With two Group A teams in the bronze medal game at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Calgary, Alta., a key theme for both Finland and Switzerland were changes between the pipes.
Throughout the 2010s, Noora Raty and Florence Schelling were associated with goaltending excellence, ensuring their respective homelands were always in the conversation as medal favourites.
Having starred for Finland in four IIHF Under-18 Wom en’s World Championships, 24-year-old Anni Keisala’s superlative performances in Calgary have served as a coming-out party on ice. Recently turning 20, Switzerland’s Saskia Maurer, who will be playing for the NCAA’s University of St. Thomas this fall, has also impressed, displaying a resilience that has solidified the Swiss goaltending picture.
During preliminary round play, Finland prevailed in a dominant 6-0 performance which saw Petra Nienminen record a natural hat trick, certainly one of the finest performances of the tournament.
With Swiss goaltender Andrea Braendli, who enters her senior season at Ohio State this fall, allowing five goals, the team’s frustrations were compounded by the absence of Alina Muller due to injury.
As Switzerland returned to the bronze medal match-up for the first time since 2012, with hopes of winning its second-ever medal in tournament history, Maurer gained the start versus Kiesala, possibly the first of many epic match-ups between the two prodigious backstops in the decade to come.
The Finns enjoyed an early lead, scoring on just their second shot of the game. Enjoying her first goal, and point, of the tournament, Tanja Niskanen provided further contribution. After a first period that saw a total of 20 shots on net, Maurer recording 11 saves, Niskanen enjoyed her second point of the game merely 54 seconds into the second.
Along with Julia Liikala, the two would assist on a goal scored by Ella Viitasuo. Coincidentally, it also marked her first goal of the tournament, extending Finland’s lead.
It was a 3-0 lead that would be quickly cut, as captain Lara Stalder spoiled Kiesala’s bid for her third shutout of the tournament to make it 3-1. With Phoebe Staenz earning the assist, the Swiss hoped to capitalize. With Emilia Vesa called for tripping, Switzerland’s first power-play of the game, Kiesala proved impossible to solve.
Following the tripping penalty, Switzerland was called for two penalties in the period, both for too many players on the ice. Although Maurer was valiant, part of a second period which saw her record 12 saves, Finland took full advantage of the second power-play. Nienminen deflected a shot by Michelle Karvinen to record her sixth of the tournament, which led her team.
With the Swiss called for another pair of penalties in the third, high-sticking and an illegal hit, it only added to their offensive frustrations. Although the Finns only managed six shots on net, the Swiss merely mustered five shots, unable to rally.
Taking into account that Switzerland only recorded five goals all tournament, three coming in a highly emotional 3-2 come-from-behind quarterfinal win in overtime versus Russia, it was not the type of offensive attack that results in a medal finish. Had Muller been healthy, perhaps fortunes would have shifted in the Swiss’s favour.
Pondering the future, Finland has found a gem in Keisala, poised to anchor the team's goaltending situation for the remainder of the decade.
With a highly impressive .941 save percentage, along with a 1.96 goals against average and a pair of shutouts, she added some impressive accolades. Joining Nienminen on the Tournament All-Star Team, the only two Europeans named, she earned the Directorate Award for Best Goaltender, following in the footsteps of Raty, who earned the honour in 2019.