As a team.
This time it was all that much sweeter – and exhausting – having knocked off Finland 4-1 in what was a tenaciously furious bout between two teams clearly each tasting a role in deciding who takes gold at this year’s U18 Women’s World Championships. But the victory was surely no easy task.
The game got off to a furious start with both teams taking no prisoners. The relentless action was what you’d expect from a playoff game as both teams attacked back and forth, one wave after another. The game also included a distinctly physical factor, something that would come to play a big role once the refs began having to raise their arms regularly.
At the 6:11 mark of the first period, Canada started putting its stamp on the game when Marianne Picard rifled in a shot off a pass from Ashley Messier. Exactly one minute later, Canadian forward Jenna Buglioni followed suit off a finely timed pass from Brianna Legros, giving the team a quick 2-0 lead.
The teams exchanged opportunities, and several power plays, until Lindsay Bochna wristed in a hard, almost no-angle shot off a face-off won by Messier to give the team a commanding 3-0 lead with only 32 seconds left in the first period.
“Goals like that one are big goals, because they’re momentum changers,” summarized Messier. “Going into the locker room having added one like that keeps you energized and reminds you about what’s going on. It gets you excited and has you thinking about how the other team must be down. It was a big momentum shifter and thus, a key goal.”
While down a woman, Canada was forced to make a move that could be aptly referred to as unorthodox when it replaced starting goalie Eve Gascon with back-up Kayle Osborne in the 39th minute of play due to an equipment problem. Finland immediately tried to bring a flurry of shots on net to take advantage of the situation, but ended up declining its own power play when Kiira Yrkanen took an ill-timed tripping penalty after several incomplete passes led to a shorthanded Canadian attack.
“I just had a little problem with my skate. It was nothing serious, but couldn’t be taken care of right away,” explained Gascon. “I wasn’t worried at all though. I know that Kayle is an excellent goalie and we were in good hands, no longer what was going to happen with my equipment.”
The game’s intensity only picked up in the third period, with Canada taking two more penalties within the first five minutes of the period. Just 13 seconds into the second penalty, Finland was finally able to get on the board on the strength of a precise blueline wrister from captain Nelli Laitinen. Unfortunately for Finland, this seemed to be just the tonic Canada required to pick up the pace all over the ice.
After a pick-up in their skating game and corner work, Kendall Cooper managed to dance through the Finnish zone, deking out several defenders along the way, before popping the puck by Kiia Lahtinen, who’s solid and composed performance certainly didn’t resemble that of a goalie that had been beaten four times today. After all, she wasn’t going to be the one scoring goals on the power play, for example.
After the tally that made it 4-1, there was little a desperate Finland could do to avoid defeat. Their efforts led to a few more shorthanded situations and Canada was able to bring the victory home through a good bit of puck possession and a lot of battle.
“Finland has a great team. They’re fast. They’re skilled. They’re well-coached. That’s very evident. They’ve got great goaltending. This game could have gone either way, at moments, but we were able to put the puck in the net when we most needed to and that served us well,” explained Canada’s head coach Howie Draper.
With this victory, the first gold medal game contestant has been determined. The USA and Russia will soon duke it out to become Canada’s opponent for gold.
“Both the USA and Russia are great teams,” Draper continued. “They’re quite diverse. They bring unique elements to their game. We’re going to wait and see which match-up we get and then we’re going to do our best to plan a course of action to help us be successful.”
We’re all looking forward to finding out who that opponent will be – and how Coach Draper will fine-tune his troops for the next challenge.