For the first time in a long time, the most highly anticipated game of the World Championship was not a United States and Canada matchup. Instead, it was this.
The last time these two teams met was in the 2019 Worlds Final, where Finland scored an overtime goal that was overturned, leading to a shootout in which USA brought home their fifth straight gold medal. To say the Fins were hungry is an understatement. And to say the United States didn’t feel the pressure, more than ever, to defend their title would be wrong.
Even with a whole crop of newcomers on both sides, it did not disappoint.
Team USA spent two years anticipating the revenge tour that Finland would want to bring them in this game, so naturally when a few bad bounces kept Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight from finding the net early, it was a rookie who eased the pressure and got the first goal for them.
Zumwinkle went top shelf with her second goal of the tournament to start the scoring for the Americans. Pannek followed a period later after a long battle for the puck in front of the Finland net.
The momentum just kept rolling for them throughout the game, despite lackluster efforts from their special teams. Per usual, Team USA’s even strength defensive abilities more than made up for it, though it wasn’t the typical players you’d think of. Team USA’s top line was relatively quiet, not getting on the scorecard at all and missing a lot of chances until the tail end of the game when Knight was able to knock one in.
While the Americans took this one and were able to get the shutout, they have a tough road ahead with a game on Thursday against Canada, who will not be as kind on a massive amount of penalties or if the veterans can’t catch a spark until late in the game.
Zumwinkle ultimately claimed the USA player of the game for her amount of shots, and getting the ball rolling for the Americans.
Goals scored by USA: Grace Zumwinkle (ES), Kelly Pannek (ES), Hilary Knight (ES).
Much like their game against Canada, team Finland did not come to mess around. Earning a power play right off the bat, they got down to business trying to climb their way back to a gold medal opportunity. While they went scoreless through the first two periods, and took a few sloppy penalties, they kept USA on their toes and out of the zone as much as they could.
Their downfall? Allowing the United States to dominate the puck possession, and inability to capitalize on the power play. While the first ten minutes of the game were as even as they come, shots included, that quickly changed as USA picked up the pace and Finland simply let them. Even with five USA penalties through the first two periods, Finland just wasn’t about to put anything together.
A bright spot on their roster though, comes in the form of Meeri Raisanen who stopped 36 shots and was forced to play on her head all night as USA dominated possession. A big change from the last time these two teams met is the presence in Finland’s net, but the switch from Noora Räty to Raisanen has been seamless. Raisanen was easily named the Finnish player of the game for this one, and it’s pretty obvious why. Without her, the score easily could have been 10-0.
If America’s power play was better or if Raisanen wasn’t at her best, it could have spelled even worse for the Fins, but the tough part of their group stage is over and they can only hope to pick it up from here in order to go for gold again.
Canada defeats ROC, 5-1
Czech Republic beats Hungary, 4-2
- Germany vs Denmark, 2 p.m. ET
- Japan vs Czech Republic, 6 p.m