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Americans shut out Finns in renewed rivalry during first semi at IIHF Women's World Championship

Among the unique storylines that developed at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World

Championship in Calgary, Alta., with the tournament returning after a year lost to an unforgiving

pandemic, is the renewal of rivalries that has captured the imagination of many. One such rivalry

involves Finland and the five-time defending champions the United States.

The last time that the two faced off in elimination round play at the IIHF women's worlds marked a

significant brush with history. With Finland, also the host country, qualifying for the gold medal

game at the 2019 edition of the worlds, it marked the first time that a European country played

for gold. With a shootout between Finland and U.S. required, a new layer was added to their long-

time rivalry.

Challenging each other in the opening game of the semi-finals in Calgary, the U.S. defeated Japan by a convincing 10-2 mark in quarterfinal play, while Finland defeated the Czech Republic in a hard-fought 1-0 final. In preliminary round play, the U.S. blanked Finland by a 3-0 mark, with

goals by rookie Grace Zumwinkle, Kelly Pannek and star veteran Hilary Knight, marking the second shutout for the Americans in the tournament.

Certainly, the U.S. entered the semifinals with a strong feeling of momentum. Revered among the world’s finest forwards, Knight and Brianna Decker cemented their legacies with record-breaking performances. In an Aug. 24 contest versus Russia, Decker’s assist on a goal by

Knight saw them both set new standards of excellence for USA Hockey. Knight surpassed

Cammi Granato as the all-time leading goal scorer for the United States, while Decker’s assist

marked the 39th of her international career, breaking a tie with Jenny Potter and Krissy Wendell.

Worth noting, Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski also placed her name in the record books. During

the tournament, she graced the ice for the 70th time at women's worlds, setting a new benchmark. In addition, 2021 also marked her 13th tournament appearance.

Heading into the semifinals, the catalysts on Finland’s offense involved Petra Nieminen, pacing

the team with five goals, Susanna Tapani recorded three goals, while Michele Karvinen

emerged as a key playmaker, logging five assists.

Sputtering on offence in the semifinal, unable to capitalize on a first period five-on-three, it set the tone for a game that saw the United States prevail by another 3-0 tally. Finnish goaltender

Anni Keisala enjoyed a pair of shutouts in the preliminary round played valiantly. Not allowing a goal in the first period, Keisala remained integral for the Finns, especially after being outshot by a 25-7 margin after two periods of play.

Recording 31 saves against a strong American squad, it was an opposite story in the American

crease as Nicole Hensley required only 14 saves. The defence proved to be very stingy,

especially in the latter half of the third. With seven minutes remaining, the Finns pulled Keisala

out of the net during a power-play opportunity. Even with two extra attackers, the only chance to cut the U.S. lead saw Tapani hit the post with five minutes remaining, unable to shift

momentum in Finland’s favour.

Before time would expire, American captain Kendall Coyne-Schofield scored into an empty net,

providing her teammates an opportunity to potentially win a sixth consecutive gold medal. The other goals in the contest were scored by Alex Carpenter and Abbey Murphy.

Awaiting the winner Canada versus Switzerland, the United States have won eight of the last nine gold medals in IIHF Worlds play, their last silver coming in 2012.

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