U.S. tops Finns to stay perfect
by Lucas Aykroyd|08 JUN 2022
U.S. assistant captain Laila Edwards (#10, left) was a dominant force again with two goals in Tuesday's Group A win over Finland.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Sparked by their top offensive line, the host Americans won their second straight Group A game, beating Finland 5-0 on Tuesday night at LaBahn Arena to remain perfect.

Assistant captain Laila Edwards – one of eight Wisconsin commits on this U.S. roster – opened the scoring for the second straight game and added the fifth U.S. goal. Her linemates shone too. Tessa Janecke racked up two goals and two assists, and assistant captain Kirsten Simms had two assists. Sydney Morrow had a pair of helpers.

Edwards said of the top line's chemistry: "I think we're all special players in our own way, and then we mesh that together. It's good. We move the puck well, we talk well, we see each other, we have fun."

Finley McCarthy also scored her first U18 Women's Worlds goal for the creative, tenacious Americans.

Coach Mira Kuisma's Finns, who upset Canada 2-0 in their opener, were unable to replicate their magic formula. No team other than the Canadians has ever beaten the Americans in U18 Women’s Worlds play.  The Finns have just two bronze medals (2011, 2019) under their belt all-time.

"Of course, they are more fast than the Canadians," Kuisma said. "We tried to keep our five players together, but in the third period, we tried to take some risks and it cost us."

The U.S. took another step toward its goal of repeating as world champions and earning its ninth gold medal of all time. Final shots favoured the U.S. 47-11.

"We love the energy that we're playing with," said U.S. coach Katie Lachepelle. "You know, they're always kind of chatting on the bench when they come off and talking about the next play. So we're pretty happy with with how we finished that game."

U.S. goalie Ava McNaughton recorded 11 saves for the shutout in her first U18 Women’s Worlds game. Finland's Emilia Kyrkko, who posted 40 saves to shut out Canada, got the night off in favour of Hannele Tarkiainen, who did her best with 42 stops in her IIHF debut.

"It feels really good," said McNaughton. "It was really fun, a lot of energy and I couldn't have done it without my teammates. Obviously, they were playing really well with a lot of offensive zone time. So it was a pretty easy night for me, but it was really fun to be in the game tonight."

Tarkiainen summed up her relationship with Kyrkko: "Good player, great person, and my best friend. We are good goalies."

After the off-day, next up are the big rivalry games on Thursday. To close out Group A, the U.S. will battle its traditional gold-medal foe Canada, while Finland takes on archrival Sweden.

Of the U.S.'s mood pre-Canada with two straight wins, Edwards said: "It puts us in a good mood, ready to kick butt. I think we feel good, but we're not satisfied."

The dream of challenging the North American superpowers seemed impossible for Finland before this tournament began. The only previous nation to beat Canada was Russia (3-2 in 2018). Against the Americans, at least the Finns would give it a valiant try. But they just couldn't keep up, especially in the late stages of the third period.

The two sides set a superb tempo right out of the gate, complete with hard work along the walls and even some open-ice collisions. However, the ice soon tilted in America’s favour. Tarkiainen responded well to an early test when defender Laney Potter dipsy-doodled in off right wing and lifted a high shot on net.

Edwards got the U.S. faithful waving flags when she scored on the power play for a 1-0 lead at 6:48. The towering power forward was all set after 2020 gold-medal returnee Kirsten Simms, whose nifty stickhandling has shades of Patrick Kane or Pavel Datsyuk, sent a saucer pass to Sydney Morrow at the centre point. Janecke couldn’t put in the loose puck in front, but Edwards was perfectly placed to put it into the gaping cage.

Nearing the midway mark of the period, Edwards stepped into the left faceoff circle and flung a shot that was so heavy it knocked Tarkiainen’s goal stick out of her hands. The Team Kuortane netminder was unable to retrieve her stick for about a minute as it got knocked into the corner. Tarkiainen had to make a fantastic save in close off Simms on the rush before she got the twig back.

At 13:42, the U.S. went up 2-0. Janecke grabbed the puck in the corner and cut in to backhand the puck high to the short side in a manner that would have made Cale Makar proud. It was an electrifying solo effort.

"I just saw an opening and went for it, I guess," Janecke said. "I've been working on that skill for a while now. So I thought I'd use it."

Late in the first period, MacNaughton came up big on the first Finnish power play. Sanni Vanhanen, already a veteran of the 2021 Women’s Worlds and 2022 Olympics, stickhandled her way through U.S. defenders to test the goalie from the slot. But this was an exception. First-period shots on goal favoured the U.S. 17-5.

The Finns looked stronger to start the scoreless second period, from their puck movement to their shot selection to their overall tenacity. Yet the Americans kept coming, marrying talent and work ethic, and the Finns couldn't find the range.

The U.S's Elyssa Biederman nearly bulged the twine when she let off a quick shot from the left faceoff circle after pulling a between-the-legs deke. Vanhanen and linemate Pauliina Salonen also connected for a good look, but couldn't solve McNaughton.

Just past the six-minute mark of the third period, defender Madison Kaiser stepped in for a great chance from the high slot, but Tarkiainen alertly flashed her glove to keep Finland within two goals. The U.S. continued to dominate possession in the Finnish end as the clock ticked down.

With 4:12 left, McCarthy added some insurance with a spin-around shot from the right faceoff circle that surprised Tarkiainen. The 2005-born scorer is the only U.S. U18 Women's player ever from Montana, and folks in "The Treasure State" were surely celebrating her accomplishment.

At 17:04, Janecke made it 4-0 with a power-play one-timer from the slot. Just 11 seconds later, Edwards got the fifth goal with a magnificent shot under the cross bar as she powered to the net.

"We just have gotten a lot of 'chem' lately," Simms said of the top line. "These past few practices, we've been really buzzing together and moving the puck really well. We've played together in previous years. So we kind of just know each other and where we're at on the ice and we've been cruising along so far this tournament."

"For the next 24 hours, we won't talk about ice hockey," Kuisma said of her team. "We're gonna focus on that on Thursday morning."

The result improves the U.S.'s all-time U18 Women's Worlds record against Finland to four wins and zero losses.
United States vs Finland - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship
Sparked by their top offensive line, the host Americans won their second straight Group A game, beating Finland 5-0.
USA FIN 08 JUN 2022
United States vs Finland - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship