Canadian netminder Shannon Szabados stretched out across the goal line as the U.S. celebrate a goal enroute to a 2-0 win in both team’s first preliminary game at the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship held in Plymouth, Michigan. (Images on Ice)
Whether it was the fired up home crowd or the precedent-setting win earlier in the week, the U.S. women’s national team did not look like a squad that had not much official practice this week.
Outshooting the Canadians 30-18, the U.S. team took the first preliminary game for both teams at the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Plymouth, Michigan 2-0 on Friday. It marks a total of 152 minutes at the tournament, dating back to a shootout win in 2013, that Canada hasn’t scored against the U.S.
“We came out and played with a lot of poise and everyone contributed to tonight’s victory,” said U.S. head coach Robb Stauber. “Our veterans led the way, [Nicole] Hensley stood tall in the net and our new players brought a lot of energy to the team. I’m glad we were able to win tonight in such a great atmosphere created by our fans.”
Netminder Hensley, in just her second world championship game (the last being the opener of the 2016 tournament where she also recorded a shutout), earned the player of the game honours making 18 saves on the night.
It took until the middle of the second period for a team to break the 0-0 deadlock. Megan Bozek stormed across Canada’s blue line curling around the net and made a cross-crease pass to Brianna Decker, who put the puck past outstretched goalie Shannon Szabados.
Gigi Marvin put the U.S. up 2-0 with a wrist shot that deflected off Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin, beating Szabados at 4:49 in the third period.
Through 40 minutes, Canada had just eight shots on goal while Szabados (who turned aside 28 pucks on the night) came up big with several saves to keep the team in the game which earned her player of the game for Team Canada.
Posts seemed to be the biggest pest for Canada last night. Poulin and Meghan Agosta were both robbed, ringing the puck off the goalposts in the second period.
“I think we didn’t come out firing as fast as we could but there are some positives to take away for the rest of the tournament,” said national team rookie forward Laura Stacey. “In the third period, we really started moving our feet and keeping it simple by getting more shots at the net and creating opportunities. We just need to work harder playing that 200-foot game. It was an unfortunate loss but we just need to trust and believe in our skill to be successful moving forward.”
Canada will now face Finland on Saturday 7:30 p.m. (ET), a team that Stacey is very familiar with after facing them a the Meco Cup and 4 Nations Cup.
“They have an unbelievable goaltender but I think if we get in front of her, take away her eyes and keep doing the things we have been we will be successful,” said Stacey.
The goaltender she speaks of is Noora Raty, who said going into the tournament that she is very confident in her team’s depth.
“This is the first time we have four lines that can all score,” said Raty. “We can be a threat on all four throughout the tournament. The last time I was in this tournament in 2012-13, we had maybe two lines that were offensive threats. We would throw a fourth line in there just to give them all a rest.”
Despite that, Finland took a 2-1 loss on the opening night of the world championships — in a rematch of the 2016 bronze medal final against Russia. It was 43-year-old IIHF hall of famer Riikka Valila put Finland on the board first, and it would remain that way on the until the third period. Russia tied the game on an unassisted goal by Fanuza Kadirova early in the final frame then Yekaterina Smolentseva notched a power play marker with just 50 seconds remaining in the game to lift them 2-1.
Raty said at the outset of the tournament that Finland has been more proactive with their development of female players. Not only are they more offensive-minded, she said, their system is built on the speed of their players.
One in particular to watch out for is Petra Nieminen.
“She is definitely one of younger players to keep an eye on,” said Venla Hovi, who has played with the University of Manitoba for the past two seasons during the regular season. “I feel like she is a natural talent. She loves to play the game and works hard. If she gets a chance to score then she usually does. She is an incredible talent, humble and a great girl to have on the team.”
The U.S. will play last year’s bronze medallist Russia on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (ET).
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