BRAMPTON, ON — Aware of the likelihood of once again facing Canada in the gold medal game of the women’s world hockey championships, United States captain Hilary Knight was quick to take the pressure off her team by suggesting the Americans shouldn't be favored.
“I feel like we’re the underdogs, so we definitely have a chip to our game,” Knight said after scoring twice in a 9-1 rout of the Czech Republic in the first of two tournament semifinals on Saturday. “We never feel like we’re on top.”
Not so fast, Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin said after Sarah Fillier scored three times in a 5-1 semifinal win over Switzerland to ensure the cross-border rivals would meet on Sunday for the 21st time in 22 world tournaments.
“We’ll see tomorrow. I feel it’s going to be a battle either way,” Poulin said. “We all train for the same reason. You want to get that gold medal and we’re all aware of that. ... And it’s going to be a battle all day.”
The Canadians are the two-time defending champions, have the edge in playing on home soil in suburban Toronto, and also have a leg up on the Americans in having beaten them 4-3 in a shootout in a preliminary round game on Monday.
The United States, however, has been no slouch in a tournament in which the team's younger and retooled roster is showing signs of gelling. That was evident against the Czechs in an outing the American's mix of veterans and youngsters filled the scoresheet.
Veterans Knight and Amanda Kessel scored two goals each, with Knight breaking the game open by scoring 1:28 apart to put the U.S. up 3-0 at the 5:57 mark of the second period.
The 33-year-old Knight also added an assist to increase her Team USA-record world championship total to 98 points. Meantime, 20-year-old defender Caroline Harvey scored and added four assists to raise her team-leading tournament total to 13 points, while Tessa Janecke, 22, scored twice to give her three goals and six points in her tournament debut.
Cayla Barnes had three assists, while Abbey Murphy and Abby Roque also scored. Aerin Frankel stopped 14 shots to improve her tournament record to 4-1.
With nine titles to Canada’s 12, the U.S. has never missed a gold medal game in tournament history.
Coach John Wroblewski already was itching for a chance to play Canada before the matchup was set.
“Getting over the hump of beating that team is something,” Wroblewski said.
“It’s not like there’s one thing to shut down against Canada. There’s a multitude of experience and confidence,” he added. “To dethrone someone that’s that good at what they do is going to take an outstanding performance from every single player and very few mistakes as well from the coaching staff.”
Though unbeaten in six tournament games, the Canadians have experienced troubling lapses in finishing scoring chances and holding leads. Swiss goalie Andrea Braendli stopped 49 shots and handled the first 21 she faced before Fillier finally beat her with a shot from the right circle 11:06 into the second period. Jamie Lee Rattray and Rebecca Johnston also scored, and Ann-Renee Desbiens stopped eight shots.
At least Canada held the lead this time, after blowing a 2-0 edge in a 3-2 overtime win over Sweden in the quarterfinals. The Canadians also blew a 3-1 lead in the final minute of their eventual win over the U.S.
“It was still a little bit of slow getting going,” coach Troy Ryan said, blaming Canada’s early scoring issues against Switzerland as his players trying to be too creative. “But, I’ll take scoring five goals any game. And if that’s not producing, then I don’t know what producing is.”
Canada ended the Americans’ run of five straight titles with a 3-2 OT win in 2021 in Calgary. Canada defeated the U.S. 2-1 in the final last year. The Canadians also are the defending Olympic champions after a 3-2 win over the Americans at the 2022 Beijing Games.
The bronze medal game will also be a rematch of last year, when the Czechs won their first tournament medal with a 4-2 win over Switzerland. The chance to win a second medal fueled Czech coach Carla MacLeod, in putting aside the loss to the U.S.
“Are you kidding me? Pumped right now. Guys, this is our first time in the A Pool. First time ever. We just played in the semifinal. We’re playing for a medal tomorrow,” said the former Canadian Olympian in her second year as coach. “I couldn’t be more thrilled of where we’re at.”
Switzerland’s chances of upsetting Canada took a hit with 1:37 left in the first period, when the team’s leading scorer Lara Stalder was ejected for an illegal hit. Alina Muller scored for the Swiss with 2:04 left.
The Swiss has medaled just once, winning bronze in 2012, while finishing fourth in each of the past two tournaments.
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