FINLAND MOVES ON WITH STUNNING VICTORY OVER CANADA
Since the inaugural Women’s World Championship in 1990 on through to the 2017 event, a nearly 30-year span during which the tournament was held 18 times, Canada and USA have squared off in each and every gold medal game. It was the death and taxes of women’s international hockey. Until it wasn’t.
On Saturday, with a berth in the World Championship final on the line, Canada had its bid for an 11th crown – and its opportunity at revenge on an American side that stood atop the podium the last time the two international powerhouses met under the bright lights at the Olympics – snuffed out by host nation Finland. And the difference on the night was play between the pipes, as all-world keeper Noora Raty pieced together one of the most memorable performances of her career.
For the majority of the contest, the Canadians controlled the play, beating the Finns to loose pucks, cycling through the offensive zone and getting to the middle of the ice with ease, but tested 45 times on the night, Raty was exceptional, turning aside 43 shots including all 13 she faced in the third period. Raty’s play was enough, too, to give the Finns the opening they needed: late in the second frame, with Finland getting some much-needed zone time, Susanna Tapani deflected Nelli Laitinen’s shot past Shannon Szabados. Tapani’s tally stood as the game winner.
Some will suggest the Finns win wasn’t without controversy, however. Midway through the third, it appeared as though Canada had managed to tie the contest, but a quick whistle saw the tally nullified. The play went to a review, and several agonizing minutes later, officials determined that the call on the ice stood. Canada failed to generate any scoring chances nearly as dangerous in the back half of the third period as Finland clung to the lead, and as Raty continued her brick wall impression, Ronja Savolainen iced the affair with an empty-netter in the final minute.
With the victory, which is the Finns’ second over Canada in the past two years, the host nation will now play for gold for the first time in World Championship history. At every event since the inaugural tournament in 1990, Finland has played for a spot on the podium, but going home with no worse than a silver medal will make this the program’s most successful World Championship. And that’s great news for the game.
USA BACK IN FINAL WITH ROUT OF RUSSIANS
The Canadians may not have taken care of business, but for Team USA, the semifinal proceedings – particularly in the aftermath of a one-goal first frame – saw the defending champions ensure there would only be one upset on the day.
In a contest that was thoroughly dominated the powerhouse American side, USA found twine midway through the first period when Hilary Knight lit the lamp for the sixth time in the tournament. And though Russian netminder Anna Prugova did her duty and stood stall through the first 20 minutes, the wheels fell off in the second frame. First, it was Annie Pankowski stretched the USA lead to two, followed by Emily Pfalzer and Megan Bozek tallies that put an end to Prugova’s outing. In came Valeria Merkusheva, but the results were much the same.
Team USA’s relentless attack continued through the back half of the contest, with Kelly Pannek netting a pair before the final horn, Knight adding her second and Hayley Scamurra getting on the board late. All told, the Americans celebrated eight tallies on the night, while Alex Rigsby was equal to the task on the 11 Russian shots that tested her on the evening.
With the victory, USA advanced to the gold medal game of the World Championship for the 19th consecutive tournament, and entering the final they will be searching for their fifth consecutive crown. Standing in their way will be a Finnish side that USA dispatched 6-2 in the round robin.
1. Noora Raty, 43 saves (FIN) – Incredible performance pushed Finland to the final
2. Hilary Knight, 2G, 3A (USA) – A five-point night from the American superstar.
3. Ronja Savolainen, 2G, 1A (FIN) – Bookended Finland’s scoring with early tying goal and empty-netter.
Canada vs. Russia – Bronze Medal Game (8 a.m. ET)
USA vs. Finland – Gold Medal Game (1 p.m. ET)