With the U.S. and Canada clinching their semi-final berths as the two top teams in Group A and Sweden and Finland winning their quarter-finals against Slovakia and Czechia, respectively, all four semi-final teams come from Group A.
In the early game, Team USA takes on Sweden, and having pushed the American team to their heels in an intense, albeit penalty-riddled, game a week ago, the hosts are hopeful they can find another gear and get over the line this time.
One key for the Swedes is also one of the oldest hockey axioms: stay out of the penalty box. Even though the Americans got more penalties (16 minutes) than the Swedes (12) in the first game, they also scored three power-play goals – and an empty-netter – in the game that ended 6-3.
Can Sweden stay out of the box, they can match Team USA in 5-on-5 play.
In the defence, the Swedes have a good foundation to build on. Head coach Andreas Karlsson relies heavily on Mira Jungaker, Jenna Raunio, and Astrid Lindeberg, who average around 20 minutes of ice time. All three also lead the defence in points - Jungaker has four points, Raunio and Lindeberg three each – and shots taken.
Jungaker is a great playmaker, Raunio has a cannon of a shot, and Lindeberg is a great all-round player all coaches love to have on their teams. The rest of the Swedish defence also move the puck up the ice quickly, and Linnea Natt och Dag also has two goals and three points in the tournament.
“We’re feeling confident, we have a clear game plan that we all follow. I know where my teammates are going to be and how we can get out of certain situations,” Jungaker says.
Up front, it’s been Hilda Svensson’s line that has provided the most offence, with Svensson and linemate Mira Markstrom connecting after Karlsson put them together after two games. Markstrom has four points – all assists – in the tournament as does Mira Hallin whose speed will also create problems for the Americans.
And between the pipes, Karlsson will surely give the nod to Felicia Frank who has been more than solid in the net. She’s played three of the four games and has posted a 91.38 save percentage. The one game in which she was the backup was the first one against the US. Maybe that was Coach Karlsson’s plan all along?
Now, Team USA is bound to get solid goaltending from Annelies Bergmann, too. Her save percentage in the two games she’s played is 91.04. Layla Hemp only let in one goal in the game against Finland, so should she get the nod, the US has nothing to worry about.
What the Americans have loads of is speed and intensity. While Sweden has a good and experienced defence, they will have to be on their toes with the American forecheckers. Finley McCarthy and Joy Dunne can create havoc in the corners, and as soon as the puck hits Maggie Scannell’s blade, it’s in the net. She scored team-leading four goals and seven points in the three preliminary round games.
One player Svensson, Hallin and the other Swedes will see a lot is Molly Jordan, who’s averaged almost 27 minutes a game. With two days of rest, Jordan will be ready to play at least another 27 against Sweden. Gabrielle Kim also plays more than twenty minutes a game, and she’s plus-5 in the tournament, best on Team USA.
It will certainly be another battle in which neither team is willing to give up any space on the ice, and who knows, it may come down to one faceoff. The Swedes have been strong on the dot, with Ebba Hedqvist topping the stats with 91.30 percent. She’s only lost two of her 23 faceoffs. Emma Rehn has won 69 percent and Svensson 60.8 percent of her faceoffs. The best American is Scannell, 49.30.
Players to watch:
The team’s plays most often run through Mira Jungaker, a skilled defender, who also quarterbacks the power play.
Margaret Scannell is tied for second in tournament scoring with four goals and seven points in three games.
Puck drop at 16:00 CET (10:00am ET)