Women's Worlds Notebook: U.S. survives stiff test from Raty, Finland to finish group play

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Tuesday April 4th, 2017

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Though the Americans ultimately prevailed, the Finns proved that their upset of Canada on Saturday was no fluke with a close game on Monday.

Finalnd goalie Noora Räty played spectacularly, helping keep the game close, but eight penalties through the first two periods gave an already powerful American squad too much of an advantage. Team USA scored three power-play goals in the win.

“I think we might have won this game without the penalties,” said Räty. “The penalty kill just didn’t work too well and they got some bounces there. You don’t win this game if you sit in the box too much. Obviously that’s something to work on.”

The U.S. suffered a couple of defensive breakdowns and while it did score three on the man-advantage, there were also power plays that left coach Robb Stauber wanting more.

But he said no team wants to go through a tournament without finding things to work on—and better to see those opportunities in the opening rounds. His team agreed.

“I think we wanted to keep what we were working on and what was working for us and use that as momentum,” said Hilary Knight, who had two goals in the victory. “We made some mistakes, but I think we recovered well. We know what works and what doesn’t and that gives us more experience for our next game. We gave them a little too much space at times and that bit us, so we’re going to work on that.”

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The U.S. finishes group play with a 3–0 record and gets two days off before facing the winner of the Germany-Russia quarterfinal. Finland (1–2) plays Sweden in the other quarterfinal Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Relief for Räty

Somewhat lost in the talk of how far Finland has come is how much the change in style and system makes a difference for Räty and the defense. Sure, she’s been absolutely world-class for years, but she also has had to be. Finland played a passive, defensive game where it hoped to be able to score a power-play goal or two. That put an immense amount of pressure on the defense to keep the score low and the game within reach.

“[Our new style of play] gives me a lot more confidence because I can let in three or four goals and we are still in the game, whereas before I knew that if I let in more than two, that’s probably it,” said Räty. “Now we know we can battle back and actually give them a good battle. It’s just more confidence. We know we have the skill and now we have the system that gives us the tools to actually play some offense. I like it. You don’t win any hockey games if you don’t play offense. I’ll take some two-on-ones if it means we can actually score some goals.”

Penalty kill protection

Team USA had to withstand a late 5-on-3, and Stauber was happy with how his team worked to keep the Finns off the board.

“It’s impossible to not give up a shot [on a 5-on-3],” he said. “For the most part, we kept the shots off angle. If you’re going to give up something, you want it to be on angle and off the outside—it’s shots from the outside, off-angle and trust the goalie is going to do their job.”

Goalie Alex Rigsby was especially sharp on the kill, pushing pucks off to the side and not allowing any second-chance opportunities in her first start of the tournament.

Chemistry stronger than ever

“Really having that chemistry translate from off-ice to on-ice, that’s what makes us so successful,” Knight said. “What’s special about this team is that we’re so unbreakable and obviously that’s a bond we created in the weeks leading into this tournament. But it speaks volumes that what we were able to do off the ice is going to translate on the ice. We’ve been waiting for this opportunity to have all the lines going.”

Distributed scoring

So far, 12 players on the U.S. roster, including four defensemen, have points in this tournament. While the top line is leading the way, players from each line have contributed, and that’s something captain Meghan Duggan said is crucial not only to the U.S.'s success, but to the team dynamic.

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“Any time you can have everyone on the ice adding to the production, that’s a team. We rely on every single person on our team to bring offense, to bring defense,” Duggan said. “We expect every line and every D pair to create offense and we expect every line and every D pair to keep the puck out of the net. I really love that about our team, and it’s great that it’s showing up on the stat sheet as well.”

Canada 8, Russia 0

Everyone from the coaches down to the spectators looked a bit uptight after Canada’s loss to Finland on Saturday. The arena was nearly empty on Monday and Canadian fans seemed more than a little subdued early on, but their team quelled their fears and seemed to right the ship with an 8–0 win over Russia.

It was a complete game for the Canadians, something that had been missing in their first two outings. There were seven different scorers and 13 women tallied points as players up and down the roster got involved and had an impact.

Canada has been working with different line combinations to see what works and what doesn’t. Coach Laura Schuler said she isn’t committing to anything, but after how well they complemented each other, it’s a good bet Haley Irwin and Jennifer Wakefield will be paired up again.

Schuler had nothing but positive things to say about Irwin’s play Monday.

“I think we have one of the smartest players playing in Haley Irwin and she does such a good job of making sure there’s a net-front presence for us,” said Schuler. “Haley’s eye-hand coordination is unbelievable. [Tipping shots] she’s incredible in front of the net.”

Irwin sacrifices her body by screening the goalie, oftentimes ending up as the target for the hard shots she’s helping give Wakefield an opportunity to take. She joked that she only had to endure one of them on Monday, and that she’s told Wakefield to aim a little lower.

Added Schuler, “She just does all the little things and the details of the game plan right all the time. She has 100% buy-in all of the time. Putting those two together gives [Wakefield] the opportunity to do what she’s capable of doing.”

Canada (1–2) gets a bye into the semifinals with Finland’s loss. It’ll play the winner of the Finland-Sweden quarterfinal.

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Hockey is fundamentals

After the Finland loss, the Canadians talked about how out of sync they felt. Passes weren’t crisp, they weren’t hitting their lanes and nothing seemed to come easy.

“For us it was important to focus on our game today and really make sure we did the little things right to get the win,” said Irwin, who had two assists and provided at least two screens in front of the goalie that led to Canada goals.

“For us, right now, it's understanding that we have to be committed to the game plan and doing those little things. Today, Russia kind of trapped us a bit and we had to get it behind their game and we had to go win those battles, and those are the little things that no matter who you’re playing against, they make a difference, and that’s how you create offense.”

Deep breaths

The off day came at a perfect time for Canada and allowed the players to get some perspective on the losses in the first two games.

“Yesterday was important for us to understand that we didn’t have to push the panic button,” Irwin said. “We weren’t out of the tournament. There was still a game to be played. It’s hockey. There were some good things in that game against Finland that we could take away, and we had to build on those and at the same time have the courage to grow from the things that we didn’t do well.”

Though the loss felt rather immense at the time, it was merely an opening-round defeat and at worst, Canada would have to play in the quarterfinals. As far as crises go, it was a fairly minor one in the big picture. Instead of focusing on the losses, Emily Clark said it was just about taking a new approach to the rest of the tournament.

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“It definitely wasn’t the outcomes we wanted in the first two games and there was a lot of high expectations, but I think it just speaks to the volume of competitiveness of this tournament. [Now we’re] re-adjusting our goal, but just realizing it’s a different path than we might have expected. Moving forward positively.”

One to remember

Sarah Potomak and Erin Ambrose scored their first goals with Canada’s senior squad and it was the first senior team win for them, along with Renata Fast and Laura Stacey.

Switzerland 4, Germany 2

Alina Muller’s hat trick celebration was subdued as she potted an empty-netter with 52 seconds left in the game to ice the win for Switzerland. She dominated the game for the Swiss and proved an admirable partner for Lara Stalder. 

It was a must-win game for Switzerland, which had to await the result of the Czech Republic-Sweden matchup to determine its fate for the rest of the tournament. Unfortunately, it’ll be playing in the relegation series against the Czechs.

The Germans tried to stage a comeback as the clock wound down in the third, but the Swiss withstood the onslaught and did all they could to improve their fate.

“We wanted to go out and play our game,” said Stalder. “The first game wasn’t our best against the Czechs and then [against] Sweden, we were pretty unlucky that we didn’t come away with a win, so we just wanted to play well again. Keep it simple and just keep going forward and stay in the moment. We got a couple of goals, but we also played together to get those goals.”

The Swiss scored three goals in a four-minute span in the first period after having a power-play goal waved off. It was an emphatic statement from a team that had been unhappy with how it started its games so far this tournament.

Germany plays Russia in the second quarterfinal on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Switzerland plays a best-of-three series against Czech Republic starting Tuesday at noon ET.

Putting their mistakes behind them

Despite the loss, the Germans like the resiliency they showed by staging a comeback late in the game. And they learned a good lesson in not trying to do too much.

“There was like five minutes in the first period where we didn’t do the little things that our coach wants us to do and you can’t do that, especially at World Championships,” said Marie Delarbre, who scored Germany’s first goal. “People score when you make mistakes, so you have to be careful with that. But I think the way we responded to that and came back describes us and our personalities. We don’t give up.”

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Liney love

Muller and Stalder combined for all four of Switzerland’s goals. Muller had three goals and an assist and Stalder had two assists and a goal.

The two seem to be on a different wavelength than everyone else, elevating their play. Switzerland has mixed up its lines a bit, but coach Daniela Diaz seems content to keep Muller and Stalder together.

“I always feel great beside Lara. I love to play with her,” said Muller. “We are just similar players and also in practice we challenge each other. She just knows what I’m thinking and I know what she’s thinking. I’m so happy that I get to play with her.”

Stalder nodded along with Muller’s evaluation and added a “Same here” at the end.

Sweden 3, Czech Republic 1

Sweden needed to win to ensure itself a berth in the quarterfinals, and the team took care of business Monday evening. The Czechs scored first as Michaela Pejzlová tallied her first goal of the tournament on the power play midway through the first. But it was all Sweden from there. The Czechs couldn’t stay out of the penalty box and the Swedes got two goals from Johanna Fallman and one from Fanny Rask.

Sweden pressured the Czech Republic, which struggled to muster much of anything out of its own end once Sweden scored.

The Czechs struggled with scoring this tournament, managing a single point in each of their games.

"We’ve had problems scoring goals all tournament," acknowledged forward Katerina Mrazova. "We’ve scored only one in each game, and you’re not going to win very often doing that. Every game is close. We start off well, and then at some point we have a mental lapse and it costs us the game. We have to play a 60-minute game against the good teams here."

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