"It was a patient process on the offensive side," said U.S. head coach Joel Johnson. "I thought we were really pleased as a group in how our team played."
More than that, it was an historic night. Power forward Hilary Knight tied fellow American icon Cammi Granato's all-time IIHF Ice Hockey Women's Worlds goals record (44) with her third-period marker. Knight grew up idolizing Granato and shares her #21 jersey number.
"To be honest, I didn't even know!" Knight said. "You know, it's just one of those things. You have to cherish every single minute you're in this jersey."
Grace Zumwinkle and Kelly Pannek also scored for the unbeaten Americans, who were full value for the three points with speed and puck pressure. They outshot the Finns 39-10, and Finnish goalie Meeri Raisanen was the main reason it wasn't a more lopsided outcome.
"It wasn't a close game," said Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen. "The USA was way better today. With this team, with eight newcomers, we're not able to play three tough games in a row against either Canada or USA in five nights [including the 4-1 exhibition loss to Canada]. And the third one was too much. We're not ready for that yet."
It was the first encounter between these two rivals since the U.S. controversially edged Finland 2-1 in a shootout in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship gold medal game.
In Espoo, Petra Nieminen appeared to have scored for the hosts in overtime, but the goal was called back after a 12-minute video review, cutting the short the celebrations. Annie Pankowski scored the decisive marker in the shootout for the Americans, who claimed their fifth consecutive world title.
But both teams will tell you that’s ancient history now. This year, the Americans can tie Canada for the most Women’s Worlds gold medals of all time (10). The Finns, still looking for their first win in Calgary, dream of topping the podium for the very first time.
Speaking of history again, with her 70th all-time Women’s Worlds game, Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski took sole possession of the all-time tournament record for most games played, surpassing former teammate Karoliina Rantamaki (69). The two Finns are tied with Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser for the most career Women’s Worlds (13). The 34-year-old Hiirikoski has been named Best Defender seven times at this tournament, among other accolades.
"I think it's always an honour to put this lion jersey on, and then it's really special that I have had that chance 70 times now," Hiirikoski said. "So I need to be really happy that I have stayed healthy for many years. Obviously it's a special moment.
In their openers, the U.S., with Alex Cavallini in net, beat Switzerland 3-0, while Finland, playing goalie Anni Keisala, fell 5-3 to Canada. Johnson and Mustonen both started different veteran netminders for this renewal of hostilities.
Goalie Nicole Hensley, whose last Women’s Worlds game was the U.S.’s 3-2 gold-medal overtime win over Canada in 2017, recorded the relatively easy shutout. Meanwhile, Raisanen, 31, got her first IIHF start since Finland’s 1-0 bronze-medal shootout loss to Russia in 2016.
The Finns were first-time silver medalists in 2019 after earning 12 previous Women’s Worlds bronzes. Based on this outing, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalists have still got work to do to successfully pull off another playoff upset like their 4-2 semi-final ouster of Canada in 2019.
"Our goalie was amazing again, so that came from Meeri's side," Hiirikoski said. "I think we did a good job in our own zone. But there was not so much offensive game for us today. So that, we need to improve a lot."
On the first American goal at 14;31, Scamurra won a battle with defender Minttu Tuominen below the goal line and kicked the puck out front to Zumwinkle, who beat Raisanen high to the short side.
Johnson was happy with how Zumwinkle, a Women's Worlds rookie who has scored twice in as many games, stepped up alongside different linemates in Scamurra and Dani Cameranesi: "'Zum' certainly captured the moment a little bit. And, you know, she heard about it in the locker room, post-game with some good fun. But the thing that Grace is doing well is she's adapting to the national team game in a really quick way."
The first period unmistakably belonged to the Americans with a 17-4 edge in shots. (Eerily, that was the exact same margin as the first period of the 2019 final.) Just before the siren, Brianna Decker nearly made it a two-goal lead when she took a stretch pass from Savannah Harmon but couldn’t fool Raisanen with her rising backhand.
Early in the second period, Knight had a fabulous opportunity when she got a shorthanded breakaway, but Raisanen made a pad save. Moments later, Abby Roque came within a hair’s-breadth in tight. Things got rougher, and the U.S. kept on coming.
Pannek – one of 11 2018 Olympic gold medalists on the U.S. roster – made it 2-0 at 6:25. Defender Jincy Dunne’s shot through traffic ticked off Pannek’s skate through Raisanen.
Pannek commented on the play with a touch of jovial sarcasm: "Jincy did a great job walking and being patient and then choosing the moment to shoot and it hit my skate. Super high-level skill play [by me], really intentional! But it went in the back of the net, and I can't take much credit other than being in the right place at the right time."
For Finnish fans, a mid-game power play with Scamurra off for her second tripping penalty of the night was not encouraging, as Suomi registered zero shots. The Finns, in fact, didn’t test Hensley in the second period until Susanna Tapani’s shot nearly 12 minutes in.
"Our power play is usually extremely strong, and we didn't have it at all today," Mustonen said. "It was the first time in the last year, actually, that we played so lousy on the power play."
In the third period, Finnish defender Nelli Laitinen was shaken up after Knight knocked her over with a high forearm next to Raisanen's crease, taking a roughing penalty. The Finns remained unable to mount effective pressure, even with the 5-on-4 advantage. Knight was foiled on a breakaway after coming out of the box.
Knight finally tallied her landmark goal with 6:58 left in the third, planting herself in the slot to outmuscle Finland's Rosa Lindstedt and converting Lee Stecklein's centering pass into a half-open net.
Despite the loss, Raisanen relished her opportunity to start: "It's been a couple of hard years with injuries and stuff. I've been really happy to be back here, and I really enjoyed every single second on the ice."
While most pre-game talk surrounded the rematch of the 2019 gold medal game, it's worth noting this wasn't a mirror image of the round-robin game between the U.S. and Finns that year. The Finns led 2-1 through the second period, but the U.S. exploded for five third-period goals in a 6-2 victory, outshooting their blue-and-white opponent 45-23.
In general, there was plenty of roster juggling and experimentation on both sides. For the U.S., forwards Britta Curl and Lacey Eden made their long-awaited Women’s Worlds debuts, replacing Jesse Compher and Abbey Murphy. Harmon took over from youngster Caroline Harvey on the blue line.
Finnish forward Noora Tulus missed this game after getting injured against Canada and was replaced by newcomer Emilia Vesa. On defence, Sini Karjailainen slotted in for Aino Karppinen.
The ROC team will face the U.S. on Tuesday and Finland on Wednesday.
"We need to get back our offensive game and also be better on the power play," Hiirikoski emphasized. "That was really lacking today. We obviously need to step up a little bit."
This was the 20th all-time Women’s Worlds game between the U.S. and Finland. The Americans now boast a head-to-head record of 17 regulation wins, one extra-time win, and one extra-time loss.