This was the first gold medal game between the North American superpowers since the U.S. edged Canada 3-2 in a climactic shootout at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Superstar Hilary Knight, the tournament scoring leader (3+4=7), shone in the final with two goals for the Americans, who earned their fourth straight 4 Nations Cup and ninth overall. Olympic linemates Kendall Coyne Schofield and Brianna Decker had a goal and an assist apiece, and Melissa Samoskevich added a single. For Canada, Laura Fortino and Jaime Bourbonnais had the goals.
“It’s a great rivalry,” said Knight. “When you’re in Canada, there’s a lot more pressure. It’s good to gain that momentum, going into the next tournament, the next game. Lots to work on, but I’m extremely happy with our squad.”
The result at the SaskTel Centre continued the recent trend of U.S. dominance. Not only are the Americans the reigning Olympic champions, but they have also won seven of the last eight IIHF Women’s World Championships. Canada last won a Women’s Worlds in 2012.
Earlier Saturday, Finland topped Sweden 4-2 to win the bronze medal.
USA Hockey can be happy about their success at this annual tournament, as their program is in transition. They’re seeking a replacement for long-time GM Reagan Carey, who stepped down in late October, and are adjusting to just-announced head coach Bob Corkum, who is looking for more north-south play. Still, the U.S.’s consistent emphasis on speed and puck possession continues to pay dividends.
“I think we played too much on the perimeter,” said Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin. “We’ve got to get in those fights in front of the net. We kind of shoot from the outside and there’s nobody in front. I think that’s going to have to be something we’ll have to work on.”
This was not a rematch of Olympic goalies. Shannon Szabados, who has started three straight Olympic finals, got the call again for Canada before being yanked early in the third period for Emerance Maschmeyer. However, the U.S.’s Maddie Rooney, who famously foiled Canada’s Meghan Agosta on the final shootout attempt in PyeongChang, was rested in favour of veteran Alex Rigsby.
Of the decision to start Rigsby, Corkum said: “The little bit of experience I’ve had with the goaltenders, I was impressed with the way she played all summer. She looked good in practice in Chicago at pre-camp and certainly played well here.”
It took just 1:28 for Knight to open the scoring on a wraparound, jamming the puck past the left skate of Szabados. Canada quickly struck back at 3:49, with Fortino’s rising shot deflecting before finding the twince. Yet at 16:31, it was 2-1 U.S., as Samoskevich got her stick on the ice to finish off Kelly Pannek’s cross-ice feed on a 2-on-1.
Canada stormed Rigby’s net during an early second-period power play, but couldn’t cash in. The pure speed of Decker’s line paid off on the 3-1 U.S. goal, as Coyne Schofield found a streaking Brodt and Decker converted her pass at 11:37. Just 24 seconds later, Sidney Morin hammered a point shot that Knight tipped over Szabados’ shoulder to make it 4-1.
“Playing on a line with Hilary Knight is probably a dream for everyone since they were little,” said Dani Cameranesi, who assisted on both of Knight’s goals. “I’ve learned a lot from her and we just clicked really well this week.”
Coyne Schofield’s goal on a rebound 41 seconds into the third period ended Szabados’ night. Maschmeyer stopped both U.S. shots she faced in relief, and Canada’s Jaime Bourbonnais sent a power-play slapper over Rigsby’s glove for her first national team tally at 9:57 to cut the deficit to 5-2, but that was as close as the hosts would get. Final shots were even at 25 apiece.
“I think we have so much talent that we should be able to create more [chances],” said Canada’s Natalie Spooner. “I think it’s just using them better. I think they probably didn’t have that many more scoring chances than us – or we probably had more – but they were able to capitalize on them. I think we just have to really focus on that and figure out how we’re going to get behind their D and capitalize on them.”
The last time Canada won the 4 Nations Cup was also the last time it hosted (Kamloops, 2014). The Canadians have 14 golds from this tournament. This was Canada’s first tournament under head coach Perry Pearn and new GM Gina Kingsbury.
“We’ll be working on a lot of things as a group going forward, and we have a three-game series coming up in February before Worlds, another chance to play the U.S. three times,” said Fortino. “So we’re excited and looking forward to that.”
As with other international women’s tournaments, the 4 Nations Cup remains a constant showpiece of North American excellence. The biggest upset in tournament history came when the Finns defeated the Americans 3-1 in Lake Placid in 2013 on the strength of Noora Raty’s 58 saves, propelling them to a surprising silver medal.
The Finns, who battled illness through this 4 Nations Cup, earned bronze for the third straight year. Saturday’s 4-2 win over Sweden was particularly remarkable since it came with first-line mainstays Riikka Valila and Michelle Karvinen both out of the line-up.
“It feels good, really good,” said Finnish defender Minttu Tuominen. “We’re a little bit exhausted after a tough tournament like that. We didn’t have too many players. It’s a tournament we’ll remember for sure!”
At 10:31 of the first period, Pernilla Winberg’s long shot tipped past Raty for a 1-0 Swedish lead, with the assist to Maja Nylen-Persson. Winberg tied for the points lead at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, while Nylen-Persson was Sweden’s youngest player in PyeongChang at age 17.
The Finns tied it up at 10:08 of the second period, as tireless captain Jenni Hiirikoski rushed the puck end to end and lofted one past Sweden’s Maria Omberg. But a minute later, Sweden made it 2-1. Winberg charged to the goal crease and banged a loose puck in.
At 5:01 of the third period, Finland’s Sanni Hakala jammed a power-play rebound past Omberg’s left skate to knot the score. Another gritty play gave Finland its first lead at 8:36, as Tanja Niskanen dipsy-doodled to the net and tumbled into Omberg, and Annina Rajahuhta pushed the puck home. The Swedes argued for a review, but the goal stood. Just 29 seconds later, Nieminen tipped in the 4-2 goal, and the Damkronorna couldn’t muster a comeback.
Sweden has never done better than bronze at this tournament. The Damkronorna last came third in 2014, and have eight bronze medals in total.
“It feels like we have a great team,” said Winberg. “We played really well against the U.S. and Canada. We had a lot of good chances. Usually we might not have as many chances as we did this tournament. We were taking steps forward and getting closer to all the teams. Unfortunately, against Finland we weren’t as good as we thought we could be.”
Some newcomers made a positive impression at the 4 Nations Cup. The U.S.’s Brodt, a 20-year-old forward from the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, tied Knight and Canada’s Melodie Daoust for the tournament goals lead (three). She credited her linemates, Decker and Coyne Schofield, who have traditionally played with Knight, a two-time Women’s Worlds MVP.
“They made it easy to play with them,” Brodt said. “They’re such great players. They like to play fast, and that’s the game I like to play too. So it was super-fun getting to play with them.”
Also drawing rave reviews was rookie Finnish blueliner Nelli Laitinen. Just 16 years old, the Espoo Blues player was frequently paired with Hiirikoski, named Best Defender at the last two Olympics.
“This lady should be one of the best D’s in the world in the next Olympics,” said Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen of Laitinen. “That’s my opinion. She’s very special. She does things nobody does in the game, at least in Scandinavia. Naturally, she needs years to practise. But my guess is she will be among the all-stars in the Olympics in the future.”
The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, which will be the first ever to feature 10 teams, will take place in Espoo, Finland (4-14 April). In July, the IOC approved the IIHF proposal to expand the field to 10 teams at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing as well.
In IIHF history, Saskatoon is best-known for hosting the 1991 World Juniors, where John Slaney’s third-period goal lifted Canada to gold with a 3-2 win over the Soviet Union, and the 2010 World Juniors, where U.S. defenceman John Carlson scored the 6-5 overtime winner against the host Canadians in the final. Hosting the 4 Nations Cup for the first time certainly adds some more spice to the international hockey lore of Saskatchewan’s largest city.
The 4 Nations Cup was one of several concurrent highlights on the international women’s hockey calendar. Here’s what else happened in early November.
Russia doesn’t miss in SwitzerlandRussia dominated the International Chablais Hockey Trophy in Monthey, Switzerland with three straight wins over the Czech Republic (6-2), Germany (4-0), and the host Swiss (8-1).
Both Russia and Switzerland were undefeated after the first two days but the game for first place was a lopsided one with Olga Sosina scoring a hat trick to become the scoring leader of the tournament with seven points (4+3=7).
The Swiss are recalibrating their roster after the recent retirements of 2014 Olympic MVP goalie Florence Schelling and star rearguard Christine Meier, among others.
The Czech Republic beat Germany 6-3 on the last day to claim third place.
Danish success at Six NationsNot a traditional participant in the Six Nations Tournament in Budapest, Hungary, the Chinese women made an unusual appearance in the International Break as they aim to develop talent prior to hosting the 2022 Beijing Olympics. However, there is still work to be done, as China wound up losing the fifth-place game 6-0 to France following three losses.
Denmark edged Slovakia 4-3 in the final. The Slovaks led the game 3-2 when with 8:01 to go in regulation time Silke Glud scored her second goal to tie it up. With 4:32 to go Nicoline Jensen scored Denmark’s game-winner during a power play.
The Hungarians celebrated the bronze medal after hammering Norway 8-4 in a game for third place.
Interestingly, Denmark is currently the only nation whose women and men share the exact same IIHF World Ranking (12th overall with 3130 points).
Poles sweep host LatviansThe Latvian women played a two-game weekend exhibition series against Poland in Valmiera, a small historic city an hour and a half by car northeast of Riga. The Poles handily won both games, 6-1 and 7-0. Latvia is currently ranked 18th in the IIHF Women’s World Rankings, while Poland is ranked 22nd.
|Four Nations Cup in Canada|
|6 Nov||Saskatoon (CAN)||USA||Finland||6-1|
|6 Nov||Saskatoon (CAN)||Sweden||Canada||1-5|
|7 Nov||Saskatoon (CAN)||Finland||Sweden||3-2|
|7 Nov||Saskatoon (CAN)||Canada||USA||1-2|
|9 Nov.||Saskatoon (CAN)||Sweden||USA||1-5|
|9 Nov.||Saskatoon (CAN)||Canada||Finland||3-0|
|10 Nov.||Saskatoon (CAN)||Sweden||Finland||2-4|
|10 Nov.||Saskatoon (CAN)||Canada||USA||2-5|
|Standings: 1. USA, 2. Canada, 3. Finland, 4. Sweden|
|International Chablais Hockey Trophy in Switzerland|
|9 Nov.||Monthey (SUI)||Russia||Czech Rep.||6-2|
|9 Nov.||Monthey (SUI)||Switzerland||Germany||3-2|
|10 Nov.||Monthey (SUI)||Germany||Russia||0-4|
|10 Nov.||Monthey (SUI)||Czech Rep.||Switzerland||1-4|
|11 Nov.||Monthey (SUI)||Germany||Czech Rep.||3-6|
|11 Nov.||Monthey (SUI)||Switzerland||Russia||1-8|
|Standings: 1. Russia 9, 2. Switzerland 5, 3. Czech Rep. 3, 4. Germany 1|
|Six Nations Tournament in Hungary|
|7 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||France||Slovakia||2-3 OT|
|7 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Hungary||China||5-0|
|8 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Norway||Slovakia||1-2|
|8 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Denmark||China||9-1|
|9 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Slovakia||China||5-3|
|9 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Norway||France||4-3 OT|
|9 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Hungary||Denmark||5-6|
|10 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||France||China||6-0|
|10 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Slovakia||Denmark||3-4|
|10 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Norway||Hungary||4-8|
|Standings: 1. Denmark, 2. Slovakia, 3. Hungary, 4. Norway, 5. France, 6. China|
|10 Nov.||Valmiera (LAT)||Latvia||Poland||1-6|
|11 Nov.||Valmiera (LAT)||Latvia||Poland||0-7|