If you haven’t watched women’s hockey, then you really don’t know what you are missing. Not sure if people think it is too “light weight” or that they might be afraid to break a nail, but the reality is these women are committed to the game. And in some ways one might suggest that given the limited professional avenues available that they play for the pure love of the sport. This sometimes makes for a much more interesting game.
Team USA’s women started their round robin by taking on Team Finland in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The goaltenders were Noora Räty for Finland and Maddie Rooney for the USA. Räty is one of the best female goaltenders, and some might even say she is one of the best in general. Four years ago, Räty announced her retirement—not because she was too old or had lost love for the game, but for the simple fact that she needed to make a living. About a month later she signed with a men’s team, as have other female goaltenders–the only position that has this option. She played three seasons with men and then this current year she joined the Kunlan Red Star of the CWHL. With them, she has played in 16 games and has a 1.52 GAA and a .947 save percentage. Those who play in front of her are hardworking players from a number of different teams; some professional, while a few are playing at the collegiate level.
Of course, Team USA is a determined group as well. Many of them have represented the United States in a number of tournaments together and some of them now play on NWHL teams in North America. Names such as Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne, and Amanda Kessel are just a few of those who continue to be able to live their dream as a result of the inception of that second women’s professional league. And like the Finns, they have their fair share of college players.
It was clear as the game began that Team USA didn’t yet have their legs. This was evident in their first power play when it took them most of the first minute just to gain the zone—the result of two offsides whistles. On the other side of the ice it took Team Finland some time to find their rhythm as well, they went more than four and a half minutes before getting their first shot on Rooney. By that time, Team USA already had four shots at Räty.
For much of the first period it appeared to be USA that was the better team, though they had not been able to get on the scoreboard. As the clock began to wind down to about 2:30 remaining, Team Finland mounted some pressure, and with just six seconds remaining in the opening frame, Venla Hovi, from the slot got it past Rooney.
When the second period began, Finland got a bit of a toe-hold in the USA end after Team USA iced the puck. However, when Finland’s Tanja Niskanen got whistled for interference, the Americans picked up their pace a bit, spending almost the first full minute in the offensive zone. It was during this point in the second period that it looked like Team USA was struggling to finish, they were 0-2 on the power play.
A breakaway by Finland’s Michelle Karvinen looked like it could put the Finns up two, but she was hauled down by Knight. It was interesting that no arms went up from either referee. That would have been whistled for sure in the NHL.
What was the same as the current season in the NHL was the faceoff violations. There were a few kicked out throughout the game, though no minor penalties resulted.
At one end Räty gloved a shot from Hannah Brandt that was going wide. Down at the other end Rooney denied Susanna Tapani. It looked like it was going to come down to a battle of goalies. In addition to both goalies standing tall early, the physicality between the players was beginning to ratchet up. In fact during the second period one of the referees had to go talk to the Finnish coach and give a warning after Rosa Lindstedt used her stick on USA’s Monique Lamoureaux-Morando and followed it up with a facewash..
By the end of the second period, USA had begun to impose its will on Finland. They had outshot Finland 23-5 in the middle frame, bringing the shots on goal for the two periods to 34-14 and the score was 2-1 in favor of the Americans. Team USA had tied the game 8:58 into the second, as Lamoureaux-Morando, unassisted, from the short side, got the puck past Räty. Two and a half minutes later, Coyne got the first power play goal for Team USA, and the go-ahead goal, assisted by Knight and Brianna Decker.
The third period began with Knight putting a slap shot on Räty that she saved, and then it was Carla Barnes with a quality shot from the right circle that almost got past the Finnish goaltender. In the first four minutes of the period, Team USA had four shots on Räty, while Finland had failed to get any on Rooney.
USA spent a good part of the first half of the third hemming in the Finns. Even when the Americans did make a mistake, they were quick to fix it. When Finland almost had a breakaway, a quick poke check solved the problem.
The Americans had been very disciplined in the first forty minutes of play, but with 12:05 remaining in regulation, and only up by a goal, Decker was called for interference. Coyne and Kessel would attempt a short-handed bid that richocheted off the lone Finn back and out of harm’s way.
The Americans did have a moment when it looked like the score might be tied. Rooney thought she had the puck between her pads, but instead it had actually squirted out behind her and was still in motion. Fortunately for Team USA, her angle to the net was such that it didn’t end up in the net.
With under six minutes to go, Coyne almost had her second of the game, but Räty squeezed her pads, and then gloved the rebound before anyone with USA on their jersey could make a move on it.
With just 4:37 remaining on the clock Hannah Brandt sends the puck over the glass and sits for two for a delay of game. Finland elected to use their timeout. When play started Räty was still in net, but only briefly as she would rush to the bench for the extra attacker just 19 seconds into Finland’s man advantage, thus giving them a six-on-four opportunity. It was not to be and Räty would go back between the pipes 39 seconds later for a nearby faceoff. The Americans were determined to keep the puck in the Finnish end, and it was almost a minute before Räty could once again head to the bench for the extra attacker.
Team USA would respond 15 seconds later with an empty net goal by Dani Cameranesi, assisted by Megan Keller, and Räty would be back in net for the final 13 seconds of the game.
Despite having given up the first goal, it was clear that there was confidence on the Team USA beanch. They refused to get rattled and in the end they got the win by not giving the Finns many opportunities near Rooney.