Who will win bronze?
by Andrew Podnieks|15 FEB 2022
The Swiss beat the Finns, 3-2, last week. Can they do it again for a medal?
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
There will be plenty to anticipate in the bronze-medal showdown between the Swiss and the Finns. Informally, it is considered the European championship because the third-place game has featured Euro teams every time at the Olympics except 2006. Finland has played in six of seven games, and the one time they didn’t, 2014, was the only time the Swiss did—when they played Sweden, and won, 4-3.

The Swiss also beat Finland last week, winning, 3-2. That was significant because it was only their third win against 13 losses all time in Olympic and Women’s Worlds competition. Both teams are coming off losses in the semi-finals, of course, but this might be as close to a 50-50 game as you get. 

If both coaches play the odds, it will be Anni Keisala against Andrea Brandli. Advantage Finland here. Brandli has allowed a whopping 28 goals, although most of those came in two games against Canada—12 in the first game, four in the second before getting pulled. Keisala has been considered the heir apparent to Noora Raty and has played all but two periods so far in Beijing. She also had a rough outing against Canada but was excellent in the semi-finals against the U.S. These teams met for bronze last year in Calgary at the most recent Women’s Worlds, and Finland won, 3-1. Keisala was the winner there while Saskia Maurer was the goalie of record for the Swiss.

Advantage to the Finns here as well, but not by much. These teams have allowed more shots than any other so far. The Swiss have surrendered an incredible 292 shots against, nearly 50 a game. And the Finns have given up 210, or 36 a game. It’s no wonder Brandli has the GAA she has, and clearly the key for both teams is to spend more time in their opponent’s end. The Finns have captain and perennial all-star Jenni Hiirikoski as their stud. She can play 25 minutes a game or more and is a key part of the team’s offence. In fact, the difference in scoring from the blue line is dramatic. The Finnish defenders have a combined four goals and 16 points while the Swiss have just one goal (Lara Christen) and five assists. The Swiss defenders have had a tough time in their own end and just as tough in the other end.

Only 23 and at the height of her powers, Alina Muller is the player to watch. Paired with longtime linemate and captain Lara Stalder, these two have dominated the team’s offence, scoring nine of the team’s 13 goals. They are the only players from either team in the top 12 in scoring. Muller has 10 points and Stalder nine. Muller led all scorers in 2018 with 10 points, but four years ago the Swiss were in Group B and most of her points were against the lower-ranked teams. This year, the Swiss are in the top group and all her points are against the best of the best. Ditto for Stalder. They are a truly remarkable pair. The Finns have plenty of firepower of their own, but they haven't left quite the same impression. They have 18 goals in six games, but seven of that number came in their 7-1 quarter-finals win against Japan. Susanna Tapani has five goals and Petra Nieminen has three and four assists. 

Power Play
Finland has been operating at an impressive 33.3 per cent clip so far, going 7-for-21, enough to give the Swiss something to worry about when they take a penalty. The Swiss have six goals of their own with the extra skater, in 27 chances, so theirs has been an effective setup as well. 

Penalty Kill
The Finns have taken 25 minors to 19 for the Swiss, and both teams have given up four goals while short-handed. That works out to about 80 per cent each, which is very respectable, but it will be a matter of staying out of the box in the first place. This is achieved by using speed and not being outhustled, and it also means discipline—no retaliation, no lazy penalties in the offensive end, no lazy stick plays when there are teammates to support the play.

Making History
Both teams have players trying to make their own Olympic history. No European woman has won more than two medals at the Games. Jenni Hiirikoski and Michelle Karvinen are here in Beijing trying to win a third with the Finns. As well, there are five Swiss players who won bronze in 2014 and are trying to tie their Nordic rivals with two—Muller, Stalder, Phoebe Stanz, Nicole Bullo, and Evelina Raselli. 

First Goal
Of course, the opening goal is always important, but this year on the women’s side the team that scores first has won 21 of 26 games. In short, that first goal is crucial. And in the games involving either team, the record is flawless—whoever has scored first, wins.

So, what will happen?
Any of the aforementioned factors will decide who wins the medal. If one goalie is better, or special teams execute one way or the other, or if the team that scores first can make it stick. But the simple answer is that the best players have to play their best, and when the pressure is on in the third period, the team that digs deeper, goes to extra lengths to block shots or hustle after that loose puck, or fights off a hard check, that’s the team that will win.