- The U.S. and Canada have long reigned supreme in women's hockey, but the 2017 Women's World Championship has served notice that European countries are starting to catch up.
PLYMOUTH, Mich.—When it comes to women's hockey, the gap between USA and Canada and the rest of the world has never been this narrow, and the growth of the game worldwide has never been more evident. The 2017 Women’s World Championships will be remembered for the historic wins by Finland and now Germany. The gap still exists—no one is contending that true parity has been reached. But in a week where USA Hockey’s Executive Director Dave Ogrean worried that U.S. and Canadian investments in their own programs might harm European hockey, the proof being put forth by these teams feels all the more poignant.
Germany 2, Russia 1
The competition at this tournament continues to set new precedents, as the Germans upset last year's bronze medal winners, the Russians, to earn their first trip to the semifinals. Germany has never finished higher than fifth in the World Championships; it’s now guaranteed at least fourth. This was the Germans’ first year back in the top tier after earning a promotion in 2016.
Russia scored first, just 2:36 into the game, but could not capitalize from there. Germany played maybe its most complete game of the tournament and received another excellent outing from goalie Jennifer Harss. In just under 160 minutes of play, she carried a .971 save percentage and 0.75 goals-against average.
But she said neither she nor the other goaltenders on the roster had done anything special in preparation for this tournament.
“We’re just always trying to do our job and it’s worked out. There’s no secret recipe. We’re just always working hard and finally this time it’s paying off,” she said.
Both Harss and Marie Delarbre stressed that the Germans were able to enter the game loose—there was no pressure. They had played well all tournament and were exceeding expectations.
“We had nothing to lose. Russia had all the pressure. For us, it would be great if we win, but no one expected us to win,” said Harss. “We know that we belong here. Women’s hockey has shown over the past few years that it’s all so much closer together.”
The Germans will face Team USA in the semifinal Thursday at 7:30 pm ET. The winner advances to the gold medal game and the loser will play the losing team from the other semifinal for the bronze medal.
Extra special win
Making the historic win all that more special for the Germans was the fact that it came during the Women’s National Team’s 500th game as a program.
Finland 4, Sweden 0
After a disappointing opening match that was affected by poor playing conditions, the Finns have bounced back and might have more confidence than any other team in the tournament.
They missed a bye into the semifinals by a point in the Group A standings, but had no issue handling Sweden to punch their own ticket to the medal rounds. They upset Canada, pushed the Americans and are now looking to make more history.
Now they head for a rematch with Canada on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Canadians won’t want to be beaten twice, but as Finland goalie Noora Räty pointed out, all the pressure is on the Finns’ opponent.
Looking for more
The Finns may be underdogs, but they’ve also got nothing to lose—a loss in the semifinal has them playing for Bronze as they have for the past three years. That won’t stop them from going for more.
“We’ve been in the bronze medal game so many times—it’s not enough anymore. We want to be in the final and have that experience and it’s very important in the Olympic year,” said Susanna Tapani, who has three goals and five assists in four games so far this tournament.
Czech Republic 4, Switzerland 2
The Czech Republic found its offense and then withstood a comeback attempt by Switzerland to take the first game in a best-of-three relegation series.
The IIHF announced this week it will be voting on expanding the Women’s World Championships to 10 teams. Should that happen, no team would be relegated from the top tier. Until then, a position in the highest group is on the line for these two teams.
Relegation would be disappointing for either squad, but it’s only ever happened once to Team Switzerland-in 2005. Czech Republic is a much newer team to the top tier-it’s played in this tournament three times, including this year.
The Czechs had not scored more than a single goal in any game thus far this tournament. The win on Tuesday gave them a boost, but so did finding their offense.
“Finally [we] scored more than one goal. It was crucial that we scored four goals in the end,” said Katerina Mrazova, who had a goal and an assist in the win.
Switzerland had three different power plays in the first period, including a 5-on-3, but could not capitalize. The Swiss outshot the Czechs 9-6, but it was the Czech Republic that escaped the first period with a 2–0 lead. That momentum shift was difficult for the Swiss to overcome.
Sustaining the attack
The Swiss scored two goals in under two minutes midway through the final period, which put the Czechs back on their heels.
“When they scored the first goal, we were a little bit scared to play. And we took a step back. And then they scored again (quickly). We knew that we have to play together and do everything that we talk about,” said Mrazova. “It was the first time we actually had (the lead). We had to calm down and remember we were the team that was in the lead. We have to stay calmed down. We didn’t play the game that we wanted for maybe two minutes, but we picked it up in the end.”