivová
"Today wasn't our game. But we are very, very proud of these girls. They fought a lot. We had good energy, but we didn't start well." – Czechia coach Dušan Andrašovský
Bronze medal game
Canada 8, Finland 1
This one was never in doubt as the Canadians found a renewed purpose, shook their semifinal loss and remembered that they're one of the most talented rosters to play at this level in several years.
Makenzie Alexander scored in the opening five minutes, weaving through some defenders to find space for an open shot. Abby Stonehouse scored the next two on rebounds, showing an ability to find the puck in front of the net that had been missing against Czechia. That put Canada up 3-0 and they did not look back.
Caitlin Kraemer scored twice in the second. After assisting on Alexander's goal, Chloe Primerano scored to close the second and again in the third. She was named to the All-Tournament Team, Best Defender, and Tournament MVP.
Emma Ekoluoma put a cap on her stellar tournament by scoring her eighth goal to break up the shutout and get Finland on the board.
In the end, Canada cruised to victory and the players seemed determined to be positive about the experience and their bronze medal, even if it wasn't the color they were hoping to get.
There was a scary hit that had Finland Emmi Lopenen carried off the ice on a stretcher. But the team later reported she was already back with them and packing up to go home, which was the best news.
- This was the first-ever U18 Women's World Championships where the US and Canada didn't play each other.
- Chloe Primerano set a couple of tournament records: most points by a defender, with 16 (8G, 8A) and most points by a Canadian at one U18 World Championships. It was the second-highest total of any player (Amanda Kessel had 19 points in 2009).
- It was the second-straight tournament where Caitlin Kraemer scored 10 goals. That total is one shy of United States forward Haley Skarupa's single-tournament record (she scored 11 in 2012).
What We Learned:
- Too big to fail? – That's tongue in cheek, but this is the second time in three tournaments where I've seen a stacked North American team bulldoze its way through the early games only to fizzle out before winning gold. In 2022, it was a US roster chock full of players already earning time with the senior national team. They demolished Canada in the opening round only to lose to them in the final. Canada would argue that this was worse because they didn't even make the gold medal game, but I think semantics aside, there's similarities here. Two isn't yet a trend but I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this phenomenon. I think we'll look back in several years and wonder what could have been and the missed/lost chance of this team.
- Luck of the draw – I hope I never have to talk about tournament format again, but I feel like some of how the final few days of this World Championship played out are due to pure luck – or bad luck. Finland has now made two straight bronze medal games looking to fight for a chance to be back on the podium only to run into a pissed off and unexpected North American squad that takes their semifinal loss out on them. Czechia got a look at Canada before they had to take them on for the chance to play for gold. The US never had to face Canada and vice versa because of the Americans' surprising semifinal loss in 2023. A lot of different things lined up to make the final days' games what they were and while there's nothing to be done, it's easy to see why Finland might feel a little hard done by the way things played out. Of course, that's why the games are played and there are plenty of chances for teams to change their fate and change their placement. But that doesn't mean you can't feel a little bad for Finland who has done all the things right to advance to a medal game only to realize their chances of winning it were very slim.
- Finland D Nanna Timonen – The second line defender put in the work in this game, averaging 1:04 per shift and trying to hold together any semblance of resistance to Canada.
- Canada D Chloe Primerano – I regret to inform you that Chloe is better than advertised and also will not take any credit for it or talk about herself in any way. I know that's probably what you want as a coach, but damn, the girl just broke a bunch of records and was tournament MVP. She has elite vision and that showed again and again when she chose to pass the puck off instead of using her wicked shot.
"I think we tried our best and it just wasn't enough today. We played really well, but didn't get the best today." – Finland F Tuuli Talinen
"This team has had a huge growth story from last August when we played in Toronto against Canada and a few tournaments between then and now, we had very hard times. But that Czech victory in the first game was an important game. I'm very proud of each player." – Finland coach Mira Kuisma
"Pretty shiny." – Kuisma on what kind of future she sees for Emma Ekoluoma
"Obviously it feels like it's unfair. But this tournament is like that. What can you do? You have to win the right games. It's been two rough years in a row." – Kuisma on running into first the US and then Canada in the bronze medal game at the last two World Championships
"Of course! We have a home championship next year. Everything is possible. We have good young players coming." – Kuisma on if she's excited about seeing Sweden last year and Czechia this year
"I think the unique opportunity we had in losing the semifinal is that we got to end on a high note. That was our focus. Let's celebrate the time we get to spend together and go out and represent our country with pride." – Canada coach Tara Watchorn
"It says a lot about our team that we stuck together and pulled through. We ended on a high note. It shows that we can handle adversity and I'm really proud of this team." – Canada F Abby Stonehouse
"We didn't come out with the color that we wanted, but we're not going to take for granted that we did medal at the World Championship. That's pretty special. A lot of teams want to be in our shoes. We'll just take it as motivation." – Canada F Caitlin Kraemer
"We knew we didn't play our best game yesterday and we had to come in today and take the opportunity and not take it for granted and come out with the bronze medal." – Canada D Chloe Primerano
"It's an amazing feeling to represent your country and put on that maple leaf. It's special and you have to soak it in every time you wear the jersey." – Primerano
"Just the pace, playing at this fast pace and having to move the puck a bit faster and do everything faster was great. It was awesome to play at this pace." – Primerano on what she learned that will improve her game in the future
5/6 Placement game
Sweden 4, Slovakia 1
This game felt closer than it probably was at the end of the first, as Sweden had just a 1-0 lead despite outshooting Slovakia 13-5 in the frame. But they found a renewed push in the intermission and came out to score twice in the opening 2:13 of the second period and that put the game out of reach for Slovakia.
Anna Brankle added another goal later in the frame to make it 4-0 and that looked like it might be the end of the scoring, but Slovakia pushed back and found the back of the net with five seconds on the clock. It was a small, but important victory for the team that as looking for positives as the tournament wound down. Their coaching staff challenged them to "win" the final frame, which the did by not allowing another Sweden goal and lighting the lamp themselves. It's the same place Slovakia finished last year, but the team feels like they're in a good place to make bigger moves in the coming years and their young team members now have valuable experience.
What We Learned:
- Tough lessons – Sweden is incredibly disappointed in the way this tournament ended after having earned silver in 2023. But there are some very important lessons that Andreas Karlsson's team can learn from that disappointment. He feels like the difference between finishing 5th and possibly playing in another gold medal game came from not taking care of the puck, particularly on defense. He felt his team lost faceoffs, board battles and the fight for the front of the net and that's why they lost to Czechia in the quarterfinals. He hopes his players understand that sloppy play in one game can be the difference between playing for a medal and finishing in the bottom half of the tournament. It's a harsh, but important lesson for them as they continue in the international game.
- More to Slovakia – I'm absolutely certain there will be dudes who want to know why Nela "wasn't as good" this year or whatever nonsense, but I was actually really excited to see such a great level of play from Slovakia even without Nela being able to light up the scoreboard. The new format put Slovakia against tougher opponents and the team as a whole handled themselves well. They still have plenty of growing to do, but there are players on that team that we haven't seen the last of.
- Sweden F Mira Hallin – She was the playmaker for Sweden throughout this tournament and on Sunday was crucial in helping the team get the momentum and keep it. I loved her mobility and adaptability on the ice and how she seemed always seemed to be involved. In the semifinal, she seemed like she was trying to personally will her team to the win and today she was back to dishing pucks, finding open lanes and being the engine that drove Sweden's offense.
- Slovakia F Michaela Paulínyová – She scored the team's lone goal and was maybe their best player on the ice for the game. She was super involved in play at both ends and it was awesome to see her get rewarded with the goal.
"I'm a little bit sad, but we played a good game. We won the last period 1-0. We're going home, but we're happy." – Slovakia F Tatiana Blichová
"We said we had to go hard and put the puck in the goal and we did it. Were super happy that we could score. I'm so proud of Paulínyová, she's Supergirl." – Blichová
"That was our key point for the third period, don't allow them to score and to score at least once so that we'd 'win' the last period." – Slovakia coach Gabriela Sabolová
"Our girls improved every game. We have many younger players, so we can build on that for next year." – Sabolová
"Teamwork is our goal. We build it from our goalie. Usually we don't score a lot of goals, so we have to be solid in teamwork and the defensive zone." – Sabolová
"I think it was good to end the tournament like this, but we are not happy. It's better to win the last game, than lose." – Sweden D Jenna Raunio
"It's been so fun to play for the national team and I'm going to take the memories with me, but I think we could have done better in this tournament." – Raunio
"Always keep going. Heads up. Don't give up. Being together and playing for the time." – Raunio on what she learned from this experience
"It can help us to take care of the puck and not have so many turnovers and be together more in the defensive zone. And patience." – Sweden coach Andreas Karlsson on what Sweden will take with them that will make them better in the future
- Tournament MVP
Chloe Primerano, Canada
- Media All-Star Team
Goaltender: Aneta Šenková, Czechia
Defender: Chloe Primerano, Canada
Defender: Tuuli Tallinen, Finland
Forward: Emma Ekoluoma, Finland
Forward: Adéla Šapovalivováa, Czechia
Forward: Josie St. Martin, USA
- Directorate awards
Best goalie: Aneta Šenková, Czechia
Best defender: Chloe Primerano, Canada
Best forward: Adéla Šapovalivová, Czechia
(Photo: Nicole Haase)