Grace Dwyer scored the third-period winner. U.S. scoring leader Laila Edwards (4+4=8) got her stick on an errant Swedish clearing pass and directed it to Dwyer, who beat goalie Lisa Jonsson high to the glove side with 6:31 left.
"It was an awesome feeling," said Dwyer. "Basically all I had to do was just shoot it and it went in. But it was a huge goal for our team to make it to the gold medal game. It really didn't matter who scored. It was just that we're moving on."
To say the least, this was a physical, intense battle. Sweden led 2-1 after a second period in which the Americans racked up 14 PIM, but couldn't seal the deal. The Swedes will face Finland in the bronze medal game.
The U.S. won the 2020 tournament in Bratislava with a 2-1 overtime triumph over Canada. They boast eight gold medals all-time. Now number nine might be right around the corner on Monday night. They trounced Canada 7-0 in the Group A finale, their biggest margin of victory ever over their cross-border foe.
"We know that it won't be that!" said Lachapelle. "I expect just a hard-fought game like we had tonight. Both teams are gonna probably have to face a little adversity throughout the game. I know it's gonna be a fantastic game."
Over the years, the Swedes have struggled to beat the Stars and Stripes. For example, the Americans walloped Sweden 9-3 in the 2018 gold medal game in Dmitrov, Russia. The bigger U.S. win ever over Sweden was 10-0 in 2011. And of course, the U.S. won the opener here in Madison 6-1, kicking off a preliminary round with a goal difference of 18-1.
However, this semi-final was the United States’ toughest test yet, despite outshooting Sweden 53-24.
In goal, Sweden's Jonsson was magnificent with 50 saves. U.S. starter Annelies Bergmann made 22 saves.
"I'm proud of my team and I'm proud of myself," said Jonsson. "But I feel like we could have won. We had the lead and we lost it, and that's too bad."
The U.S.’s Sydney Morrow scored her first goal of the tournament to increase her points lead among U18 Women’s Worlds defenders (1+7=8). Maggie Scannell also had a goal.
Looking ahead to facing Canada in the final, Morrow said: "I think this is basically what everybody on our team has been training for since we started playing hockey. So it's really exciting. And we're just going to rely on our habits and go back to our basics in order to play our best to win the gold."
Stella Lindell and Mira Jungaker replied for Sweden. Tuva Kandell, the leading scorer among Swedish blueliners, added two assists.
"Of course I'm super-proud, but it sucks to not get to the finals," said Kandell. "We were the better team today. I really think so."
"We don't think too much about Finland," said assistant coach Pernilla Winberg. "We're going to focus on ourselves and our process. That's what we're doing and it's going to be exciting to play tomorrow. It's a bronze medal game. So we're going to do everything to win that game."
The defending champs have enjoyed great first periods at these U18 Women’s Worlds. During the group stage, they outscored their opponents 9-0 in total in the opening stanza.
But here, it was clear the Swedes weren't going to roll over. Still, the Americans dominated with a 13-2 edge in shots. They hit a couple of posts before Morrow kicked off the scoring at 12:51 with a satisfying bar-down goal from a tough angle in the right faceoff circle.
"So I got a pass from Kelly Gorbatenko," Morrow said. "I had come off the bench. I was kind of flying down the right wall, got a pass and then put it high blocker on the near side, and it went in."
The U.S. went overboard with penalties in the second period.
The Swedes enjoyed an extended 5-on-3 advantage with Dwyer off for an illegal hit off the opening faceoff and Laila Edwards exiled for cross-checking. Raunio came the closest to capitalizing during the 5-on-4 portion with a shot off the post.
When Morrow and Tessa Janecke took tripping and roughing penalties on the same sequence, the Swedes got a full two minutes with a 5-on-3, but still couldn't cash in. Jungaker set up captain Nicole Hall for a back door tap-in, but Hall put it through the crease. Mira Markstrom hammered one off Bergmann's right post.
The Swedes finally tied it up at 9:04 at even strength. Jungaker entered the zone and sent it back to Klara Kenttala at the blue line. Kenttala's shot was tipped home by Lindell right in front for her first goal of the tournament.
The game got rougher. With U.S. captain Danielle Burgen penalized for boarding, Scannell collapsed to the ice after blocking a Kandell howitzer. The play was eventually stopped so that Scannell could get off.
Later in that power play, Jungaker gave Sweden the lead with a blast that eluded Bergmann at 12:27. It was the first time the U.S. has trailed at these U18 Women's Worlds. It spoiled American hopes of capturing a "perfect gold" (i.e. winning without ever trailing). At the senior level, Canada achieved that feat at the 1992 Women's Worlds and the 2006 and 2010 Olympics.
Both the tempo and the physical play picked up as the U.S. blitzed Jonsson with shots. The Americans fell into the trap of individualistic play at times. When the Swedes got caught with too many players on the ice at the end of the period, the University of Wisconsin-bound duo of Edwards and Kirsten Simms attempted to work their magic around the Swedish net, but Jonsson stood firm.
"With the adversity that we had going into the third period, we had to keep pushing, stay calm, and play our game," said Dwyer.
In the third period, the Americans came out storming, buoyed by a sea of waving flags and chants of "USA!" at LaBahn Arena. They made it 2-2 at 1:18 when Scannell powered off the half-wall into the slot and zinged the puck high past Jonsson's blocker.
"I was just really excited," said Scannell. "I got the puck on the wall there and walked it up top. It was just a great play by everyone. The other team was really tired, I think, on that shift. So I think that we caught them and then I had a lane. So I just took my shot and I was fortunate enough for it to go in."
That paved the way for Dwyer's winner.
The U.S. had more chances in the third with a 20-8 edge in shots. But Nicole Hall nearly gave Sweden another goal midway through the period. Her in-tight shot on the rush was denied by Bergmann.
In the dying moments, the Swedes pulled their goalie for a sixth skater, but the U.S. hung on, mobbing Bergmann at the final buzzer.
"I think we played a really good game," said Jungaker. "And I think we deserved a place in the final. So right now I'm just disappointed."
The Americans maintained their perfect record against Sweden at the U18 Women’s Worlds with 14 straight wins and a goal difference of 82-11.