Swedes top Czechs to face U.S. in semis
by Lucas Aykroyd|11 JUN 2022
The Swedish bench celebrates after a first-period goal by captain Nicole Hall (#10) in a 2-1 quarter-final win over Czechia at the 2022 U18 Women's Worlds.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Sweden booked a semi-final date with the defending champion U.S. with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Czechia in Friday’s second quarter-final at the 2022 U18 Women's Worlds in Madison. For the second straight game, Jenna Raunio had the go-ahead goal for the Swedes.

"She has a really good shot," Swedish captain Nicole Hall said. "And then when it comes to these important minutes, she needs to score and she does. So she's really important."

Hall also scored for Sweden. Defenders Mira Markstrom and Mira Kungaker had a pair of assists apiece.

The Swedes last played for a medal in 2018 when they peaked with a surprising silver. Previously, they had five bronze medals (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016). They've got nothing to lose on Sunday versus the Americans.

Tereza Plosova had the lone goal for Czechia.

It's a disappointing finish for the Czechs, who topped Group B with three wins and a sparkling 12-2 goal difference. Still, coach Dusan Andrasovsky's players can hold their heads high after this run in Wisconsin.

"I think the girls played incredible," said Czech goalie Michaela Hesova. "They really laid it all out there. They really went all out. We just didn't have the luck today, unfortunately. It was a tough game, tough loss. Gotta move on."

"I'm very proud of my team," said Andrasovsky. "They were fighting a lot like lions all game long. But we did a couple of mistakes and they got two goals and it was finished for us. Still, I'm so proud and happy that we played like this. I'm just not happy with the score."

With Canada facing Finland in Sunday's early semi-final, fans will be treated to rematches of both opening-day games in Group A.

The Swedes have gotten better as this tournament marches along. This isn’t the same team that lost 6-1 to the Americans on Day One. But the unbeaten hosts, sporting an 18-1 goal difference, remain extremely formidable. The Swedes took 14 PIM against Czechia and that can't happen against the top-ranked American power play (7-for-15, 46.6 percent).

"I'm very happy to have another chance because we learned a lot from that 6-1 game," said Swedish coach Madeleine Ostling. "We need to step up our activity, we need to be stronger in the 50-50 battles, and also believe a little bit more in ourselves."

Final shots in this quarter-final favoured Czechia 31-27.

It was a good battle of number one goalies. The Swedes came back with Lisa Jonsson after she got the “W” in the dramatic 4-3 comeback win over Finland. The Czechs stuck with Hesova, who carried a tournament-best 0.36 GAA, 97.9 save percentage, and two shutouts into this quarter-final.

Sweden came in as the tournament’s second most-penalized team after Canada, with 14 minor penalties. The Czech power play was 2-for-9 in the group stage, but hadn’t converted since Tereza Pistekova’s early third-period goal in Game Two, the 6-2 win over Germany.

With Moa Gustafsson off for hooking, the Czechs got their first goal on their first power play. They swarmed the net, and Adela Sapovalivova, the team’s leading scorer (2+5=7), poked it from the side into the crease, where Plosova banged it home at 2:40.

A scrum around the Czech net with Sweden vying for the equalizer saw Isabelle Leijonhielm sent off for roughing. The Czechs again exerted heavy pressure on Jonsson but couldn’t convert this time.

Jungaker hailed Jonsson's prowess: "I can focus on the rebounds, because I know she'll take the first shot. So she's really nice to have there."

Hesova looked dialed-in for most of the first period, but Hall found a chink in her armor with 55 seconds left. Mira Markstrom found Hall with a long diagonal pass through the neutral zone, and she stepped into the left faceoff circle and beat the Czech netminder with a quick shot inside the far post.

"It was a really good pressure from Mira Markstrom and then a really good pass," said Hall. "And then a good shot, I think!"

In the second period, the Czechs ran into some penalty trouble, giving Sweden an extended 5-on-3 power play. Raunio made them pay with a howitzer that dinged in off Hesova's left post for a 2-1 lead at 4:47. The 2006-born rearguard also tallied the 4-3 winner against Finland with eight seconds left in the last game of the group stage.

Czech forward Natalia Brichova had a rare chance for her team when she sped off on a partial breakaway after blocking a Mira Jungaker drive at the blue line, but Sofia Ljung rushed back to get a piece of Brichova and she shot wide. Brichova had another chance when Marketa Mazancova sent her in alone with a nice cross-ice pass with under five minutes left in the middle frame, but it too came to naught.

The Czechs squandered power plays with Ida Karlsson taking consecutive hooking minors. Hesova had to be at her acrobatic best to keep it a one-goal game as the Swedes outshot Czechia 13-8 in the period.

More Swedish penalties marked the start of the third, and the Czechs kept coming close as they mounted their push. With Astrid Lindeberg off for an illegal hit, Sapovalivova rang one off the iron, and Jonsson didn't bite on Plosova's dekes when she was left alone in front moments later.

With five and a half minutes left, Jonsson was alert to foil Sapovalivova from the slot. Desperate for the equalizer, Andrasovsky pulled Hesova for an extra skater with just over two minutes left and used his timeout with 47 seconds left.

Frantic action ensued around the Swedish net, but the team in yellow and blue hung on. "En For Alla For En," the 2013 IIHF World Championship theme song when Tre Kronor broke the "home ice curse" in Stockholm, blasted from the speakers.

"The team played really good and it was a super-tight game," Plosova said. "We pulled through. But what is important is to score, and that didn't work out for us. Still it was a good game, a good team effort."

Swedish women’s hockey has been in search of good news for years. The glory days of the mid-2000’s – when the Damkronorna won an Olympic silver medal in Turin 2006 and Women’s Worlds bronze medals in 2005 and 2007 – are a distant memory. But now, with key veterans of those teams like assistant coach Pernilla Winberg and video coach Kim Martin Hasson helping to instruct the U18 team, there may be a ray of light ahead for the senior national team as well.

The young Czechs also have an optimistic vibe after their senior team cracked the Olympics for the first time in Beijing 2022.

"It's a big inspiration for real because we've never really had a good women's hockey team," said Hesova. "And this year, they made it all the way to the Olympics. So that's incredible."

This was the seventh U18 Women’s Worlds playoff meeting between these nations. In the previous six encounters, Sweden earned two bronze medals and one quarter-final win, and the Czechs had one bronze medal and two quarter-final victories.

In the inaugural 2008 bronze medal game in Calgary, Alena Polenska (now Mills) scored twice in a 4-2 Czech win. Sweden got its revenge the following year with a 9-1 bronze medal romp in Fussen. In 2013, Swedish goalie Minatsu Murase made 43 saves to secure a 4-0 bronze-medal win in Heinola.

In 2014, Czech goalie Klara Peslarova ended Sweden’s tournament with a 3-0 quarter-final shutout, and in 2015, Blanka Skodova made 37 saves for a 4-3 Czech quarter-final win. In the 2016 quarter-finals, Sweden’s Emma Soderberg was the goalie heroine with 37 stops in a 3-2 win.
Sweden vs Czechia (QF) - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship
SWE CZE 11 JUN 2022
Sweden vs Czechia (QF) - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship