Canada overwhelming favourites
by Andrew Podnieks|02 SEP 2022
Canadian player Sarah Nurse puts pressure on Swiss goalkeeper Andrea Braendli during the teams’ preliminary-round encounter.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
On the surface, the semi-finals matchup between Canada and Switzerland is pretty one-sided. Consider that in nine previous meetings, Canada has won them all by a cumulative score of 69-1. And that lone goal came just a few days ago. Consider that coach Colin Muller may miss two of his very best players in the line-up. Both Alina Muller and Lara Stalder tested positive for Covid earlier this week and have been in isolation. 

In addition, coach Muller has had to deal with several injuries and won’t be able to ice a full lineup. Laura Zimmerman and Noemi Ryhner are gone for the tournament while Stefanie Wetli just returned from injury. And Canada are the favourites coming into the tournament, having won gold at both the Beijing Olympics and 2021 Women’s Worlds.

The odds are entirely in Canada’s favour, but we play these games for a reason. The Swiss can go into the game with a “nothing to lose” mindset, and might just play the game of their lives. And if you look hard enough, you just mind find a few chinks in the Canadian armour.

The teams met just last Saturday, and although Canada won, 4-1, it marked the closest score between the teams ever. So, there’s that. On the other hand, shots favoured Canada, 46-8, and no matter the circumstances, a team will rarely win with eight shots in 60 minutes.
In goal, it will likely be Ann-Renee Desbiens against Andrea Braendli. Desbiens has been the best goalie in the world the last few years, didn’t play against the U.S. in the preliminary round, and hasn’t been tested much at all. She has allowed two goals in three games, which sounds impressive, but in that time she has faced a total of only 35 shots. Braendli has been much busier, having played in every game, including the 4-1 loss to Canada earlier, with a 3.24 goals-against average. Still, if Switzerland is to have a hope, the 25-year-old who cut her teeth at Ohio State University is going to have to do what Emma Soderberg did to Canada on Thursday – stand on her head.

On defence, Canada has been impressive as a group, excepting that 5-2 loss to the Americans. Still, there is a small hint of weakness in the sense that it doesn’t have Claire Thompson, who had 13 points in seven games and was such a key member of the team’s gold victory at the 2022 Olympics. Nevertheless, this is a skilled corps that has speed to move the puck and strength along the boards for puck battles. Renata Fast is Ms. Reliability back there, and Jocelyne Larocque is equally a force on the blue line. For the Swiss, Lara Christen played 31:39 the last game against Japan that went to a shootout, and she will have to be Fast-like in her end for the Swiss to have a chance. Nicole Vallario, one of the better skaters on the team, has also been averaging 23:30 a game. Between the two of them, they will also have to play the games of their lives.

Up front, there is a massive difference, especially without Muller and Stalder. Canada has superior skating and scoring right through four lines, and they have an intensity on the puck that is tough to match. Marie-Philip Poulin is their leader, playing with Brianne Jenner, but Laura Stacey has been playing a forceful game; Sarah Fillier has contributed; and, Sarah Nurse is due to break out. On the other hand, the power play was 0-for-7 Thursday night against Sweden and is only 5-for-24 through five games. Good numbers, but not intimidating necessarily.

The Swiss have scored a mere five goals in five games, no player with more than one. Worse still, they have zero goals on 19 power-play chances. Put that stat with Canada’s number-one penalty killing (one goal allowed in 15 disadvantages) and Desbiens in goal, and the Swiss will have an awfully tough time keeping the game close if they can’t put the puck in the net with the extra skater.

No matter how you slice it, the odds are in favour of another Canada-United States gold medal game. It’s an Everest of a task to ask Switzerland to win tomorrow, but stranger things have happened and, well, you just never know.