Monday, 9 January 2017

Finland stifles high flying Canada for gold medal at Nations Cup

Despite Canada outshooting their Finnish opponents by a 27-18 margin, they were unable to solve All-World goaltender Noora Raty, who provided the heroics with a sparkling 1-0 shutout in the gold medal game of the 2017 Nations Cup. For the Canadian team, the level of competition at the Nations Cup has been increasing steadily. While Canada is represented by its U22/Development Team, other competing nations tend to bring their senior teams.

Making her debut as a head coach with Hockey Canada was Nadine Muzerall, who established an incredible playing and coaching legacy with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Having served as an assistant coach at multiple levels in the Canada program, she was looking for a golden outcome in her maiden voyage as head coach. As a side note, this season also marks her debut as a head coach at the NCAA level, serving as bench boss for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

While the event has proven to be a big test for Canada over the last few seasons, it supplies such an amazing amount of world class talent nonetheless; the hopes for gold were very high, attributed to such a strong showing in the round robin. The opening game at the Nations Cup saw Canada defeat the Czech Republic, aiming for their first Winter Games berth in 2018, by a 6-2 tally.

A hotly contested match against Sweden saw Canada provide a gutsy outperformance, outlasting their rivals by a 2-1 final. On Day 3, a 5-0 triumph against Germany (the host country for Group A play), provided redemption for Canada. Suffering a 3-2 upset in pre tournament play, Erica Howe need just 11 saves for the shutout while Sarah Lefort scored twice and Sarah Nurse supplied a multi-point performance, as Canada clinched first place in Group A while punching their ticket to the gold medal game.

Competing in Group B, Finland’s round robin matches took place at the SportZentrum in Telfs, Austria, while their counterparts in Group A were on-hand at Finland’s road to the gold medal match began with a 7-2 pummeling of Austria, who are among the top teams in IIHF Division 1A competition.

Finland would proceed to defeat Russia in a 3-2 final, winning their second game by a one goal margin, mirroring Canada’s outcome against Sweden. Competing against Switzerland in the final day of regulation, the Finns would emerge victorious by the same 3-2 score, qualifying for the gold medal game.

In the decade, Canada has captured gold on five separate occasions (2010-11, 2013, 2015-16), along with a bronze medal in 2012. Looking to capture their sixth gold medal since 2010, and 12th overall in tournament history, the highly touted Emerance Maschmeyer gained the start for Canada between the pipes.

Facing the biggest test in her promising career, Maschmeyer looked across the ice to see Noora Raty as the opposing goaltender. Having earned a bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, along with Top Goaltender recognition at three IIHF women’s worlds and an undefeated season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Raty is among the modern era’s goaltending greats.

With such superlative talent guarding the crease for their respective nations, it would prove to be a defensive stalemate for most of the contest, with both struggling to capitalize on scoring opportunities. The first period saw both goaltenders nullify a pair of power plays, with the Canadian squad outshooting the Finns by an 8-7 mark.

The second period would see Finland take advantage of a power play opportunity to grab the first lead of the game. With five seconds left in Sarah Nurse’s hooking penalty, Michelle Karvinen solved Maschmeyer. Having played at the NCAA level with North Dakota, Karvinen brings a strong knowledge of North American players to international competition, making her a significant asset for the ambitious Finns.

Despite Canada’s efforts, which included three power play opportunities in the second, followed by a pair of opportunities in the third as Isa Rahunen serve a high sticking call, followed by Rosa Lindstedt for cross checking, Raty proved to be a stonewall. Quite possibly one of the most brilliant performances in her stellar career, Raty’s strong play during the third was the golden factor. With Canada outshooting Finland by an aggressive 10-2 mark, accentuating by an extra skater in the final minute of play, Raty remained steady, constantly frustrating a Canadian roster filled with accomplished scorers.

Making 27 saves in the shutout victory, while Maschmeyer would face 18 shots, Raty neutralized seven power play chances, providing Finland with a hard-earned gold medal. For a sullen Canadian squad, the silver marks the second in tournament history, having also emerged with the silver in 2009.

After suffering numerous disappointments in international play, the gold medal game is a tremendous source of momentum for Finland, looking for a podium finish at the 2017 IIHF Worlds, and subsequently at the 2018 Winter Games. For Raty, who contemplated retirement after heartbreaking losses at the 2013 IIHF Worlds and 2014 Sochi Winter Games, remained faithful to the game she loves, playing at the men’s level in Finland along with a stint for the Minnesota Whitecaps. The outcome of the 2017 Nations Cup may have been her finest hour, displaying with great skill that she has not run out of brilliant performances, adding to her legacy as the greatest goaltender to emerge from Finland.

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