There were a couple story lines heading into the last day of pool play.
The final spot in the playoff round was up for grabs and the USA – Canada rematch that everyone was waiting for.
Let’s start with USA Canada of course.
USA capitalizes on powerplay to defeat Canada
Last year in Buffalo, USA grabbed gold from the Canadians with a 3-2 OT thriller when Jincy Dunne ripped one in the top corner.
Some figured as we hopped over the border that Canada might have the edge this year. After all the teams were very even in last years tournament providing 2 great games.
However things have started a bit different in this years version of the rivalry.
An IIHF U18 Women’s attendance record saw more than 4,000 spectators pack the Meridian Centre in St. Catherines. An almost unanimous pro Canada crowd was buzzing for a long time before puck drop. The support was great to see for the women’s game and the growth it has seen over the last few years.
However the warm feelings of the crowd soon came to an end. Canada’s lack of discipline saw the Americans get 3 early powerplays. Sydney Brodt put the US on the board 1-0 before Rebecca Gilmore added to the lead halfway through the first to give them a 2-0 advantage.
The first period ended with a 16-4 shot margin in favor of USA and things were not looking good for Team Canada.
Natalie Snodgrass added another powerplay goal in the 2nd to extend the lead to 3-0. The Canadians held a 11-7 shot advantage in the second frame but were still held mostly to perimeter shots.
Despite the Americans strong play overall, Canada’s Julia Edgar finally gave the packed crowd something to hang onto as she made it 3-1 late in the 3rd on her first of the tournament.
The hope was short lived as Rebecca Gilmore notched her second of the game on the empty net for a 4-1 US win.
The final shot total favored the Canadians 34-32 in what ended up as a back and forth game late.
However my observations of Team Canada from their game against Russia held up in this one. They continued to let the other teams speed dictate the pace of play and they allow too many odd (wo)man rushes.
Despite the shot advantage and the modest 4-1 final, USA seemed to have the edge in just about every area of on ice play. They were faster in the breakout, stronger on the boards and were able to generate many more offensive possessions deep in the opposing zone. The Canadian women generally were reduced to shots from just inside the blue line whenever they gained entry to the American zone.
As I mentioned earlier, the two sides seemed even last year in the 2015 IIHF U18 tournament, but this year the Americans have seemed to widen the gap and appear much faster and confident than the Canadian women.
However we should remember that all this means nothing until Friday nights gold medal match. If we get the rematch between the two, which is expected, its a clean slate for Canada. However they have a lot to work on if they are going to give USA a run for the gold.
Finland gets big win to advance to playoff round
Overlooked by the USA vs. Canada match was a very important game that would decide the final team to qualify for the medal round.
It was looking bleak for Team Finland. They had to beat rivals Sweden which was no small task. After losing to Switzerland 2-0 on Saturday it seemed even more unlikely. But Team Finland coach Jari Risku sent the right message.
“I told them to relax and have the confidence that we have the skills to win,” Risku said after. “We didn’t play like that against Switzerland, but today we did. Trust yourself. Trust your teammates. Let the passion out. That is it.”
A 3-1 Finnish victory would follow that would leapfrog them over Switzerland for the final spot. The Swiss had the easier task of taking on newcomers France if only Sweden could have given them some help.
As it stands now France will play Switzerland in a best of 3 series to see who will stay at the top level for the 2017 tournament.
Up next on Tuesday should be two good quarterfinal matchups between Sweden – Czech Republic and Russia – Finland.