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Women’s World U18s: United States vs. Canada Semifinal Preview

United States v Sweden - 2016 IIHF U18 Women's World Championship Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The United States will meet Canada in the elimination round of the Women’s U18 World Championships early Friday morning in Dmitrov, Russia.

For the first time in the event’s 11-year-history, these two won’t be meeting for the gold medal, instead playing for the right to make it to the gold medal. Canada’s shocking loss to host Russia, combined with the Swedes stealing a point away from the Americans on the opening day of the tournament pushed the Canadians into last place in the tournament’s top grouping, and forcing them to fight through a quarterfinal match-up against the Czech Republic.

In a way, playing what most would agree is the championship game in the semis means there’s almost more riding on this game than usual. The loser of this game will walk away with a bronze medal at best, which in the two-superpower world of women’s hockey, is a shocking and disappointing result. Also at stake is America’s run towards an unprecedented fourth consecutive gold medal in this event, with the Canadians having likely the best chance of stopping it.

This should be a great game, as it always is when these two countries meet on the ice. Here’s everything you need to know to get ready for the game.

What: Women’s World U18 Championships Semifinal

Who: US vs. Canada

When: Friday, 7:30am EST

Where: Dmitrov, Russia

How Do I Watch: A free YouTube livestream here.

The United States

Roster: Roster. And a pre-tourney roster breakdown.

Results: Sweden: W 2-1(OT), Russia: W 5-3, Canada: W 6-2

Projected line chart(college commitment):

Forward

9 Murphy(Minn) - 16 O’Brien(Wisc) - 12 Webster(Wisc)

14 Curl(Wisc) - 23 Heise(Minn) -11 Petrie(Harv)

24 Bilka(BC) - 18 Browne(BC) - 15 Knoll(NE)

19 Bloomer(Harv) - 22 Flaherty(UMD) - 20 Shearen(Minn)

Defense

4 Wethington(Minn) - 2 Ostertag(Minn)

3 Nicholson(Minn) - 7 Hartmetz(BC)

6 Norton(UMD) - 8 Simpson(COL)

5 Bizal(OSU) - 10 Farden(Harv)

Goalie

30 Reed(Harv) - 1 Frank(MNST)

The US top forward line has been intact throughout the entire tournament and has been terrific. Led by the two youngest forwards on the team in Abbey Murphy and Makenna Webster, and centered by Casey O’Brien, this line has a lot of speed and a lot of skill. Case in point, here are Abbey Murphy’s two goals this tournament:

All three are good all around, but if we’re talking standout traits, it’s Murphy’s speed, Webster’s tenacity on the puck, and O’Brien’s puck-handling that make them special.

It’s the second line that could end up being the key to beating Canada though. Those three were on different lines to start the tournament, but after a frustrating opening game against Sweden where the US controlled play but couldn’t finish off plays, the coaching staff took three players that had a strong game, put them together, and the results have been fantastic. Curl was US player of the game against Russia and Heise was US player of the game against Canada.

It’s a smart moved based on the personnel available. The US top-six gives them two lines that are better than any other line in the tournament, and so much so that they’re able to break through against some very conservative defenses.

Loading up those top two lines does come at the expense of the bottom two a bit. But the bottom-six are good enough that they’re not going to get badly outplayed. If they contribute any offense tomorrow, it would be a pleasant surprise, but for the most part, they just need to keep things even.

The defense hasn’t been overly-tested to this point in the tournament. Wethington and Ostertag are both two-time world champions and extremely reliable. Ally Simpson has had a really nice tournament. Maggie Nicholson, the youngest D on the team, has been a pleasant surprise too. Her big slap shot, along with the puck-moving ability of Hadley Hartmetz, could be a key tomorrow if Canada decides to really pack things to slow down the US forwards.

The big key on the blue line will be avoiding the big mistake. The US should be able to exert a gradual advantage over the Canadians 5-on-5, but a big turnover or too many power play opportunities could tilt things back Canada’s way.

Lindsay Reed played against Sweden and Canada in the preliminary rounds, and will play every minute in the final two games barring catastrophe. Again, she hasn’t seen a lot of action in her two starts. She’s a big, positionally sound goalie.

Canada

Roster: Roster.

Results: Russia: L 2-3, Sweden: W 4-0, USA: L 2-6

Projected Line Chart

Forward

7 Veillette(CLK) - 18 Parker - 21 Gosling(SLU)

11 Connors(Prin) - 19 Fillier(Prin) - 24 Dalton(Yale)

5 Correia(BU) - 23 McQuigge(Prin) - 8 Adzija(Quin)

14 Kollman(RMU) - 9 Forcey(Dart) - 12 Shirley/26 Moloughney(Syr)

Defense

13 Vorster(Quin) - 6 MacEachern(COL)

3 Slobodzian(COR) - 2 Boyd(RIT)

16 Guay(BC) - 25 Kirwan(Lind)/27 Rickwood(UNH)

Goalie

30 McArthur(BC) - 29 Woodland - 1 Angers(Quin)

This is a fairly typical Canadian national team. They’re older. Their roster breaks down by birthdate as 19 ‘00s, and just four ‘01s, compared to the US which brought 13 ‘00s, seven ‘01s, and three ‘02s.

They’re also a big, strong team. Each of the top three lines has a true 5’10” power forward type, with their 13 forwards averaging a height of 5’ 6.75”. By comparison the US average forward height is 5’5.5”. They win a lot of puck battles and use their edge in physicality to grind teams down.

There’s not really a true star forward on the team; Sarah Fillier leads the team in scoring with just three points in four games. The top forward, to me at least, is Audrey-Ann Veillette. There’s not a lot of flash to her game, but she’s got a really strong stick, moves well, and makes a lot of plays. Also on that top line, I really like the other big winger on that top line, Julia Gosling. When she gets a little space to get moving, she’s got really slick hands. Getting a body on her defensively before she can get her feet moving will be a big key.

On the second line, I think wing Maggie Connors, who plays on Shattuck-St. Mary’s top line with US top line forwards Makenna Webster and Casey O’Brien, is their most dynamic offensive player. She didn’t score against the Czech Republic, but could have had two or three goals. Fillier is a smooth offensive player too.

The third line for Canada is a grind line, with some big players that are strong and play a heavy game. The fourth line has solid players, but isn’t as big of a threat as the first three.

On defense, the leader is Shattuck-St. Mary’s D Courtney Vorster. She’s a good skater and solid all-around defender that can do a bit of everything. MacEachern is a really aggressive offensive-minded defenseman that is always looking for opportunities to jump into the offense. She plays a high-risk/high-reward style and there may be a transition opportunity for the US if they can catch her on a bad pinch.

Willow Slobodzian is currently playing college hockey at Cornell. Slobodzian, Boyd, and Guay are all pretty good defenders, and then there’s a bit of a drop-off with the last two defenders.

In goal, Madelyn McArthur started the first game of the tournament for Canada, the loss to Russia. Kendra Woodland got the next start, a shutout victory over Sweden. Canada tried to ride Woodland’s momentum by starting her against the US, but she was pulled in favor of McArthur after the fourth US goal. McArthur finished the US game, then got the win against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal. I would expect to see her in net again. McArthur is an average-sized goalie with plus-level athleticism. Her discipline and technique can get a bit shaky at times though, so there might be some holes to shoot at. Canada likely needs an A+ game from her in goal.

Keys to the Game

Speed, speed, speed.

The US has a lot of it. Canada, not as much.

The general trend in the women’s game seems to be the US relying more on smaller faster players, while Canada sacrifices some speed in order to have a stronger, more physical line-up. That trend seems especially prevalent this year with the US having some really elite skaters on their team with players like Murphy and Heise. It will be up to the US to exploit that speed advantage, similar to how they did in their first meeting with Canada.

This beauty of a goal is a perfect example. Abbey Murphy picks up a puck at the top of the zone with speed. She’s theoretically being covered by forward Claire Dalton, who is six inches taller than Murphy, but it doesn’t do much good when she’s 10 feet away from her. Another defender has to help, and two passes later, the puck is in the net.

That ability to force switches like that when cycling in the offensive zone will be a big key for the US offense, because Canada is likely to really pack things in tight and take care of the front of their net. So that’s the best way to lure them out of position. The US has gotten crisper on their cycle as the tournament has progressed.

The speed edge will also give the US the opportunity to attack off the rush. On this goal, what should be a 3-on-3 rush turns into the US having not one but two players wide open in front of the net and ready to tip a puck into the net.

A Final Prediction

I would be shocked if we saw another blowout like the preliminary round game. There’s too much talent on Canada’s team and too much at stake to expect anything less than a great performance from them. That said, I don’t think the US victory on Tuesday was a fluke. They’re the more talented team from top-to-bottom. If they can manage the game and avoid having a big game-changing play go against them, I could see a tight, low-scoring game with the US generating a lot more chances than Canada. Hockey is a funny game, and controlling the play is no guarantee of victory, but it’s a good position to be in. I’ll take the US winning a 2-1 hockey game.