BRAMPTON, Ont. -- In a tight and often chippy match-up that was too close for comfort for the host country, Canada punched its ticket to the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship semifinals with a 3-2 overtime victory over Sweden on Thursday at the CAA Centre.
Sarah Nurse scored twice, including the game-winning goal, in three-on-three sudden death, sealing the nail-biting contest that many pundits expected Canada would dominate.
“I think that we’re building and we’re peaking at the right time,” Nurse said of her team’s play. “We talked about wanting to set up our next lines for success, and making good line changes, and I think we had a ton of possession time. There are a lot of good things that we’re able to take from that.”
The stellar play of Tre Kronor goalie Emma Soderberg kept her team in the game, not only keeping the result from being a blowout, but bringing her squad to the precipice of what would have been a monumental upset. Soderberg saved 51 pucks that were fired from Canada’s sharpshooters in her direction.
Canada recorded its 12th win all-time in as many games at the women’s worlds. But given that Sweden was blown out 11-0 by the same squad at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, coach Ulf Lundberg took pride in his team’s showing, drastically narrowing the goal differential from fourteen months ago.
“We’re coming closer,” Lundberg told reporters at game’s end. “We’re working hard of course. This season we’ve been playing tougher games. We also work with the SJHL and NCAA clubs. So we’re working hard with the development and we’re going to keep going.”
Blayre Turnbull of Stellarton, N.S., opened the scoring in the first period, weaving her way past Josefin Bouveng in the Swedish zone, then performing a forehand to backhand deke, tucking the puck past Soderberg. Canada outshot its opponents 14-5 in the first period, taking the one-goal lead into the intermission.
Some nastiness began to surface over the course of the second frame, both teams getting underneath the other’s skin. Three straight penalties were assessed against Canada; to Claire Thompson, Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Nurse. During the latter penalty kill, Laura Stacey was the victim of an illegal check by Hanna Olsson at the offensive blue line, prompting a mini-skirmish to take place along the boards.
On the ensuing powerplay, Nurse – having just exited the penalty box – won a puck battle against two Swedish penalty killers, then wired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Soderberg to the far side, doubling Canada’s lead.
The Swedes were undeterred as Turnbull was whistled for an illegal hit late in the period, and Sweden capitalized on the power play opportunity. Lina Ljungblom fired the puck from the slot, and the shot eluded netminder Emerance Maschmeyer to finally get Tre Kronor on the board.
The last 20 minutes of regulation time were spent mostly in Sweden’s zone, although the Canadians were kept at bay, Soderberg performing admirably as the last line of defence.
With just under five minutes left in regulation, young phenom Sarah Fillier celebrated what looked to be a goal, but the puck actually hit the corner of the net where the crossbar meets the goal post, and then bounced straight down and in front of the goal line.
Unlike the dramatic overtime finish in Calgary at the 2021 women's worlds, there would be no buzzer to halt continuation of the play and confirm a Team Canada goal.
In the final minute of the third period, with Soderberg on the bench for an extra skater, Stacey fired towards the empty net only to miss by inches. The gamble backfired.
Disaster struck for Canada with 9.2 seconds left in regulation. Sweden’s 16-year-old prodigy Hilda Svensson found a loose puck and tucked home a rebound to force the game into overtime as 4,019 fans stood, mouths agape in stunned silence.
Soderberg – despite the loss – was the story of the extra session. Early in the overtime she shut the door not once, but twice with her right pad on Canada’s Captain Clutch Poulin, who is no stranger to dramatic overtime goals.
“She got it on my pad and I was just like trying t extend, and I fell down on my toe,” Soderberg said of the play. “I didn’t really have time to think, I just tried to reach with something. I’m proud of my team. When we tied the game that late, it would have been amazing if we could get away with a win. But I’m still proud of how we fought through 60 minutes.”
Finally, Nurse was able to pierce Soderberg’s armour at 4:26 overtime, finding the top corner while using teammate Jocelyne Larocque as a screen. A wave of relief could be felt from the Yukon all the way to Newfoundland as the mob of 23 red-clad players joyously celebrated.
“The fact that I get to look up and see both sets of grandparents in the stands is pretty special,” Nurse said.
Nurse and, unsurprisingly Soderberg, were named the players of the game for their respective teams.
“Probably the biggest message was the management of the game,” Canadian head coach Troy Ryan said. “It’s something we’ve been working on for a while now, that we just have to be better early on doing the little things that make you successful later.”
The semifinals have been set for Saturday; the United States plays Czechia at 12 p.m. Eastern Time, and Canada faces off versus Switzerland at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.