Women’s World Championships: Semifinal Preview

Quarterfinals Recap

Finland 1, Germany 0

The Finns earned a hard-fought victory over the Germans on Friday, advancing to play the U.S. in the semifinals on Monday, April 8th at 3:30 PM E.T. Despite only scoring the one goal, I thought it was a great performance for Finland in a couple of different ways. For starters, they were without first-string goalie Noora Räty, who was injured in the Finns’ last game of group play against Canada. Despite that, they still turned in a dominating performance. The only reason the game wasn’t a blowout was because of German goaltender Jennifer Harss, who was spectacular.

The most impressive part of Finland’s win, for me, is what it says about their team from a mental perspective. They won their first game of the tournament against Switzerland, but were pretty much dominated by the U.S. in a 4-2 loss and then blown out by Canada, 8-0. Instead of getting discouraged by those two games and the loss of Räty, they were able to re-group and focus completely on the task at hand. Even though it was a one-goal game, Finland looked like they were in control the whole time.

One of the best players in the tournament so far, and easily the best Finnish player, has been forward Michelle Karvinen. She’s been explosive for the Finns, scoring three goals and an assist, including the game-winner against Germany. She’s using her speed to beat players all over the ice and just seems to be willing things to happen offensively for Finland. Her goal against the Germans exemplified what she’s been able to do this tournament. She forced a turnover in the neutral zone, used great footwork to get the puck on her stick, broke into the German zone, and drove right to the net.

Russia 2, Switzerland 1

Russia continued their winning ways this tournament with a victory over Switzerland in the quarterfinals. The Russians compiled a perfect 3-0 record in Group B play after being bumped down thanks to a huge Swiss effort last year.  Florence Schelling made some brilliant saves as per usual for the Swiss, but the Russians only needed to solve her twice to advance.

Russia’s had a very impressive tournament this year after winning no games at the 2012 World Championships. It would be a huge upset if they were able to pull off a win against the host Canadians in the semifinals, but they’re definitely strong contenders to win a bronze medal. Yekaterina Smolentseva (three goals, five points), Iya Gavrilova (three assists), and Tatyana Burina (two goals, four points) have all had strong tournaments so far and will definitely be at the forefront of the Russians’ attack in their upcoming games. Between Nadezhda Alexandrova (0.40 GAA, .976 save %) and Anna Prugova (0.66 GAA, .966 save %), they’ve got some strong goaltending gunning for them too.

A Look Ahead

Team Canada Notes

The Canadians have had a very good showing in this tournament so far. Their gutsy 3-2 comeback win against the U.S. in the first game seems to have fueled them, as they’ve been firing on all cylinders in every game so far. They’ve been absolutely dominant so far and look 100% focused. They’re also really feeding off of the hometown crowds, which have been fantastic.

Captain Hayley Wickenheiser missed the last two games due to injury, but she’s good to go for the rest of the tournament. Canada has a tough decision to make with her back in the line-up, however, as that means they’ll have to sit another forward, and no one’s really proven to be a weak link. All of their forwards are playing really well, and their lower line players, like Bailey Bram and Gillian Apps, have been especially good. All of the Canadian lines are rolling right now, and although Wickenheiser is a legendary player, it’s going to be hard for the coaches to decide how to fit her back into the line up without disrupting anything.

Coming into the tournament, I thought Jenn Wakefield, Brianne Jenner, and Sarah Vaillancourt were all very interesting players on this roster, as they could really shake things up with productive performances. All three have done just that. They’re all playing very well and have earned their ice time and high slots on this depth chart. Their great play this tournament has just added to the Canadians’ offensive depth.

Canada’s more highly-touted players have also been playing well. Marie-Philip Poulin has been as good as advertised, which should surprise no one. She’s currently leading the team in points after a monster four-goal performance against Switzerland. Despite being so young, she’s really stepped up and a catalyst of this deep and impressive offense. Meghan Agosta also got going in Canada’s last game against the Finns, scoring a hat trick herself.

Team Canada’s defense has also been very important to their success. It seems like everyone on that blue line is making plays to force turnovers and get things going offensively. Their defenders are making very good decisions as far as jumping into the play, and as a unit they’ve been doing a very good job of shutting down the opponent’s offense. Lauriane Rougeau and Jocelyne Larocque have really stuck out, though. They’ve been absolute studs defensively, not letting the opposing players get anything going, and it’s paying off for them and their team.

The Canadians have a good semifinal match-up against the Russians at 7:30 E.T. on Monday. They’ll enter the game as heavy favorites, but Russia is sure to come in on a high after winning all four of their games so far. Canada will look to get a few early goals and put this one away as soon as possible. They just need to keep things simple and stick to what they’ve been doing, because if they execute right it’ll definitely continue to work for them here.

Team USA Notes

After an opening game against Canada that I’m sure they’d like to forget, the U.S.’s play has been steadily improving. They actually started the tournament off really well, out-skating the Canadians for much of the first period of that game and going up 2-0. They collapsed in the third period, blowing their two-goal lead and eventually losing in the shootout. The Americans were sloppy in the first two periods of their next game against Finland, but had picked it up by the end. They finally looked like dominant gold medal contenders in their final game of group play against Switzerland.

The Americans were looking very out-of-sync for the better part of two games, and that was their biggest problem more than anything else. But the coaching staff has made some smart adjustments, and the lines looked like they were really starting to gel against the Swiss. In that game, Julie Chu was moved down to what you could call the fourth line with Kelley Steadman and Jen Schoullis, which is a very interesting move. It’s below where Chu should slot in based on her own offensive abilities, but what it does is give the Americans a very balanced attack. They’ve got plenty of offense on the first three lines, and Chu on that last line adds a calm, veteran presence and some extra offensive punch there.

Team USA’s got a lot of players who can contribute, and in that game against Switzerland especially every line was rolling, but some have stuck out more than others. Personally I think Brianna Decker has been their best forward so far. There’s barely been a shift for her where she hasn’t created things offensively. Team USA’s penalty kill is perfect so far, and Decker’s been great on that unit as well. The Lamoureuxs have also stood out in every game for the U.S. Alex Carpenter has also been very impressive; she’s rocketed up the depth chart to join the Lamoureuxs on a top line after just being consistently good so far.

On the back-end, the play of Lisa Chesson and Anne Schleper warrants some praise. Chesson has just looked solid all tournament, consistently making good plays on the puck. She hasn’t been a liability, and sometimes, that’s the best compliment you can get as a defender. Schleper’s making herself noticed with good puck control and positioning; she’s also winning a lot of battles along the boards in the defensive zone.

The Americans will face Finland in the semifinals, and they don’t want to overlook this Finnish squad. Their main priority on defense should be Michelle Karvinen, but they can’t let any of the other Finnish players get too many chances either. The U.S. will want to focus on having a well-coordinated attack, with smart, crisp passes and communication along the boards.