OAR 6, Switzerland 2
- This was Switzerland’s game to lose, so this one is tough to swallow for their side. OAR scored early, with Anna Shokhina making one of the tournament’s great plays to score while her team was shorthanded by two players. Alina Müller did what Alina Müller does and tied it up right at the start of the second, and after a power play goal from Lara Stalder it looked like the Swiss had finally taken control of the game with a 2-1 lead.
- The Olympic Athletes from Russia then scored four unanswered goals, and then an empty netter, to put it way out of reach for Switzerland. For their part, I thought the Swiss were pushing hard to get it tied up again and generating several key chances, like Müller and Stalder combining for two shorthanded 2-on-1 rushes while down two goals in the third. Nothing came of either of them, however, and OAR made it 5-2 on the same power play.
- OAR was opportunistic and the Swiss had several defensive zone breakdowns that cost them dearly, but I don’t think their performance was so far off the Switzerland team we saw in group play. They didn’t quite walk through Group B; they gave up 39 shots on goal to Japan and beat Sweden by a goal. This isn’t to take away from their 3-0 start at all, and their top players were still creating chances; but I saw a tired Swiss team coming off of two hard-fought games, whereas OAR hadn’t played any close games yet.
- It was an inspiring performance from OAR nonetheless, who badly needed one after three straight blowout losses in group play. In the end, they wound up exactly where they were going to be whether or not they played any of their first three games tightly, and that was in a quarterfinal game with a chance to advance. Shokhina was excellent, scoring two goals and two assists; Olga Sosina was a threat and Yelena Dergachyova was strong as well. Goaltender Nadezhda Morozova was big in net, too, making saves when she needed to and stymieing a Swiss comeback in the third period.
Finland 7, Sweden 2
- I’ll preface this by saying I’m always high on the Finns and believe they’re the clear No. 3 team in the world, but it seems like they tend to play worse against teams like Sweden and Russia than they do against the North American squads, despite the obvious gap there. An example: Finland beat Canada at the 2017 World Championships and would have received a bye to the semifinals if they didn’t lose the group opener to Russia.
- All this is to say that what we’ve seen in this Olympics is something different. After two disappointing losses to the U.S. and Canada to start the tournament, Finland skated to a 5-1 win over Russia and came out blazing in this quarterfinal, scoring early and often to secure the win and advance.
- The usual suspects were involved in the offense in this one, with the top line of Riikka Välilä, Michelle Karvinen and Susanna Tapani scoring four of the Finns’ seven goals. But nine other players had a point, and the line of Petra Nieminen, Venla Hovi, and Linda Välimäki were the ones to get the scoring started once again for the Finns. That’s been huge for them and a big reason why they’ve been able to win more handily in Pyeongchang.
- There are so many great players in this sport and I love watching all of them for different reasons. One of them is Tapani. Nobody makes the game seem easier than her.
- On the flip side of this game, you’ve got to feel for Team Sweden. They were overmatched by the Finns’ talent in this one but it was definitely not for lack of trying or caring in a big quarterfinal game against their rivals. It’s worth noting that the players on the ice aren’t the ones I’d call responsible for what’s become a rather low ceiling for the Swedes. Meredith Foster of The Ice Garden offered good insight last May into what’s gone on behind the scenes with Sweden’s coaching and organizational leadership. They are a hungry, talented group that deserves the proper support, and you’ve got to hope their federation does better by them in the next Olympic cycle.
Semifinals: United States vs. Finland; Canada vs. OAR
Some things to watch for when the United States takes on Finland;
- Look for a big performance in net from Noora Räty, who I believe still has her best to give in this tournament.
- To follow that up, if Finland somehow grabs a multi-goal lead in this game at any point, you’d have to think doubt becomes a factor for a United States team that has lost its scoring prowess under this year’s coaching.
- For Team USA, it would of course be big for momentum if they could get some more players involved in the offense here. The Lamoureux twins, after being shamefully underutilized this entire season, have been great so far at the Olympics, and Kendall Coyne has scored some big goals. But Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker need to get going, and it would be huge if the Hannah Brandt, Dani Cameranesi and Amanda Kessel could finally break out.
- Will USA stick with Maddie Rooney in net? She’s started both of the team’s most important games so far.
And what to watch for when Canada takes on OAR:
- Team Canada also has an interesting question mark in net. Shannon Szabados, in my opinion, has earned the starting job, but all three of Canada’s goalies started one game in group play, with Geneviève Lacasse getting the nod in the match-up against Team USA.
- If this is going to be a game, OAR’s goaltending needs to be nothing short of stellar as well.
- I wouldn’t say it’s a major cause for concern, but Canada was outshot by the Americans two to one in their preliminary round game. They will undoubtedly have a stronger performance in this game, but I think they’d like to get a multi-layered attack rolling early in this one.