“The only difference now is the jerseys” Team Russia’s head coach proclaimed, through a clunky IIHF translation, after his Russian team lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Canada to open this year’s Women’s World U18 championships. And his team backed up that bold claim with another close game, losing to Team USA 1-0 on a late goal.
But while that might have been true in the preliminary round, when it mattered most, Team USA showed there is still a significant gap between the two North American powers and the rest of the world. They dominated the Russians with a ___ win in the semifinals of the World U18s, setting up the 12th USA-Canada gold medal game in the history of the 13-year-old tournament.
The US showed they had the upperhand from the opening puck drop, completely controlling the first 10 minutes of the game. After a few quality chances on an early power play, the US would break through at even strength when defenseman Lyndie Lobdell took a pass at the right point, deked around a Russian defender and fired a shot from the top of the circle that beat the Russian goal tender. Less than three minutes later, Lacey Eden would win a puck along the left half-boards and wire a rocket shot into the upper corner to give the US a commanding 2-0 lead.
Russia would play their best stretch of hockey in the closing minutes of the first period and early stage of the second period, but the US defense remained responsible, making easy work for US goalie Amanda Thiele.
With eight minutes remaining in the second period, US forward Kirsten Simms worked her way into the slot with the puck for a shot. The initial shot was saved, but Emma Gentry crashed the net hard and the puck worked its’ way into the net to give the US a comfortable 3-0 lead heading into the third period.
The Russians pressed hard in the third period, which generated a few moderate chances, but for opportunities for the US on the counterattack. Despite the more wide-open play, neither team could score and the US completed the 3-0 win.
They meet Canada tomorrow in the gold medal game, looking to avenge last year’s overtime loss in the gold medal game, and a loss to the Canadians in the preliminary round.
Notes and Thoughts:
-I had a little apprehension coming into this game after Russia’s strong performance in the preliminary round. It felt like maybe this was the year somebody broke through to knock off the US or Canada in the semifinals. But those worries were quickly put to rest. Team USA brought their A-game and showed they’re still a step ahead of the rest of the field. They dominated the first ten minutes and built a commanding 2-0 lead, and the Russians just never had the juice to mount a serious come back attempt.
-Player of the game, without a doubt, for the US, was Lacey Eden, who is having an incredible tournament. Going back to last July and the Select 66 camp, I said my biggest concern for this team was going to be secondary scoring, and mentioned Eden as the most likely candidate to step up. She has stepped up above and beyond that. She’s always been effective working along the boards and in front of the net, but her foot speed has improved and now she is an overall effective player making things happen all over the ice, as opposed to being more of a niche role player.
With the US getting uncharacteristically quiet tournaments thus far from Makenna Webster and Abbey Murphy, Eden’s emergence has been a difference-maker for the US.
-Speaking of Makenna Webster and Abbey Murphy, Webster has just two assists in the tournament after posting point totals of nine and six in her first two U18 tournaments, while Murphy has just one goal, after scoring four goals in each of her first two tournaments. I don’t think either is necessarily playing poorly though. Both had a couple great chances that could have led to goals and didn’t. Let’s just hope luck catches up with their effort in time for tomorrow, because the US is going to need them to score to beat Canada.
-It didn’t show in the results today, but this Russian still looks good. I counted five or six players that would be really high-end NCAA players if they chose that route as opposed to the one or two you normally see from the European countries at this tournament. They return a lot of players for next year’s tournament, while it might be a bit of a down year for the US. We’re not there yet, but the gap does seem to be closing.
-The US only had one power play in this game, early in the first period, while Russia had six. A lot of that seemed to be officiating based on the score, but overall, the officials called a pretty loose game and let a lot of stuff go. That doesn’t bode well for the US in the gold medal game, since Canada has historically tried to negate the US speed advantage with physical play. I might give Canada the slight edge at 5-on-5 as well, so winning the special teams battle is going to be key.
-Amanda Thiele got the start in goal for the United States and was as good as she needed to be. Russia didn’t have many, if any, high-quality chances, so she just had to make a lot of easy saves. She had one bobble late in the first period when she didn’t control a shot, but other than that, did what she needed to do. We’ll probably see her start tomorrow.