International Ice Hockey Federation

Making history

Making history

A first-ever all-Europe SF at WW18

Published 12.01.2018 10:30 GMT+4 | Author Andy Potts
Making history
DMITROV, RUSSIA - JANUARY 9: Russia's Ilona Markova #16 crashes into Sweden's Anna Amholt #30 net while her teammate Agnes Wilhelmsson #25 looks on during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship. (Photo by Francois Laplante/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Whatever happens on Friday, this year's WW18 is already unique. The Russia-Sweden SF match-up guarantees a European team in the final for the first time.

Tonight in Dmitrov, history will be made. The winner of Friday evening’s semi-final will be only the second team from outside of North America to reach the final of a major women’s tournament, and the first ever to do so in Women's U18 World Championship play.

For Sweden, which claimed second place in Group A after blanking the Russians 2-0 on Tuesday, it was the first time the team earned a bye to the last four. Head coach Ylva Martinsen was looking forward to that extra preparation time – and the reduced pressure of knowing her team had reached the sharp end of the tournament.

“We’ve been involved in quarter-finals before and we know just how much pressure those games put on the team,” she said. “In the quarter-final you know that there is so much at stake. You need to win to make sure you are in the A Group next season, and to get a chance at competing for medals.

“It felt really good to go straight to the semi-final this year.”

Russia, meanwhile, has high hopes of riding into the final on a wave of public enthusiasm, helped by a passionate home crowd here in Dmitrov.

The recent loss to the Swedes merely adds to the home team’s motivation, as goalie Diana Farkhutdinova suggested. “It wasn’t easy to go out and play again after we lost to Sweden,” she said after the Finland game. “Maybe there was a bit of panic, we knew we couldn’t afford any more mistakes. But the team came together, we played our game and we got the win.

“Now, hopefully, that unhappy experience in our previous game with the Swedes will help us when we play again in the semi. We’ll go out and try everything to get into the final.”

For head coach Yevgeni Bobariko, part of the challenge is making sure that ‘trying everything’ does not result in the team pushing too hard and picking up silly penalties. That cost Russia dear in its 3-5 loss against Team USA, and another 18 minutes of shorthanded play against Finland threatened to hurt the host in the QF.

“I’ve told the girls several times that we can’t afford to break the rules,” he said. “Those penalties let the opposition seize the initiative in games. We’ll look at our special teams again before the semi-final.”

As for the prospect of a European team in the final, Bobariko insists that it won’t affect how Russia plays. “Throughout the tournament we’ve gone out the same way each time, regardless of the opposition,” he said. “We’ve set up to try to win every game. It turned out that in the group stage the European teams did well and now, for the first time in history, we have an all-Euro semi-final.”

North America takes second billing

With so much focus on the Russia-Sweden game, the old rivalry between Canada and the USA risks being almost overshadowed. For U.S. coach Joel Johnson, though, that’s something of a positive.

“I think this is one of the most exciting tournaments that I’ve been around,” he said. “When the U.S. played Canada last time, it wasn’t really the premier attraction on the day. The biggest games of the tournament are the ones between Russia and Sweden.

“I think that’s wonderful for women’s hockey because it’s changing the landscape and the competitive nature of our game. It’s tremendous, it’s an exciting time for women’s hockey.

“Many of us have been working long and hard and this is what we’ve been hoping to see.”

The teams meet two days after the Americans humbled Canada 6-2, but the Canadians are not worrying about that disappointment. Forward Maggie Connors was upbeat after the QF victory over the Czech Republic, and keen to talk up the positives despite a heavy loss in the group phase.

“It’s a chance for revenge,” she said. “I think we played well in the first period of that game, and in the third. It was only in the second period that we slipped up a little bit.

“If we can keep up our work ethic for the whole game, I think we can come out on top next time.”

Fighting for survival

Away from the medal race, Friday also sees game two of the relegation play-out. Switzerland faces Germany buoyed by a 7-3 victory in game one, and could secure its top-flight status with a win today. But German head coach Tommy Kettner was encouraged by the way his team finished Wednesday’s game, scoring three goals in the final period after trailing 0-6. “That was important for the morale of the team,” he told the DEB’s official website. “It gives us something to build on going into the next game.” Germany must win to avoid an immediate return to Division I.

The classification game between Finland and the Czech Republic also takes place Friday evening. The winner will claim fifth place in the tournament ranking for 2018.

 

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