With a dazzling 55-save performance, Swiss goalie Andrea Braendli made sure it wasn't a cakewalk for the U.S. on Day One. The defending champions had to work hard for their 3-0 victory over Switzerland in the third game at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.
"It was a great team win," said U.S. star Brianna Decker, who scored the first-period winner and added an assist. "We were long overdue to get back to this tournament and play. We have some things to clean up, but we stuck with it and put one in the win column."
Under first-time head coach Joel Johnson, the Americans, who defeated Canada 3-2 in a shootout in the 2018 Olympic final, are questing for their sixth consecutive Women’s Worlds gold medal. The U.S. outshot Switzerland 58-10.
Reuniting the legendary Stars and Stripes top line with Decker centering captain Kendall Coyne Schofield and Hilary Knight paid dividends from the get-go. The veteran aces combined for five points.
"They make it easy to play," Decker said. "I love playing with them. They support the puck well and we move the puck well. It's been a long, long time since we've been together. So of course, we're excited to get back out there."
This was the U.S.'s smallest margin of victory ever over Switzerland. The Americans entered this opener with an all-time Women’s Worlds record of eight wins and zero losses to Switzerland and a goal difference of 78-5. The U.S. won the last three encounters, including an 8-0 romp in Espoo in 2019, by an aggregate of 23-0.
"The 3-0 score is great for the ladies," said Swiss head coach Colin Muller. "It's something to build for tomorrow and for the future and this nation."
"[Today], everyone came to battle," Swiss captain Lara Stalder said. "Everyone fought for the red cross instead of the back of the jersey. And I think that's exactly what we have to bring again. Fight, whatever you have left in your tanks. And then good things will happen with offensive production."
The 23-year-old Braendli, who played her first three Women’s Worlds games in 2019 with a 4.68 GAA and 90.1 save percentage, gave it the proverbial 110 percent in her first Calgary start.
Asked afterwards if she was tired, Braendli said: "A little bit. I'd say. I've been sweating a lot. I'm still sweating a lot, actually! But no, I think we'd like the whole team played a really, really good game. And they really helped me out. I could have been more even more tired if they wouldn't have helped me that much."
With the U.S.’s tremendous depth in net, intrigue surrounded Johnson’s choice of starter. He opted for Alex Cavallini, who delivered the shutout. The 29-year-old posted a 2019 Women’s Worlds-leading 0.53 GAA and 95.3 save percentage in Espoo and was in net when the U.S. edged host Finland 2-1 in a shootout in the wild gold medal game.
"She's just proven over time and recent history to be the number one goalie for our club," said Johnson. "And that's taking nothing away from from Nicole [Hensley] or Aerin [Frankel] who's proved herself to be a great goalie. When Maddie [Rooney] got hurt, Aerin jumped in. Nicole's right there. We've got great goaltending in USA Hockey and we're proud of it. Alex is just the person who got the call tonight and she played fantastic."
It took 4:29 for the U.S. to draw first blood versus the Swiss. In tight, Coyne Schofield backhanded the puck off Braendli’s pads, collected the rebound, and slid it cross-crease to Decker, who scored into the gaping cage. The nifty Coyne Schofield, who was named Best Forward in 2019, leapt into the air in jubilation behind the goal line.
In the absence of fans, Swiss forwards Mara Frey and Emma Ingold, who were scratched for the opener, did their best to rally their team by singing and pounding on an improvised drum in the stands.
Playing hard and scrappy, Switzerland generated a couple of first-period chances off the rush, but Cavallini said no. The U.S. peppered Braendli from every angle. Tempers flared when the U.S.’s Jesse Compher wrestled next to Braendli’s crease with Switzerland’s Alina Muller, the 2018 Olympic goals leader (7), and both were sent off.
The U.S. hemmed the Swiss in their end during a period-ending power play with Stalder in the box, but Braendli held down the fort. First-period shots favoured the U.S. 23-4.
In the second period, the ever-devious Decker won a draw in the Swiss end, stickhandled forward, and dished the puck to Coyne Schofield for a 2-0 lead at 4:08.
"We're just trying to get in a rhythm as far as faceoff and trying different things," said Decker. "I think we were all just on the same page heading into that draw and just tried something different. Not a lot of people are going to be able to stick with Kendall back door off the faceoff. She's one of the quickest players in the world."
The U.S. kept coming. At 18:23, Grace Zumwinkle made it 3-0 with her first career Women’s Worlds goal. The 22-year-old forward, named a 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award finalist with the University of Minnesota, powered in off the left side and beat Braendli through the legs.
"It's super-exciting. Coming into the tournament, my biggest thing is just getting pucks to the net. So it was a bit of a surprise for me, but I'll take it!"
As Ohio State’s starter, Braendli is no stranger to the Americans, as she played with rookie U.S. defender Jincy Dunne there and dueled with Zumwinkle in NCAA action.
Braendli was hard-pressed to recall the highlights among her 55 stops after this game: "I think after like two minutes, my brain just stopped working. And I just functioned. So I can't even remember like half the game. I just remember at the end, when everyone came to me and hugged me."
Switzerland takes on Russia on Saturday, while the Americans will face Finland in a hotly anticipated 2019 final rematch on Sunday.
Muller cautioned: "Against the Russians, we have to make sure we're playing a disciplined game again, not taking anything for granted, thinking, 'OK, now it's easier.'"