U.S. to face Czechs for gold
by Lucas Aykroyd|13 JAN 2024
U.S. assistant captain Josie St. Martin (#11) rejoices with her teammates after scoring her first of two goals in a 4-2 semi-final win over Finland at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship.
With persistence, patience, and a productive power play, the U.S. defeated Finland 4-2 to advance to the 2024 U18 Women's Worlds gold medal game against Czechia. The Finns will battle Canada for the bronze medal.

In this semi-final victory, Josie St. Martin led the way with two goals for the second straight game. Mary Derrenbacher and Maggie Scannell also scored for the Americans. Jordyn Petrie added three assists.

Looking forward to the final, St. Martin said: "It's cool that Czechia is kind of on the uprise. It's really good for women's hockey. But once again, we're not going to change anything about our game."

Tinja Tapani and Nelly Andersson replied with power play goals for Finland. Without the excellence of Finnish starter Kerttu Kuja-Halkola, the score could have been more lopsided. Shots favoured the U.S. 44-16 as netminder Layla Hemp got her fourth win of this tournament.

"I think we did amazing, but it just wasn't enough," said a tearful Andersson. "We did everything we could."

Last year, the Americans were upset in the semi-finals by a European nation for the first time ever, losing 2-1 to host Sweden. After defending champion Canada stunningly fell 4-2 to the Czechs in Saturday’s first semi-final, there was no room for complacency among coach Liz Keady Norton's troops.

The youth-laden Americans chased down pucks and engaged in one-on-one battles with pitbull-like intensity, making it hard for coach Mira Kuisma's skaters to generate serious momentum.

"I think we were faster, and we kind of just caught on to that and we used our speed," St. Martin said. "We were better at getting bodies in front and getting those dirty rebounds. Our power play was 100 percent tonight, so that felt really good. All of our hard work paid off."

The Finns, who lost 5-0 to the U.S. in last year’s third-place game, are seeking their fourth bronze (2011, 2019, 2022). They have never made the final.

"I think we played very well today for almost 60 minutes," said Kuisma. "I'm proud of each player. I couldn't ask for more in terms of how they put themselves out on the ice today."

For the second straight game, St. Martin opened the scoring, just 4:55 in. After Petrie dumped the puck off the end boards, Kuja-Halkola lost track of it behind the net, and the U.S. assistant captain, with characteristic persistence, tucked it inside the goalie’s left post and whooped it up.

"That first one was a good move by Jordyn, using her speed," said St. Martin. "She cut into the middle. And then they kind of lost the puck and I just saw it all the way because I was behind her. I grabbed it and buried it into a wide-open net."

The Americans pushed the pace. Scannell powered out of the corner to Kuja-Halkola’s left and almost jammed a backhander home. Led by the captain’s relentless intensity, the U.S. kept Finland hemmed in its zone for long stretches.

Early in the middle frame, the U.S. didn't allow Finland a shot on net. Kuja-Halkola made point-blank saves on Petrie and Caroline Averill to keep it a one-goal game. But when Molly Boyle went off for interference, the Finnish power play clicked.

Emma Ekoluoma rushed into the U.S. zone and left a drop pass for Tapani, who whipped a high one past Hemp at 8:24. Ekoluoma, who started off red-hot with hat tricks in wins over Czechia (3-2) and Germany (6-0), remains in contention for the tournament scoring crown.

Tapani's goal ended a U.S. shutout streak at 160:47. The U.S. hadn’t conceded a goal since Switzerland’s Sonja Inkamp scored in the third period of an 8-1 loss to the Americans.

Tapani went from jumping with joy to staring despondently in the penalty box two minutes later when she was dinged for tripping. Derrenbacher snared a rebound and roofed it over the fallen Finnish netminder at 11:08 to restore the U.S. lead.

On the next U.S. power play, with Andersson off for holding, it took Scannell just 23 seconds to convert another rebound and make it 3-1 at 16:46. Assistant captain Bella Fanale, who missed the first two U.S. games after getting injured against the Czechs in exhibition play, added her second helper in as many games.

"It was nice for our PP to execute tonight," said Norton. "I think for us and for the players, it's having the confidence and going out and doing what what they're capable of doing."

The Finns could have lost hope, but they didn't. Andersson went from culprit to heroine with 1:37 left in the period, as her centre point shot sailed past Hemp.

Nearing the five-minute mark of the third, Ekoluoma had a partial breakaway, but couldn't finish off her forehand deke as she tumbled over the U.S. goalie.

Norton's team gritted it out when Ellie Dimatos was penalized with under 10 minutes left. St. Martin blocked a centre point shot that had her wincing. Chants of "USA!" rang out as the clock ran down.

With 2:40 left, St. Martin cut in off the right side and pushed one through Kuja-Halkola to make it 4-2. Kuisma pulled her goalie for the extra skater and called her timeout in the dying seconds, but there was nothing doing.

"It feels amazing," Fanale said. "You know, the bond we have as a team is so strong. This is such a great group of girls. I can't wait to go out there tomorrow and see what we've got."

Owners of an all-time leading eight gold medals, the Americans haven’t won this tournament since 2020. They look like they're on a mission to end that drought.

Asked what a bronze medal would mean for Finland, Andersson said: "It would mean everything. But we just have to fight and fight and fight. Because it's Canada, it's tough. But we have an amazing team, so we can do anything."

At the senior IIHF Women’s World Championship, the Finns historically give the U.S. more trouble, including their controversial 2-1 gold medal game loss in Espoo in 2019. At the U18 Women’s Worlds, the gap has been wider. This semi-final featured the smallest margin of victory for the U.S. over Finland ever.

The U.S. maintains a perfect record against Finland, with seven straight wins dating back to 2010. The U.S. has outscored the Finns 38-5.
United States vs Finland - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship