Many would argue that the mere presence of Japan in lieu of Sweden in the final eight constitutes a surprise. And under the new 10-team format, it feels surprising to see the U.S. and Canada in quarter-final action instead of enjoying their traditional semi-final byes.
However, trends that will either persist or die on Thursday are more likely than surprises to shape the big picture. Here are 5 trends to watch in the quarter-finals at Espoo’s Metro Areena.
1) Effective Czech NCAA snipers
Proportionately speaking, no elite European nation relies more heavily on NCAA-schooled talent to put the puck in the net than the Czech Republic. So far at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, it’s paying dividends with a perfect Group B record.
Ten of the 13 Czech goals have been scored by current or former NCAA players. Captain Alena Mills (Brown University), Denisa Krizova (Northeastern), Tereza Vanisova and Vendula Pribylova (Maine) lead the way with two apiece.
That said, if the Finns can minimize the effectiveness of the Czech college connection in Thursday’s late quarter-final, the home crowd will almost certainly go home happy.
2) Dominant Canadian faceoff specialists
If there’s one area where Canada unquestionably outshines other nations, it’s on the draw. The absence of captain Marie-Philip Poulin hurts in many areas, but other Canadian forwards are maintaining an excellent standard with faceoffs. As at the end of the 2018 Olympics, Brianne Jenner (75.71 percent), Melodie Daoust (65.62 percent), and Emily Clark (58.82) are all in the top 10.
Of note, no other Group A nation has anyone in the top 10 who, like the aforementioned Canadians, has taken 50 or more draws. And by that criteria, the best American so far is Kelly Pannek (48.39 percent), who sits 21st overall.
The Germans may not end up touching the puck much in their quarter-final battle with Canada if this trend continues.
3) U.S. offence that’s almost TWO good to be true
Apart from when the Americans trailed Finland 2-1 going into the third period of their opener, things have gone almost exactly to plan for coach Bob Corkum’s crew. The four-time defending World Champions are blowing the competition away with a goal difference of 27-4.
Against non-North American opponents, they’ve increased their offensive output by two goals in every game to date. They beat Finland 6-2, Switzerland 8-0, and Russia 10-0.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. will score 12 times on Japan in the early quarter-final. The Japanese women have shown a genuine commitment to team defence. They haven’t allowed more three goals in a game in Espoo, and their penalty kill is tied with Canada’s for tops (87.5 percent).
However, that was against Group B opposition. Japan, sitting seventh in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking, hasn’t seen anything like the U.S. power play (35.7 percent). If captain Kendall Coyne Schofield and her troops get rolling early, the “curse of two” might wreak havoc on Japan as well.
4) Stalled Swiss scoring
The Swiss will be seeking revenge in their playoff opener versus Russia. The Russians spoiled their dreams of building on 2014’s Olympic bronze with a 6-2 quarter-final thrashing in PyeongChang
However, while Russia’s goal difference of 3-20 in Espoo is only marginally better than Switzerland’s 3-22, the Russians lacked top sniper Anna Shokhina early on due to a two-game suspension. Shokhina scored two goals and two assists in last year’s quarter-final rout. The Russians have great potential to break out in a situation like this.
Blanked by both Canada (6-0) and the U.S. (8-0), the Swiss opened the scoring on goals by Evelina Raselli in their group losses to both Russia (2-1) and Finland (6-2). Someone other than Raselli needs to provide the spark for a change.
With SDHL gunner Lara Stalder sidelined, 2018 Olympic scoring leader Alina Muller (one goal on 9 shots) and Phoebe Staenz (zero goals on 6 shots) are the most viable candidates. If stalled Swiss scoring stays a trend, coach Daniela Diaz’s team will go home early.
5) Yanked Russian goalies
It’s rare that a team yanks its starting goalie in three consecutive games. And yet that’s precisely what’s happened with Russia at this tournament.
Anna Prugova replaced the valiant Valeria Merkusheva with 12:07 left in the 4-0 loss to Finland. Nadezhda Morozova replaced Prugova after Blayre Turnbull made it 3-0 with 33:34 remaining in the 5-1 loss to Canada. And Prugova replaced Merkusheva again after Lee Stecklein made it 5-0 with 31:42 left in the 10-0 loss to the Americans.
So the Swiss must hope Russian coach Alexei Chistyakov pulls the proverbial trigger again, because that’ll signal things are finally going Switzerland’s way again. Fans in the Motherland, though, will be looking for a wire-to-wire effort from one goalie.