Canada's offence rounding into form ahead of women's world final against U.S.

·4 min read

HERNING — For Canada to defend its women's world hockey title, it needs to put finishing touches on what's been a work in progress throughout the tournament.

Archrival United States has been a scoring machine in Denmark, while Canada's tinkered with forward lines in an effort to find chemistry.

Canada may have established that in time for Sunday's gold-medal game against the U.S. in Herning, if Saturday's 8-1 semifinal win over Switzerland is an indication.

Canada scored the types of goals it will likely need to beat the U.S. — generated from below the half wall and scored from within a two-metre radius of the crease.

"The way we were contributing offensively, the way we put the puck on the net, keeping it simple, taking those rebounds and trying to put them in, I think that was key for us," said Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored twice against the Swiss.

"We tend to want to do to the pretty play, but I think if we keep getting gritty and dirty in front of the net, I think that's going to be important for us to do tomorrow."

The U.S. will attempt the same, so in addition to the usual goaltending and special teams factors, the final will be won or lost in the box between and below the faceoff dots at both ends of the ice.

The Canadians also got contributions Saturday from players who'd had a quiet tournament. Brianne Jenner, whose nine goals in February's Winter Olympics tied a tournament record, scored her first in Denmark.

Sarah Nurse, who set assist and points records in Beijing, scored her second goal of the tournament.

Head coach Troy Ryan continued to work different forward combinations Saturday, shifting Sarah Potomak onto a line with Poulin and Jenner and moving Victoria Bach to join Jessie Eldridge and Emma Maltais.

Eldridge and Kristin O'Neill scored their first goals of the tournament. Sarah Fillier's goal was her team-leading fifth. Emily Clark also scored and defender Ella Shelton had a pair of assists.

Canadian goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens stopped five shots for the win. Canada put 56 on the Swiss net and had more to show for it than three goals on 57 shots in a quarterfinal win over Sweden.

"I thought we showed more depth today. More lines contributed in some capacity," Ryan said. "We got away from just relying on our high offence. We went low, we went middle and went high. That's just a lot better way for us to play.

"We'd got kind of predictable. I thought we had a little more variety tonight. If we bring that variety tomorrow, it will cause some problems."

Not only is the U.S. unbeaten in six games, including a 5-2 win over Canada in the preliminary round, but they've outscored their opposition 52-5 compared to Canada's 30-8.

While veterans Amanda Kessel and Hilary Knight have been consistent producers with six goals apiece, rookie Taylor Heise leads the tournament's points parade with seven goals and 11 assists.

Heise said she and her teammates worked hard on offensive net-front play and tips and deflections during their pre-tournament camp in Buffalo.

"In games, we've had so many great tips and so many great tip goals," Heise said. "We work so hard in the small areas because we want those opportunities for our teammates."

The U.S. has reached the final of every women's championship since the inaugural tournament in Ottawa in 1990 and has won nine gold medals.

The only time Canada, winner of 11 gold, didn't meet the U.S. in the final was in 2019 when it was upset in the semifinal by host Finland in Espoo.

Canada edged the U.S. 3-2 in overtime a year ago in Calgary to claim gold and halt its rival's run of titles at five straight.

The Canadians then prevailed 3-2 in Beijing for Olympic gold. They'd lost it in a shootout to the U.S. four years earlier in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Canada may hold both titles, but the U.S. poses a formidable barrier in claiming a third women's hockey crown in the span of a year.

Veteran offensive threats Natalie Spooner and Mélodie Daoust, as well as Olympic all-star defender Claire Thompson, didn't report to Canada's selection camp in August for personal reasons.

So the composition and strategy of Canada's world championship team is different than the high-octane Olympic side that outscored its opposition 57-10 in Beijing, Ryan said.

"It doesn't do anybody any justice to compare this team to last year's team or any other team from Hockey Canada," he stated.

"The coolest thing about this situation is if we're going to be successful, it's going to be completely different. It doesn't mean it's better or worse. It's just different.

Czechia, the country commonly referred to as the Czech Republic, lost 10-1 to the United States in their semifinal, and will face Switzerland for the bronze medal Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press