Advertisement

Canada charges its battery ahead of hectic women's world hockey finale

UTICA, N.Y. — Rested bodies, but prepared minds, was the goal for the Canadian women's hockey team Friday.

The Canadians stayed off the ice, but engaged in intensive boardroom chalk talks ahead of Saturday's world championship semifinal against Czechia, as well as a Sunday game they want to be for the gold medal.

"You always have gold-medal day in mind," Canada's head coach Troy Ryan said. "It's always a juggling match between what's best for you today and tomorrow and how does it impact or potentially impact your gold medal?"

Defending champion United States meets Finland in Saturday afternoon's semifinal followed by Canada versus 2022 and 2023 bronze medallist Czechs in the evening.

With the medal games Sunday, Canada will end the tournament the way it began, which is playing back-to-back games in less than 24 hours.

The Canadians will also play two games in as many days for a third time in the tournament. Friday was their fourth no-skate day since the 12-day tournament began.

"If you're tired, your head's not in it," the head coach said. "You can get more out of having a well-rested athlete that's mentally clear, who understands the concepts we're trying to teach, or trying to get out of our games, than a tired athlete that had a chance to practice it for 20 minutes."

Instead of a team meeting, coaches met with forward lines and defensive pairings separately for more detailed breakdowns.

"It can be a little bit more directed, so the situations we're talking about aren't just team concepts, but they're things that line has experienced throughout this event," Ryan said.

Czechia is coached by former Canadian team defender Carla MacLeod.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist will coach against her former team in a world championship playoff game for the first time Saturday.

Canada blanked the Czechs 5-0 in a Group A game with Ann-Renee Desbiens posting the 13-save shutout.

"I found parts of our Czechia game was exactly what we would want from our players," Ryan said.

"There were parts where there was relentless pressure on the puck, almost like a hunting down and having good stick details, but the once we got possession there seemed to be a little bit of a calm, or a patience with it."

Emerance Maschmeyer started in a 5-1 quarterfinal win over Sweden with Kristen Campbell backing her up, in anticipation that Desbiens could start both weekend games.

Canada's goal-scoring is spread among a dozen players. Kristin O'Neill is the team's points leader with two goals and three assists. Defender Renata Fast is the leading goal scorer with three.

Canada has outscored its opposition 17-3, but a 1-0 overtime loss to the U.S., and giving up 30 shots to them, to cap the preliminary round indicated more is needed when pushed to the limit by the defending champs.

The Canadians ranked second to the U.S. in shots on net, but the Americans' scoring efficiency was 11.5 per cent to Canada's 8.81. Canada's power play ranked second-last among the 10 countries at 1-for-14.

"We have lots to work on still and we know we have better in us," Canadian forward Laura Stacey said.

"Being a united team, being a team that is strong from the very top to the very bottom, that's how you're going to win championships.

"We've talked a lot about being a group that's successful from all different parts, whether it's scoring from defence, scoring from below the goal line, finding different ways to create offence and then finding ways to keep the puck out of our own net too."

The line of Marie-Philip Poulin, 2023 tournament MVP Sarah Fillier and 2022 Olympic tournament MVP Brianne Jenner has yet to really hit its stride with a combined two goals in five games.

Poulin missed three PWHL Montreal games with an undisclosed injury before the international break. Ryan has gradually increased his captain's minutes to a tournament-high 17:22 in the quarterfinal win over Sweden.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press