PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- The referee raised his arm to signal a penalty, and U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley skated off the ice. All the Germans had to do in the Thursday’s semifinal game at the IIHF Women’s World Championship was possess the puck, take their penalty and hope to get out of the game with some pride intact.
But they couldn’t.
Even as Team USA led 7-0 midway through the third period, a berth in the Friday’s night championship game long since secured, the Americans held onto the puck like a group of teenagers tormenting their kid sisters.
For 30 seconds, and then one minute, the American players slid the puck from one player to another, from the blue line to the red line and back. And then they kept going. Ninety seconds. Two minutes. Finally, after two minutes and 25 seconds, the Germans stopped the madness and got the privilege of sending out their penalty kill unit.
Throughout these world championships the U.S. players have been espousing a commitment to playing their own game. They’re not worrying about what their opponents will do, the American players say; their focus is on themselves and playing their game the best they can.
That plan couldn’t have gone much better than it did on Thursday, when Team USA scored more goals than Germany had shots in an 11-0 victory in Plymouth, Michigan. With the win, they moved on to tomorrow night’s final against Canada.
“It sure seems pretty good,” coach Robb Stauber said. “It sure seems like we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
The Americans jumped on the upstart German team early, with forward Kendall Coyne skating around the back of the net only to reverse momentum and hit Hilary Knight for an open snipe just 66 seconds into the game.
Kelli Stack added a second goal at 8:47, and the U.S. defensemen swarmed inside their blue line to extinguish any serious German attempts throughout the rest of the first period.
Then the wheels came off.
A Coyne power play goal at 2:02 in the second period set off a flurry in which Team USA scored three goals in 82 seconds and ultimately netted five in a span of 4:13.
With that, it was back to that mantra.
Focusing on playing its game, Team USA added four more goals while giving up just three shots over the final 30 minutes.
“We have a lot of core veteran players that have been around for a while, and I think they’ve set the tone in these games,” captain Meghan Duggan said. “There’s great leadership in our team, we communicate really well, we talk through games like this when the score is getting high. We still want to focus on us, and focus on the things we want to get better at.”
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Tomorrow’s game should be more competitive.
For the 18th time in 18 world championships, a history dating back to 1990, the United States and Canada will meet in the final.
Team USA, the three-time defending world champion, already beat its archrival 2-0 in the opener, and Canada followed that by losing its second game 4-3 to Finland. That marked the first time Canada had lost to a team other than the United States in world championships history.
The skid didn’t last, though, as Canada finished pool play with an 8-0 win over Russia to secure a bye into the semifinals, and then dispatched of the Finns 4-0 in Thursday’s early semifinal.
A familiar nemesis has been on her game, too.
Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored the Olympic gold-medal-winning goals in both Vancouver and Sochi, leads Canada with two goals and four assists.
Not that the Americans are struggling for output, though. Ten players scored goals against Germany, and 13 recorded points. Going into the title game, U.S. forward Brianna Decker leads all players with 10 points on three goals and seven assists. Coyne ranks second with nine points and a tournament-leading five goals.
That balance is all part of the plan.
“We’re not a team that’s going to become selfish about who scores, who doesn’t score, who’s on the score sheet,” Stauber said. “We’ve reiterated to our players, it just doesn’t mater, as long as we get production across the board, that’s the most important thing.”
The team also has a tough decision to make in net, although there might not be a wrong answer.
On one hand they have Hensley, who has already shut out Canada and Germany at these world championships. On the other is Alex Rigsby, the star of last year’s world championship team. Officially, Stauber technically doesn’t rule out Madeline Rooney, either. She got a shutout in her first world championships appearance on Saturday.
So when Duggan was asked whether she expects to see any changes in the Canadian team Friday, it shouldn’t come as a surprise how she responded.
“You never know, that’s on them,” she said. “We’re focused on us. I know that we’ll bring our A game; we’ll be ready to go. We’ve had a fantastic tournament so far, and we are really looking forward to tomorrow’s game regardless of what they bring.”
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.