Olympic Women’s Hockey: Previewing the Semifinals

On Saturday, both Sweden and Switzerland won their quarterfinal match-ups to advance to the semifinals of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament. On Monday, the United States will face off against Sweden at 7:30 a.m. EST and Canada will face off against Switzerland at 12 p.m. EST.

United States vs. Sweden

Team USA earned a bye into the semifinals after finishing second in Group A. They defeated Finland 3-1 in the first game of the tournament, and then blew out the Swiss 9-0 in their next game. They fell to Canada 3-2, however, in the final game of group play. The Finns gave them a pretty good game, but the Americans still had the edge in that contest. The line of Amanda Kessel, Brianna Decker, and Kendall Coyne really broke through in that lopsided win over Switzerland, but things got a lot more complicated against the Canadians, who were able to neutralize the speed of the U.S. as a whole. They were pretty competitive for the first 40 minutes, but things fell apart for Team USA in the third period there.

The Swedes pulled off a 4-2 upset against Finland to advance to this semifinal match-up with the U.S. Down 1-0 after two, Sweden tied the game 48 seconds into the third period. A few minutes later, the teams swapped goals just 12 seconds apart, and the score remained knotted at 2-2 until Swedish defenseman Emma Eliasson blasted home a point shot on the power play. Facing a quality Finnish team and a formidable goaltender in Noora Räty, the Swedes were not expected to win and move on. But goaltender Valentina Wallner made some big saves, especially in the first period to keep them in the game, and they executed well in the third period.

Meghan Duggan, 2011 IIHF World Championships (_becaro_/Flickr)
Meghan Duggan, 2011 IIHF World Championships (_becaro_/Flickr)

The win against Finland was an upset, but to beat the U.S. in the semifinals would be a hundred times bigger for Sweden. Wallner’s been good this tournament, but she’s going to have to stand on her head if the Swedes have any hope of winning. Pernilla Winberg continues to impress, and both her and Jenni Asserholt came up huge in the quarterfinal win, with each garnering more than 27 minutes of ice time. It’s going to take a lot, but if Sweden is going to advance to the gold medal game, it needs big performances on the blue line again from Eliasson, Lina Backlin, and Emilia Andersson. The Swedes will also need to execute the same way they did in the third period when it comes to finding the back of the net.

Sweden doesn’t pose as big of a threat as Finland would have, but the Americans still need to be careful in this game. Their special teams need to be good; on the flip side, if Sweden can score a couple on the power play again, their chances of an upset will be greatly increased. The U.S. will want to capitalize on its chances early, because the longer the Swedes stay in the game, the more confidence they’ll have. Hilary Knight was Team USA’s best player throughout the round robin, and although she’s going to be an important player here, they’re going to need their offensive depth to take over and stifle Sweden.

Canada vs. Switzerland

This’ll be a rematch of the teams’ first game of the tournament, which Canada won, 5-0. The Canadians came out of Group A in first place after going 3-0-0-0, also beating Finland 3-0 and the U.S. 3-2. In the win against the Swiss, Canada piled up 69 shots on goal. The Finns hung with them in the next game, but the Canadians started to take control in the second period and then dominated the third, scoring all three goals in the last 10 minutes. Another excellent third period powered them past the United States; they were losing 1-0 heading into the final frame and then scored the game’s next three goals to come away with the win.

Switzerland went winless in group play, but still managed to pull off a 2-0 win over Russia in the quarterfinals. Swiss forward Stefanie Marty put her team up 1-0 early, and they held on to that lead for the rest of the game to clinch the victory. It was a gutsy effort by the Swiss, who beat the undefeated Russians on home ice. They challenged Russia pretty well in the first two periods, keeping it a back-and-forth game, but looked a little gassed in the third when the Russians outshot them 19-8. Goaltender Florence Schelling was also stellar in a 41-save shutout performance.

Gillian Apps (#10 CAN), Florence Schelling (#41 SUI), and Julia Marty (#6 SUI), 2011 IIHF World Championships (_becaro_/Flickr)
Gillian Apps (#10 CAN), Florence Schelling (#41 SUI), and Julia Marty (#6 SUI), 2011 IIHF World Championships (_becaro_/Flickr)

Canada’s looked like the best team in this tournament so far, and a big reason why is because they’ve gotten better in each game as it’s gone on. Schelling will probably stand on her head for as long as she can, but the Canadians should still be able to capitalize on turnovers by the Swiss defense. Meghan Agosta-Marciano was huge in the wins over the U.S. and Finland, scoring the game-winners in both, and was playing like easily the best forward in this tournament. As long as Canada takes care of the puck and takes advantage of its obvious depth over Switzerland, they should win this rematch handily.

The Swiss are going to need a huge performance out of Schelling if they want to move on, but they’re not going to win if they give up 70 shots again, no matter how good she is in net. Canada is probably going to drive possession all game, so Switzerland needs to generate some opportunities on the rush and cash in on them. Defenseman Lara Stalder made her return to the line-up against Russia and came up big in the win; both her and Julia Marty are probably going to play huge minutes against Canada and will be crucial to slowing down their attack and getting things going the other way. If the Swiss can find a way to chip in some goals, there’s potential for an upset, but otherwise, it could be a long game for them.