Edwards leads United States to gold medal game
by Ameeta VOHRA|13 APR 2024
photo: @ International Ice Hockey Federation / Andre Ringuette
The United States are headed to the gold medal game.

On Saturday afternoon, the host team defeated Finland 5-0 in the semifinals at the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship in Utica, New York.

Laila Edwards led the way, netting a hat trick for the host country.

"She's a pretty amazing human being," United States forward Taylor Heise says of her teammate. "For her, she's very humble no matter what happens. I don't care when she had the Player of the Game in the locker room and someone threw this big USA hat on the ice, she put that on. She doesn't care about her personality like she just wants us to win and she's here for a reason. I'm glad that she could prove that to herself because sometimes when you're young and you get picked a team like this, sometimes it takes to goal like that to prove to yourself that you're here for a reason, but we all knew that before. She is such a such a funny person. It's something that we all enjoy being around so she's definitely a plus one for our team.”

Finland will play for bronze on Sunday against the loser of the Canada-Czechia semifinal game.

The United States put pressure on Finland goaltender Sanni Ahola early and frequently.  Hannah Bilka and Tessa Janecke has a great chance to put the team on the scoreboard but Ahola made the save.

Continuing to come out swinging with their aggressive play, the United States' top line of Alex Carpenter, HIlary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield almost came close to scoring the first goal of the game. Carpenter got in front of the net 7:50 into the first period, and tried to bang the puck past Ahola.  However, the Finnish goaltender was focused and denied her the goal.

The United States continued to create a lot of traffic in front of Ahola.  Halfway through the period, Bilka walked right in front of Ahola and tried to score, but could not get the goal.  Susanna Tapani made a huge save, stopping pushing the puck away with her stick in Finland's zone, stopping a possible situation where the United States could score.

With 7:50 remaining in the period, the fans at Adirondack Bank Center roared when BIlka scored the first goal of the game.  The play began as the United States were the beneficiaries of a Finland turnover at the middle of the ice.  Janecke and Abbey Murphy came down the ice with the puck and tried to get it past Ahola.  The puck came to BIlka who tucked it away into the net for the score.

Knight almost gave the United States some assurance as she tried to shoot into the slot but Ahola was there to deny her the goal.

In the second period, the United States picked up from where they left off as they had more chances early on but Ahola was sharp in reading the plays and making huge saves.  Murphy had a great chance 7:01 into the period, but was denied the chance to put up the United States by two goals.

Halfway through the period, Cayla Barnes walked in and had a great opportunity to shoot the puck into the net but Ahola stopped it.  Seconds later, Ahola went cross-ice to make an unbelievable save on Janecke's shot on net.

After Siiri Yrjola was assessed a holding an opponent penalty for hauling down Coyne Schofield head first into the boards, the United States capitalized on the power play.  With 6:46 remaining in the period, Janecke glided the puck over to Edwards, who backdoored the puck past Ahola and into the net for the score. 

Finland had an opportunity to get the equalizer when the team went on the power play after Murphy was given a hooking penalty with 4:00 remaining in the period.  However, they could not seize the chance and could not muster much on the power play.

To close out the second period and begin the third period, the United States went on the power play as Tapani was given an interference penalty.  The host team were not able to score on the opportunity.

The United States put the game out of reach 2:34 into the third period when Finland coughed up a turnover in the neutral zone.  Taylor Heise's backhanded shot was blocked by Ahola. The rebound was scooped by by Edwards and she blasted it into the net for the score.

Edwards would get the hat trick 6:24 into the third period.  Heise fed the pass to the forward, who launched the puck into the net, past Ahola's leg.

Savannah Harmon rounded out the scoring with a shot from the blue line to seal the victory for the United States. It was Harmon's first goal of the tournament.

The United States were successful in containing Finland's top offensive line.  Another reason the team was successful was the work they did on creating turnovers in the neutral zone.

"We haven't had a ton of practice as a team," Heise says.  "Since we've been here, it's a lot of games in a short amount of time, but we call it the golden line - two or three feet inside the blue line, two or three feet outside the blue line. Using that space, the first and second [period] we had some bad turnovers there, but we figured it out and got to it. We took advantage of that golden line and that's what helped us win today.”

Now, the United States' attention is focused on the gold medal game.  While they have little time to prepare in between games, the team will savour the time while getting into the zone of playing the big game.

"I might go have a burger actually, it’s kind of where I'm headed towards," Heise says.  "I need some protein. As a team, everyone's family's here. Enjoy your time. It's hockey, hockey, hockey for us all the time, but it's also the people that get you here. I know I'm going to go and hang out with my family and just show my love because they're definitely the reasons why I'm here right now.”

Not knowing who they will face in the gold medal game, their preparation and approach will be the same.

"It doesn't matter what team, it doesn't matter what time, it doesn't matter where we play, we can be playing outside for all I care," Heise says. "It's just taking it one game at a time and one step at a time. Coach [Wroblewski] said in the locker room is this thing that we're doing now, the next thing we need to do is recover. Take your time. The next thing that matters here is the next four or five hours -get a good sleep tomorrow we'll have a good warm up, cool down type of thing and just get ready for the game. It doesn't matter who we're playing because championship energy and Championship Sunday brings a new youthfulness to the game and we're very very excited to be a part of it no matter who we play. If we play Canada, if we play Czech. Doesn't matter if we're going to come out hard either way.”

With the tremendous support of the fans, it would mean soemthing special to the United States if they can win gold at home.

"To have my family and the people that I love here to support not only me, but the team has been really cool," Heise says. "To see them in the stands, to see little girls in the stands with signs and just have a USA chant in the middle of the second period just randomly, having people getting under like other teams’ skin, that's a plus one that we've talked about in the media. It's something that we can't and other teams can't control but it's in our favor. We're very honored to be playing on home ice and it's something that we want to fully take advantage of tomorrow.”

Ahola had to deal with the United States' sustained pressure throughout the night, facing 55 shots on net.

“I try to treat every game the same. love games where I get many shots," Ahola says.  "It keeps me on my toes. I don't get bored, so I love that."

Finland felt they should have done more with the few chances they were afforded against the United States.

"We battled hard but like the United States were very good, very strong," Ahola says.  "We didn't have that many chances, but we should used them and because we didn’t get anymore.”

After the semifinal loss, Finland will regroup and reset ahead of Sunday's bronze medal game.

"“We just got to get good things from this game and do good cool down, get some good sleep, water and get ready for tomorrow right away," Ahola says.