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Women’s World U18 Gold Medal Game Preview: USA vs. Canada

What: Team USA vs. Team Canada for the the gold medal at the Women’s World U18 Championships

When: 3am EST

How to watch; Free stream located here.

This is the 12th year the IIHF has sponsored the Women’s World U18s. In 10 of the previous 11 tournaments, the United States has met Canada in the gold medal game. The lone exception was last year, when a string of weird results on the first day of the preliminary round meant that the United States faced in a nail-biter shootout in the semifinals against Canada before cruising to an easy win in the gold medal game.

So it’s no surprise to see Canada as the last team standing between the United States and a fifth straight gold medal at this event.

This should be an evenly-matched game between two great teams. Team Canada won this summer’s Summer Series best-of-three against the US two games to one. Team USA has won the last three games played in the U18 Worlds. Though in the last two—the preliminary round game of this tournament, and last year’s medal round game—saw Canada build a two-goal lead before the US came back to win.

Overall, the US is 10-5 against Canada in this tournament, although four of the wins and two of the losses were decided in extra time.

The Teams

Team USA’s projected line chart:

Team Canada’s projected line chart:

(Line combos are based on the US prelim game since I wrote most of this before the semifinal with Russia.)

Scouting Canada:

As one might expect, Canada has by far the deepest roster of any team not the US in this tournament. I listed the lines in order of appearance in the US game, but there isn’t much difference between lines 2-4. Canada rolled through all four forward lines through the entirety of the US game, even when they were trailing late. Cote burned the US defense for a goal in that game, and Maddi Wheeler stood out as a really impressive player that sees time on both the penalty kill and second power play.

If I had to grade the match-ups, I’d say edge to US in terms of top line, big edge USA in terms of second line, push between each teams third line, and edge Canada in terms of fourth line. Of course, it’s a single game and the US should be fresh after a couple days off and some light work against Finland, so they don’t even really need to play their fourth line. But Canada’s fourth line making plays mitigates some US advantage up front.

The first line is led by left wing Julia Gosling. Gosling is a returner from last year’s team—a rarity for youth-averse Canada. She had a very good tournament last year, and has been Canada’s best forward this year. Strong with good skills, she has a great knack for finding the right areas of the ice to be in to get good shots. She had a goal in the first game against the US, and could have easily had one or two more on Grade-A chances that were stopped.

Up the middle, top line center Danielle Serdachny is a true power forward that has put in a ton of work over the past year to upgrade her skating to serviceable. He strength makes her really tough to defend, and she’s got a good stick, making her super effective in the offensive zone. She didn’t score against the US, but had the best opportunities of any player that didn’t.

I was a little surprised at how ineffective Anne Cherkowski was in the first US game. She has world-class speed, and after her seeing her play this fall, she’s added a lot to her game to become a more complete player. She has as much talent as any player on the ice though, so she’s still a player to keep an eye out for.

As mentioned above, the second line on the chart didn’t particularly stand out to me. Grace Shirley is a tough, grinding center that anchors the third line. The fourth line is sneaky good.

The defense for Canada is the strongest area of their team. Just the top six play, but they’re all really good. I hesitate to label their pairings as top pairing, second pairing, third pairing because all three are really good. Guay, Gosling, and MacEachern are all really nice offensive defensemen. The others are sound defensively. If there’s an area to attack, it’s that they sometimes get a little too aggressive offensively, leaving them out of position and vulnerable to quick transition opportunities. That happened in the first US game when Canada’s defense over-rotated to the strong side of the ice, allowing Abbey Murphy to sneak behind the D and get a breakaway that would tie the game.

In goal, Mahika Sarrazin started the first game of the tournament, but Raygan Kirk has started the rest, including the semifinal. So it’s safe to assume Kirk will be in goal for this one. Kirk ranks eighth among the eight qualifying goalies in tournament save percentage with an 85.11 save percentage. If I had to guess though, Kirk isn’t seeing a high volume of shots, but when she does, it’s a very high quality chance. The US scored three goals on 23 shots in their prelim game, but two of the goals came on clear-cut breakaways. I’d label goaltending as serviceable, but not a huge area of strength for Canada. If the US can break through the very good Canada defense, there will be opportunities for goals.

Keys to US Victory

Big picture, most US vs. Canada match-ups in the women’s game come down to one thing: USA’s speed vs. Canada’s physicality. This game should be no exception. Looking for opportunities in transition where the US can use that speed off the rush is going to be a huge key for the United States. The more that the US can get players like Abbey Murphy, Makenna Webster, and Hannah Bilka bringing the puck through the neutral zone with speed, the better off they will be.

I also think this will be a big game for captain Dominique Petrie. She has played a great tournament so far, and she has the rare combination of size and speed that might be able to break though Canada’s tough defense and create something working 5-on-5 in the offensive zone.

Staying out of the penalty box is going to be a big key today too. Big forwards like Gosling and Serdachny aren’t going to create a lot for themselves in the offensive zone at 5-on-5, and Cherkowski wasn’t able to use her speed to do so in the first game, but with the extra time and space afforded by a man advantage, they can be deadly.

And, uh, this should probably go without saying, but don’t let Canada get a two-goal lead again. The US survived it the last two times, but I’d rather quit tempting fate.

This should be a great game decided by a goal or two that could go either way. Prior results, both in terms of head-to-head and common opponents, suggests the US might have a slight edge, but when it’s US vs. Canada, that doesn’t matter. This is going to be a battle.