It wasn’t as pretty as their dominating preliminary round victories, but the United State women’s U18 team found a way to survive their semifinal match-up against Sweden with a 3-2 victory that will advance them to the gold medal game on Monday evening against Canada.
Things started comfortably enough for the United States. They outshot Sweden 14-2 in the opening frame and got on the board with a nice sniper into the upper corner of the net to give the United States a 1-0 lead. It would have been nice for the US to build a bigger lead after controlling so much of the play, but with Sweden unable to mount anything close to a threat at even strength, it didn’t seem to matter.
And then the Ref Show started. Sweden received five power plays in the middle frame, including a two-minute 5-on-3 advantage. While they didn’t score with the two-player advantage, that momentum led to a Swedish goal to tie the game shortly after the kill. Sweden would take a 2-1 lead later in the period after yet another power play opportunity led to a goal on a shot from the point.
Meanwhile, a vast array of hooks, holds, and checks from the Swedes to slow down the US offensive attack as they continued to control play at even strength went uncalled. The only penalty called on Sweden in the final 40 minutes of play was for too many players on the ice, when the Swedes were caught with six players all within their defensive zone.
After an extremely frustrating period, the United States found themselves down 2-1 heading into the third period and facing the possibility of not advancing to the gold medal game for the first time the history of the women’s U18 tournament.
But early in the third period, Maggie Scannell was able to break through for the Americans, scoring on a high wrist shot to tie the game at 2-2. And with 6:31 left in the third period, defenseman Grace Dwyer took a quick wrist shot from the point that beat a screened Swedish goaltender to give the United States a 3-2 lead. From that point, without the benefit of seemingly endless power play opportunities, Sweden was unable to press to even the score, failing to register a shot on goal after the US took the lead.
So while it was much closer than anyone expected, the US advances to Monday’s gold medal game. Canada defeated Finland 2-1 in the other semifinal, avenging their opening round loss to the Finns, setting up the 13th gold medal game between the two in the tournament’s 14-year history.
Notes and Thoughts
-I hate to make so much of this game about the officiating, but that was an embarrassing display.
This was not a particularly close game that ended up being extremely close thanks to the officiating. Final shots on goal were 53-24 in favor of the US, and at even strength, the US outshot Sweden by about a 6:1 margin. Call the game even—not even considering the fact that the team defending 85% of the time is probably committing more infractions—and we’re likely talking about another easy US victory.
I said earlier in the tournament, I fully expected officials to hunt for US infractions to call to keep power play chance numbers fairly even after the US drew inevitable calls by spending so much time in the attacking zone. But the unwillingness to call anything on Sweden despite their efforts to slow the US down by any means necessary was probably the most frustrating part. The game was completely differently for each of the two teams.
The two officials in the game were Canadian, so they’re likely not calling the gold medal game, although North American officials have called these games before, since European refs sometimes come with their own issues. We’ll see. But hopefully we don’t see something like that again.
-Worth noting that the US didn’t shorten their bench up too much, even deep into the third period when they were still tied. They dropped to three forward lines, but kept all three D pairings rotating through. That’s a little easier to do because Sweden wasn’t putting much offensive pressure on the United States. It did almost come back to bite the US as Sweden’s best chance of the third period came against the third D pairing. Although the hero of the game was Grace Dwyer, who probably wouldn’t have been playing in the top four either.
-One function of not playing many close games is that I felt the US was a little sloppy in some of their details. No back pressure because of a bad line change led to Sweden’s first goal, and couple players got caught on the ice taking too long shifts in the third period. Those are the types of little mistakes that can cost a game even if the US is the superior team overall.
-Annelies Bergmann was solid in goal, despite giving up two goals. Likely no need to make a change there for the Canadian game.