Sweden’s fairytale run came to an end in the gold-medal game as Team USA produced a blistering passage of offence to win 9-3 and defend its title once again.
Team USA stormed to its fourth consecutive gold medal in the U18 Women’s World Championship with a devastating display of offensive power. A blistering sequence of six goals in just over six minutes either side of the first intermission turned an eagerly-awaited match-up into a procession, with the luckless Swedes suffering a close-up view of a team hitting its optimal form.
With two goals apiece from Britta Curl, Katelyn Knoll, Abigail Murphy and Dominique Petrie leading the scoring, the USA ran rampant on its way to a 9-3 victory. But, for a fleeting moment, the first ever Europe vs North American gold medal game in this competition’s history might have been very different.
Just 95 seconds into the gold medal match-up with the hot favourite from the USA, the Swedes stunned everyone with the opening goal of the game. Selina Aho’s shot from the point was deflected by Thea Johansson, taking it away from Lindsay Reed in the American net and handing the underdog a shock lead.
Petrie acknowledged that falling behind was a shock, but paid tribute to her team’s resilience. “In that first game she made nearly 60 saves so we knew we would have to get shots away and crash that net,” she said. “They got that goal early, but we never gave up and after we got the first goal it seemed like the game was ours.”
With the Swedish defence superlative throughout the tournament, the goal electrified the crowd in Dmitrov. With something to hold on to, could that wall of yellow jerseys keep the USA at bay and complete one of the most sensational championship triumphs in IIHF history? Or could the Americans turn those Cinderella dreams to ashes?
It didn’t take long to find out. Stung by the early Swedish goal, Team USA raised its already impressive tempo. Katelyn Knoll tied it up in the seventh minute with her first of the championship, and a wayward clearance presented Abigail Murphy with the puck and she led a two-player rush that ended with Casey O’Brien potting the go-ahead goal midway through the first stanza.
What happened next, though, turned this Swedish fairytale into something decidedly grim for the Tre Kronor. Team USA went up through the gears and played some scintillating hockey to blast six goals in barely six minutes either side of the intermission.
It started with a power play at the end of the first period, converted by Britta Curl. Then, Curl assisted as Dominique Petrie made it 4-1 33 seconds after the restart. The onslaught was relentless: Murphy showed some sweet skills to dance through the defence and add a fifth, then Curl got her second goal of the evening on the power play and her second assist as Petrie struck again to make it 7-1. When Murphy scored again on 25:38 the Swedes, simply blown away by some irresistible offence, gave Anna Amholt a break from her impossible task and sent Miranda Dahlgren into the firing line.
“When we came together with our puck movement and speed everyone saw what we could do,” said captain Heise. “We just killed everyone else. I don’t want to say we were unstoppable, but we were a group that definitely not many people could stop.”
There was some great character from the battered Swedish defence to kill a penalty without its leader, Maja Nylen Persson but the Americans were relentless and added a ninth through Knoll in the 36th minute. By now, the celebrations were muted: impressive as the USA performance was, it was impossible not to feel for an opponent that found itself on the receiving end of something special.
When Sweden got a goal back on the power play at the start of the third, Jenny Antonsson forcing home the rebound from a Josefin Bouveng shot, there was a huge cheer around the arena. And it said much for the heart of Ylva Martinsen’s team that it could come out and continue to play its game despite the devastation wreaked in the middle frame.
There was even a third goal to cheer. Lina Ljungblom beat Reed with a well-struck shot as Sweden converted another power play midway through the frame. But this was all about the USA, and a spectacular explosion on offence that bore all the hallmarks of a champion team.
The final hooter brought wild celebrations. For Gracie Ostertag, who was also named as the directorate’s top defender of the tournament, this was her third time – and also her last as she leaves this age group. “I honestly can’t say which one means the most to me,” she said. “It’s the same incredible feeling every time. Playing for your country is an amazing feeling. You can’t take it for granted because you never know when it might be the last time.”
For Heise, another triple champion moving up to the next stage of her career, leaving the U18 scene will be a wrench. But she’s excited about the future – and not just her own. “When you look at this team, we’ve got a number of young people. They’ve been able to experience this for the first time, and with them the future will be awesome.”