Loren Gabel scored twice and added an assist to lead Canada to a 6-1 win over host Finland in the final group game. Canada will face Germany and Finland will battle the Czechs in Thursday's quarter-finals.
"I thought we played a hard 60 minutes," said Gabel, the 2019 Patty Kazmaier Award winner who hones her sniper skills by shooting 500 pucks a day. "Obviously there's room for improvement, but I think overall we had a really good game. We just need to carry that into the next few games we have here."
This much-anticipated evening matchup at Metro Areena started out as a showcase of arguably the world’s two best goalies in Finland’s Noora Raty, a 2018 Olympic all-star, and Canada’s Shannon Szabados, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. However, Raty, apparently ailing, exited the game just after the midpoint with Canada up 3-0. The Canadians outshot Finland 49-23.
"Canada was better," said Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen. "It was 6-1, nothing to discuss about. They won the one-on-one battles and they had good speed. We ended up in our own zone. We couldn't match them today. So they were simply better."
Canada's Brianne Jenner served as captain in place of Marie-Philip Poulin, as the Olympic heroine is sidelined with a knee injury. Jenner had a goal, while Erin Ambrose added a goal and an assist, and Rebecca Johnston and Sarah Nurse also scored. Ann-Sophie Bettez earned her first points in a Canadian uniform with two assists, and Renata Fast also had a pair of helpers.
Of Poulin's availability for the quarter-final, Canadian coach Perry Pearn said: ""The decision will be made, but I will be surprised if she is able to play."
The last time these two teams met in Women’s Worlds round-robin action, Finland defeated Canada 4-3 in Plymouth, Michigan (2017) on Ronja Savolainen’s goal with under two minutes to play. It was an historic first for the Lionesses.
Of course, Canada then rebounded to blank the Finns 4-0 in the semi-finals. The Canadians had also won 21 straight Women’s Worlds games versus Finland previously. So Pearn’s team was still the favourite coming in, and the motherland of hockey lived up to its reputation.
"Obviously we didn't play very well today, but I think Canada was really good today," Raty said. "They took our time and space away all the time. They were really good at faceoffs. I've never seen them that good at faceoffs."
A determined Canadian effort stymied the first Finnish power play with Natalie Spooner off for hooking, as the Finns exerted great pressure.
As in the 6-0 tournament-opening win over Switzerland, Gabel opened the scoring for Canada. The 21-year-old Team Canada rookie from Clarkson University came off the wall to Raty’s left and surprised the goalie from the faceoff circle with a rising short-side shot at 10:44. Bettez, 31, provided a nice set-up.Of Gabel's success, Jenner said: "I'm not surprised. She had a really good pre-camp. I love playing with her. Lots of chemistry there. She's got a pretty world-class release."
Canada went up 2-0 at the 14-minute mark. When Jillian Saulnier centred the puck from behind the goal line to a pinching Ambrose, Raty made the first stop, but couldn’t control the rebound, which Johnston fired into the open side. The Canadians outshot Finland 16-6 in the first period.
At 4:01 of the second period, Finland’s Venla Hovi tripped up Blayre Turnbull, with whom she won the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup with the Calgary Inferno last month, in the neutral zone. It augured a tough middle frame for the host team.
Gabel scored her second on the night at 15:35 on another nice feed from Bettez, roofing it over Raty’s glove. The legendary Finnish starter pulled herself out of the game at this point, having made 26 saves. She had seemed to be in some physical discomfort as early as the end of the first period. Eveliina Suonpaa, who backstopped Finland to the 6-2 win over Switzerland, relieved Raty.
"That was her decision, some sort of problem with something," said Mustonen. "I don't know. Probably a measure to take to be sure to be able to play on Thursday. That's the only thing I know.
Raty offered a slightly different account: "That was the plan: if they have a lead, then why not rest for Thursday, because that's the bigger game?"
The overall momentum didn't shift. Jenner, set up by Gabel scored a beauty over Suonpaa's pad to make it 4-0 at 18:23.
The Finns got some life at 2:42 of the third period when Viitasuo floated one from the left point and surprised Szabados to make it 4-1.
However, Nurse hustled in to make it 5-1 at 9:51. Then Jamie Lee Rattray found Ambrose streaking to the net and she tipped it in for Canada's sixth goal at 11:32.
Things got rough down the stretch. Ambrose left Annina Rajahuhta shaken up with a hit, and she had to be helped off the ice by teammates. A scrum erupted around Szabados after Susanna Tapani gave her a snow shower with under two minutes left. None of it, of course, had any impact on the scoreboard.
Looking forward to the quarter-final, Gabel said: "It'll be a good matchup. Germany's a good team. They have a good goalie and we've got to get shots to the net and get some screens. Hopefully we can bury some."
Tarja Halonen, Finland’s first female President (2000-2012), attended the game and received a round of applause when she appeared on the Jumbotron between whistles. In that vein, the Lionesses will have to hope they can govern themselves better against the Czechs.
"Really good team with the puck," Raty said about the Czechs. "Their power play is on point. I've seen them play and they have a lot of skill, especially on the first line. So we'll have to stay out of the box. Their goalie's really good too. So a lot of screens and crashing the net will be the key for us."