Hockey

Unexpected successes emerge in the first round of the IIHF Women’s World Championship

Unexpected successes emerge in the first round of the IIHF Women’s World Championship

There’s been a lot of drama in the first three days of the IIHF 2017 Women’s World Championship. Team USA stands atop the pack with a 3-0 record, Finland is making a bid for its first silver medal, and underdog Germany is fighting its way back from a disappointing Olympic qualifying tournament.

Team USA

Team USA is proving once again why they’re the reigning world champions, sweeping all three games in the preliminary round of play and shutting out two of their three opponents. They came out strong on Friday, channeling their adrenaline and emotions into a decisive 2-0 victory over Canada. After a scoreless first period, Brianna Decker and Gigi Marvin netted goals in the second and third periods, respectively. Nicole Hensley made 18 saves to hold onto the shutout.

On Saturday, they looked to outdo themselves with a dominant 7-0 performance against Russia. Amanda Kessel started things off, scoring late in the first period just as a 5-on-3 penalty kill expired. It was the first goal in a USA jersey since the 2014 Olympics for Kessel, who spent most of the last two years working her way back from a concussion. Kendall Coyne, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, and Decker each had a pair of goals, including one by Coyne and one by Decker with less than 30 seconds left in the game. Goaltender Maddie Rooney—playing her first game for Team USA—also earned her first shutout.

The women took to the ice again on Monday, this time against Finland. Finland put up a strong fight, scoring the first goal against the U.S. in over 350 minutes of play, and then proceeding to score two more before the night was over. But Team USA was up to the task. Hilary Knight scored a pair of goals (her first of the tournament), and Coyne, Hannah Brandt, and Lamoureux-Davison each scored one to make the final score 5-3.

Team USA earned an automatic bye to the semifinals, and they will play the winner of Russia vs. Germany on Thursday at 7:30ET.

Read more…U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Downs Finland, Earns Bye Into World Championship Semifinal Round

Finland

Possibly an even bigger story than Team USA’s success has been Finland’s success. After an early loss to Russia, they came back with a vengeance to upset the powerhouse Canadian team, marking Canada’s first world championship loss ever to a team that wasn’t the United States. Finland then stood toe-to-toe with the U.S. and forced them to play their very best. They were one point away from getting an automatic bye to the semifinals for the first time since the tournament’s inception, but instead earned their place with a victory over Sweden in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

They’re playing like a team with something to prove.

The Finnish team has been growing over the last few years. They have competed repeatedly throughout the tournament’s history for third place—and often won the bronze medal—but no team has ever managed to edge out the U.S. or Canada for a spot in the gold medal game. But this year they believe they have a chance.

“[This win is] huge for our confidence,” Finnish goalie Noora Räty said. “We’ve known it’s close, but it’s just been close. We finally did it, so now we know we can do it.”

Räty has been a huge part of Finland’s success, stopping 35 shots against Canada and making some truly spectacular saves against the U.S. Another part is their increased focus on strength and training.

“We have to be faster, stronger, more well-conditioned and then we can play the game we want to play,” Finnish center Riikka Välilä told SI.com’s Nicole Haase. “We are more athletic and that makes it easier on us. Then it goes to tactical. We have four lines. Before we had one or two lines and those players were so tired.”

Finland plays Canada in the semifinals on Thursday at 3:30ET.

Germany

As if this tournament needed another surprise, the 8th-seeded German team has made a name for itself, earning two wins in the opening round to finish in first place in group B, then upsetting last year’s bronze medal winners to earn a spot in the semifinals. The secret for Germany—who recently failed to qualify for the Olympics—has been some stellar goaltending by Jennifer Harss and Ivonne Schroder.

“We as a German team, we need good goaltending to win games. A couple of years ago we brought a goalie coach into the program and he works with our goalies year round and games like yesterday and today and you can see that work paying off,” coach Benjamin Hinterstocker told Nicole Haase.

Germany plays the United States in the semifinals on Thursday at 7:30ET.

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