Scoring leaders to meet in semis
by Liz Montroy|03 SEP 2022
USA’s Amanda Kessel and Czech goalie Klara Peslarova will be among the key players when their teams will for the first time play each other in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship - about half a year after the United States' 4-1 victory at the Olympic Winter Games.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images

Czechia will compete for a medal in the Top Division of the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship for the very first time this weekend, meeting the United States, another offensive powerhouse, in the semi-finals.

A Czech win would be the second major upset victory for Czechia this tournament, as they compete in their first ever Top Division semi-final after beating the Finns in the quarter-finals. The United States on the other hand, are aiming to book a ticket to their twenty-first World Championship gold medal game.

“I think we just proved to ourselves [in the quarter-finals] that we really can play a tight game up and down against the best teams out there and we know that Finland is very close to USA and Canada in general,” said Czechia’s Natalie Mlynkova. “If we still play for one another and if we still believe, I think we can do great things.”

These teams have never met before at the World Championships, but played each other in the quarter-finals at the Beijing Olympics earlier this year – Czechia's first ever appearance in the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament. The United States won 4-1, outshooting Czechia 59-6, but the Czechs didn’t make it easy for them. Klara Peslarova was outstanding in net for Czechia, and her teammate Michaela Pejzlova was the first to score. Hilary Knight tied the game for the United States in the second period, and her team took the W with three unanswered goals in the third.

“I think there’s probably many factors that go into it, but certainly I know I can speak to our group, and I was privy to their growth over even the last couple years as a spectator. They’re driven and I think when you’re driven you always chase who’s in front of you,” Czechia head coach Carla MacLeod said of why she thinks Czechia has continued to get closer to the top teams over the last few years.

Both teams have demonstrated impressive offensive talent in Denmark, leading the tournament in scoring efficiency and in goals for, the USA with 42 and Czechia with 23. While each team has players clearly dominating in the scoring department, such as the USA’s Taylor Heise and Czechia’s Daniela Pejsova, they also have depth; 15 Czech players have contributed goals and/or assists, and only one American has yet to score a goal, Jesse Compher.

The United States and Czechia look sharp defensively too, also leading the tournament in fewest goals against, Czechia with three and the United States with four. Both teams have allowed two goals while shorthanded.

The Americans are coming off of a relatively easy quarter-final win over Hungary, a 12-1 victory that was one for the record books, as Hilary Knight collected Women's Worlds points number 86 and 87 to surpass Hayley Wickenheiser’s long-standing record. The United States peppered Hungary with 69 shots, and allowed just 10. 

“We focus on us,” said captain Kendall Coyne Schofield. “We focus on what we did well, what we didn't do well, even if this score is what it was. Those details are going to make us successful at the end of the weekend. Little things we can do better about how we're moving the puck, some of the seams that we're seeing. Maybe it's a line change. There are a lot of little plays, which is why we love working on our craft.”

Czechia however, had a close, history-making quarter-final against Finland. Aneta Tejralova was the hero for the Czechs, scoring just 41 seconds into overtime to give Czechia a 2-1 win.

“They’re an unbelievable team, there’s no debating anything about Finland. You know what you’re getting there, and that's a professional, elite team. I think what it’s doing is giving us a bit of a rabbit to chase, and we’re excited enough to chase it,” said MacLeod. "I know on our bench we certainly were trying to maintain that confidence and belief and I said the word ‘believe’ a few times today. We’ve got to believe and it’s sometimes easier said than done, but today our group had it.”

The keys for the Czechs will include another standout performance in net from Peslarova. The team will also need to avoid giveaways at their own blueline, which were prevalent in their first period against Finland. Czechia’s defence like to get involved in the offensive zone, but they will want to ensure that they don’t give the speedy Americans any odd-player rushes. As they did against Finland, the Czechs need to get as many pucks on net as possible.

“There’s always mistakes, there’s always something you can do better, it’s hockey,” said Mlynkova. “It's a game about mistakes, right? So just keep playing our game, make sure we make less mistakes and don't give them any chances. Just keep working hard and trust in the process.”

The Americans have not faced much hardship this tournament so far, with their preliminary round meeting with Canada being their toughest game yet. They will want to capitalize on any Czech penalties, and will want to play as tight and tidy of a game as possible – if the Czechs see an opportunity, they will pounce on it.

The Americans have a record-breaking team that has been one of the best in the world for over 20 years, while the Czechs have an unmatched spirit and belief in themselves. Saturday’s semi-final will determine which team has the winning factor.