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Team USA Opens Women’s U18s with Rout of Sweden

Team USA opened their 2022 IIHF Women’s U18 World Championship tournament with a convincing 6-1 victory over Sweden on Monday evening. The Americans scored four times in the game’s opening period and cruised for there on out for the easy victory.

The Americans got the scoring started early with a power play goal by Laila Edwards, followed shortly after by a pair of goals from Cassie Hall. Josie St. Martin finished out the scoring in the frame with a goal as well to make it 4-0 after 20 minutes.

They would add another goal late in the second period when Elyssa Biederman scored on a short-handed break. Sweden opened up the third period with a power play goal, but could get no closer, and USA’s Tessa Janecke added a power play goal to close out the scoring.

The Americans face off against Finland on Tuesday evening at 8pm CST in a game that can be seen on ESPN+. Finland upset Canada 2-0 in their opening game, so first place in Group A will be on the line.

Notes and Thoughts:

-I don’t think Sweden is a very good team, so I’m not going to read too much into this win. The Swedes would have been playing in Group B in this tournament had Russia not been expelled from the tournament. Sweden had a lot of size and played a very physical game, but they just didn’t have the skating ability to keep up with the Americans. They played extremely passive defensively, giving the US a lot of time and space to work, but didn’t defend well enough to make that work. The next two prelim games against Finland and Canada will be a tougher test.

-That said, you can’t ask for a better performance from the Americans against an over-matched opponent. They put this game away early and convincingly and were able to roll through all of their lines for the entire game. I think we saw everything we need to see from this US team. Here was the good stuff:

-The first line was dominant. Laila Edwards had a terrific game. She is just such a match-up problem because there just aren’t many players, really none at the youth level, with her combination of size and athleticism. The ability to break up plays defensively with her reach, and protect the puck offensively are just game-changers.

-The line of Cassie Hall centering Elyssa Biederman and Kelly Gorbatenko was absolutely terrific for the second straight game and they’ve really emerged as the second line for this US team. In addition to the two goals from Hall and one from Biederman, you can give that line partial credit on the first goal, when they forced a turnover in the offensive zone and drew a penalty to put the US on the power play. They drew another power play in the second period as well. If the US can get consistent scoring from a someone outside of their top line, that’s huge going forward in this tournament, because I don’t think anyone else here can do that.

-The power play was pretty good. As expected, the primary option for the US is giving the puck to Kirsten Simms and letting her work off a high-cycle. I like the concept of just getting the puck to your best playmaker and letting her work in space. My one concern is that it is maybe a little one dimensional and teams will adjust to it. So it was nice to see the US execute on a secondary action when they scored on the first goal of the game. It helps that they were playing a very slow team committed to protecting inside the dots, which made puck retrieval very easy for the US. But the PP looked pretty solid.

-Maggie Scannell just had the one assist, but I thought she had a really nice game. Even though she’s one of the youngest players, she’s very smart and uses her size effectively to force turnovers and win pucks.

-Annelies Bergmann got the start in goal and was very solid. She didn’t have to do much, but was solid when called upon. It will be interesting to see if the US sticks with her and gives some prelim time to somebody else. As I’ve said, I think the US should be pretty comfortable either way.

-It’s never going to get as much attention as the big point scorers, but I thought Jenessa Gazdik had a really solid game defensively. The 1-on-1 defending and gap control was a little iffy from some of the other American defenders, but Gazdik did really well. Emma Peschel was solid on D again too. Sweden was never really competitive in this game, so the US was able to work all seven defenders through for the entire game. But when it comes down to crunch time later in the tournament, I still think we’ll see them cut down playing just Potter-Gazdik and Morrow-Peschel as D pairings.

As for the not-so-good stuff:

-There were a lot of penalties in this one. Both teams took seven minor penalties for 14 minutes each. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about all the penalty-killing the US had to do, however. I chalk a lot of it up to IIHF games being called a little tighter in general, and the fact that Sweden was committing a lot of infractions and also being blown out, and I think in those situations, the officials tend to hunt for penalties to call on the other side to even things out. There are going to be a lot of penalties called in this tournament—Canada in particular has relied on the ‘they can’t call everything’ idea to slow down the US for years—so it’s just going to be a matter of winning the special teams battle rather than hoping to avoid it altogether.

-The one goal given up by the US came off a sloppy mistake when Elyssa Biederman tried to dangle around two defenders when the US was on a 5-on-3 penalty kill, leading to an odd-player rush the other way. Not exactly the smart, safe play, but in a 5-0 game, not that big of a deal.

-The biggest news of the day was Finland upsetting Canada 2-0 in the opening game. Generating offense looked like it might be a concern for the Canadians coming into the tournament, and that was before it was reported that they lost second line center Jade Iginla for the entirety of the tournament due to injury.

The loss itself probably doesn’t hurt Canada too much in the long run. Even if they finish third in the group and have to play a quarterfinal game, I think they’d likely get through that pretty easily. It’s great to see Finland competitive with the Big 2, however. The level of competition continues to even out nearly every year in this tournament.