Day: February 11, 2020

Americans win Rivalry Series

Hilary Knight (right, with Alex Carpenter and Dani Cameranesi), who topped the points race en route to gold at the 2019 Women’s Worlds, led the way again as the U.S. women won four out of five Rivalry Series against Canada

By Lucas Aykroyd –

February looms large on the international women’s hockey calendar, and the U.S. showed it’s still the big-time favourite heading into the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Canada (31 March to April 10 in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia).

The Americans finished up with four wins in the five-game 2019-20 Rivalry Series against Canada. Relying on speed and puck possession, coach Bob Corkum’s team dictated the play and outscored their cross-border foes 15-9. The U.S. are the defending Olympic champions and have won five straight Women’s Worlds.

Meanwhile, in the Euro Hockey Tour playoffs, Finland triumphed with three straight victories, blanking host Sweden 4-0 in the final. The Finns made history with a silver medal on home ice at the 2019 Women’s Worlds in Espoo.

U.S. superstar Hilary Knight led that tournament with 11 points (7+4=11), and the two-time Women’s Worlds MVP (2015, 2016) paced the Rivalry Series with three goals and an assist. Alex Carpenter (2+2=4), who was profiled by the New York Times prior to Saturday’s 4-3 series-closing win in Anaheim, and Kelly Pannek (0+4=4) also had four points.

Of Knight’s continuing prowess, Corkum said: “Not surprised at all. She’s been doing it for a long, long time. She’s one of the many, many leaders we have in that dressing room, and she certainly answered the bell.”

Victoria Bach was the top-scoring Canadian (2+1=3), and 2018 Olympic MVP Melodie Daoust and Halifax native Jill Saulnier also totalled three points apiece (1+2=3). Bach, who was the 2019 CWHL rookie of the year with the Markham Thunder, won U18 gold in 2014. However, the slick 23-year-old forward, a former Boston University star, has yet to make her official IIHF debut.

In a worrying reminder of Espoo, Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin sat out the concluding 4-3 overtime loss at the Honda Center with an undisclosed injury. The lone woman to score in three Olympic finals, Poulin, 28, only hit the ice for a grand total of 4:44 at the last Women’s Worlds, where Canada settled for its first bronze medal ever.

Both teams struggled to convert with the power play during the Rivalry Series. Special teams will be particularly crucial for new Canadian coach Troy Ryan’s team as it quests for its first Women’s World gold medal since 2012.

Let’s take a look at the highlights.

Rivalry Series

The Rivalry Series, now in its second year, kicked off with a pair of December games. The U.S won Game One (14 December) 4-1. Amanda Kessel scored the winner and added an assist, and goalie Alex Cavallini (nee Rigsby) shone with 31 saves in Hartford.

In Game Two (17 December) in Moncton, Carpenter’s first-period goal lifted the Americans to a 2-1 win. Goalie Aerin Frankel (Northeastern University) won her national team debut with 27 saves. U.S. newcomer Abby Roque (Wisconsin) scored a goal in each December game.

Game Three (3 February) in Victoria attracted a capacity crowd of 7,006 to the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, reminiscent of the vibe during the 2019 World Juniors. Bach sent the Canadian fans home happy when she tallied the 3-2 overtime winner on a beautiful set-up by Nova Scotia native Blayre Turnbull.

“It was so exciting,” said Canadian veteran Brianne Jenner, who opened the scoring on a shorthanded breakaway. “Every goal tonight, the bench just went wild. Especially when it’s one of our younger players, to see them get a goal, we’re pretty excited.”

In Victoria, Knight got her 200th career national team point on a second-period power play goal. She would play an even bigger role in Game Four (5 February) in Vancouver.

This was the first time the Americans had played there since the 2010 Olympic final, and Knight, 30, hadn’t forgotten that bitter 2-0 loss. First, she fed Hayley Scamurra for the winner, and then she shushed the partisan crowd after adding a late empty-netter to clinch the Rivalry Series with a 3-1 victory. It all happened in front of Knight’s childhood idol, Cammi Granato, who had welcomed the U.S. team for dinner at her North Vancouver house the night before.

Asked afterwards about what she recalled about the back-and-forth with Canadian fans following the Olympic gold medal game, Knight didn’t hold back: “We were told to go back to our country and die. So I took it pretty personally. It’s salt from 10 years ago. We could play these guys 100 days out of the year and it would still be the same. And I think that’s what the fans feel – they feel that fabric of the competitive rivalry.”

The blinding speed of the U.S. trio of captain Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, and Dani Cameranesi gave the Canadians fits as the series wore on.

Game Five in Anaheim (8 February) was far from a formality. With an attendance of 13,320, it was the largest U.S. crowd ever to witness a national women’s team game. The previous record of 10,158 was set on 6 January 2002 when the U.S. beat Canada 7-3 at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.

Megan Bozek potted the 4-3 power-play winner just 42 seconds into overtime. Canadian starter Genevieve Lacasse made a stellar glove save on Bozek’s initial howitzer and then flailed Dominik Hasek-style to sweep the puck out of the crease. But Lacasse couldn’t recover in time to stop the hard-shooting American blueliner’s follow-up.

Monique Lamoureux-Morando tipped in the 3-3 equalizer for her first Rivalry Series goal with 11 minutes left. She is vying to solidify her return with the Stars and Stripes, along with her sister Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson. The 30-year-old twins took time off to have children after leading the U.S. in the 3-2 shootout win over Canada in the 2018 Olympics final.

The U.S. gained momentum as this series went on, and if the shots on goal totals in the last two games (26-12 and 30-20) are any indication, Canada’s netminding needs to be elite if the Americans are to be dethroned in Halifax.

Euro Hockey Tour Playoffs

Ranked third in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking as the best European team, Finland lived up to its advance billing in this six-nation tournament. Coach Pasi Mustonen’s team had a perfect 3-0 record and a 15-3 goal difference in the final event of the current Euro Hockey Tour, held in Tranas, Sweden.

The Finns never trailed, beating Germany 3-1, Switzerland 8-2, and Sweden 4-0 in the final. Forward Petra Nieminen led the tournament in scoring (3+5=8). The 20-year-old is enjoying a breakout season with the SDHL’s Lulea HF (24+30=54 in 34 games for third in league scoring). Established stars Susanna Tapani (1+7=8) and Michelle Karvinen (4+3=7) placed second and third respectively in the points race.

All things considered, coming second was a worthy feat for Sweden. 2019 was tumultuous for the Damkronorna.

The Swedes were shockingly relegated for the first time ever at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship after a 3-2 loss to Japan left them in ninth place. The blue-and-yellow women’s players also staged a protest in search of better treatment from the Swedish federation. That resulted in the cancellation of the annual 4 Nations Cup, originally slated for Lulea in November.

It wasn’t a totally consistent performance for the hosts. The Russians outshot coach Ylva Martinsen’s troops 29-19 in their opener, but goalie Sara Grahn’s strong performance helped the hosts to a 3-1 win. However, the Czech Republic’s Natalia Mlynkova scored twice, including the shootout winner, to lift her nation to a 2-1 victory over Sweden. Czech goalie Klara Peslarova sparkled in this tournament, surrendering just two goals on 53 shots in her two starts for a 0.96 GAA and 96.2 save percentage.

That said, the Swedes are favoured to secure promotion back to the top division in April. They will face Austria, the Netherlands, Norway Slovakia, and host France in Angers in April’s Division I Group A tournament.

The resurgent Russians topped Switzerland 3-1 in the third-place game, sparked by a pair of assists from team scoring leader Anna Shokhina (1+4=5). The Swiss are still looking for answers after the post-PyeongChang retirements of key players like goalie Florence Schelling and defender Christine Meier.

Long-time Czech captain Alena Mills stepped up with the winning goal and added an assist as her team edged Germany 2-1 for fifth place. There was a significant historical highlight in Transa for the German women, however.

Andrea Lanzl became the all-time leader in international appearances among German national team players (both male and female) when she suited up against Finland. It was her 322nd international game, surpassing Udo Kiessling (321), who was also the first German NHLer in 1982-83 with the Minnesota North Stars. Lanzl, a 32-year-old forward, has played in eight top-level Women’s Worlds, starting in 2005, and two Olympics (2006, 2014).

IIHF Council Member Franz Reindl, the President of the German Ice Hockey Association, extended his congratulations: “Andrea Lanzl has achieved a milestone in ice hockey, but also in German sport, thanks to her attitude, great successes, and sporting and human qualities that are revealed through the record number of 322 international matches.”

Swedes perfect at home

Sweden’s Magnus Hellberg led all goaltenders in save percentage

By Derek O’Brien –

The third leg of the 2019/20 Euro Hockey Tour stopped in Stockholm, Sweden for the Beijer Hockey Games. The host Swedes took the maximum nine points from three games. They were followed by the Czech Republic with five points, Finland with three and Russia with one.

Entering the weekend’s final game on Sunday night, Finland had an opportunity to beat Sweden and win the tournament. However, before at crowd of 12,166 at the Ericsson Globe, the Swedes built up a 3-0 lead in the first period before cruising to a 5-1 win. Linus Johansson scored the game’s first and last goals, while five Swedes topped the tournament in points. Mathias Brome and Marcus Nilsson had four points each while Samuel Fagemo, Lukas Bengtsson, Fredrik Handemark and Finn Julius Junttila had three each. Handemark, captain of the SHL’s Malmo Redhawks, is the EHT’s overall scoring leader this season with six points in nine games. 

Fagemo’s goal against Finland was his second for the Swedish senior men’s national team in as many career games. After winning the Champions Hockey League final with Frolunda Gothenburg on Tuesday, the top scorer of this year’s World Junior Championship didn’t play in Sweden’s first game against the Czechs on Thursday but scored his first goal in his men’s national team debut on Saturday in a 5-2 win over Russia.

“Everything’s happened so quickly and I’ve just tried to enjoy it the best I can,” Fagemo told before Sunday’s game. “It’s fun to score goals and it was great to contribute, and I hope another good game can help us win on home ice.”

Fagemo isn’t the only former World Junior player to score his first two senior men’s international goals this weekend. Earlier on Sunday, the Czechs secured second place with a 4-3 shootout win over Russia. Defenceman Jan Kostalek of Sparta Prague scored twice in the third period, including the equalizer at 59:58 to force overtime.

“I took a shot, Keba (Jakub Jerabek) drove to the net and deflected it on goal, the puck bounced off someone, it came back to me at the top of the circle and all I did was take another whack at it and it went in,” the 24-year-old told after the game. “I was getting lots of shots, so it’s nice that they’re finally going in for me.” 

Swede Magnus Hellberg and Czech Dominik Furch were the only goalies to win two games over the weekend, and the pair dominated all goaltending categories, finishing 1-2 in goals-against average, save percentage and saves. 

Finland’s three points all came from their opening 3-0 win over Russia, which took place in Helsinki. In his home rink, IFK Helsinki goalie Frans Tuohimaa made 18 saves to record the tournament’s only shutout.

The single point gained in the shootout loss to the Czechs was Russia’s only in the tournament after two straight regulation losses, but denied them a chance to force a three-way tie for second. Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk forward Pavel Poryadin, 23, scored two of the team’s five goals over the weekend.

With three of four legs complete, Sweden and the Czech Republic are now tied for first place in this season’s Euro Hockey Tour with 16 points each, followed by Finland with 14 and Russia with eight. The last stop will be in the Czech Republic on the first weekend in May, just before the start of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. For that event, the rosters of the four teams will look very similar to the ones they take to Switzerland.

Europe’s top four hockey nations use the Euro Hockey Tour to prepare their men’s national teams for the annual World Championships and the quadrennial Winter Olympics.

Austria, Slovakia and Switzerland win other events

Meanwhile, at the Kaufland Cup in Poprad, Slovakia, the hosts beat Belarus 4-3 and the Russian B team 2-1 to finish first. Russia B finished second with three points and Belarus lost both games.

“We played as a team. The players battled for each other,” Slovak head coach Craig Ramsay told following the last game of the tournament on Saturday, in which his team scored twice in the first 13 minutes, then held on to beat the Russians. “I think it was our best game of the season.” 

The Osterreich Cup took place in Klagenfurt, Austria, with the host Austrians finishing first by beating Denmark 3-2 in the final on an overtime goal by Ali Wukovitz. Denmark never trailed in regulation time and held a 32-22 edge in shots but Bernhard Starkbaum was solid in the Austrian net. The game for third place was a defensive affair, with France beat Norway 2-1 in a shootout.

Finally, Switzerland won two games against Germany in a series called Prospects Games, in which each team tested young players with limited previous experience with their men’s national teams. With no players over 25 on their roster, the Swiss won 4-2 in Herisau and 2-1 in a shootout in Olten.

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