Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Russia prevails as Sweden is off to the relegation round

Heading into the contest, there was a must-win feeling for Sweden as a loss would place them into the relegation round. As one of the premier women’s ice hockey programs in the world, the Swedes were hoping to end the round robin on a winning note.

Standing between the pipes for Sweden was Valentina Lizana. Having faced 14 shots in the first frame, she played valiantly. The only goal she would allow in the first came courtesy of a power play.

With Erika Grahm serving a penalty for body contact, Anna Shibanova would release a slap shot from the blue line that was tipped in by Russian captain Yekaterina Smolentseva.

Sweden struggled to muster an offensive attack as they registered five shots in the frame. With three total penalties in the period, the emphasis was neutralizing the Russian power play. Near the end of the first frame, Sweden started to apply some pressure on Nadezhda Alexandrova as Pernilla Winberg and Elin Holmlov both had scoring chances.

Heading into the second stanza, Russia added to their lead. A balanced scoring attack in the second period saw several players log points in the frame. Veteran Galina Skiba would release a booming slapshot that would bounce off the crossbar into the net for the 2-0 advantage.

Although Sweden would enjoy a power play after the goal (a body checking call to Anna Shibanova), the advantage was spoiled by a penalty to Sweden’s Lisa Johansson. With 45 seconds remaining in her penalty, Russia would make it 3-0 on the strength of a marker by Alexandra Vafina.

With 5:22 remaining, Sara Grahn replaced Lizana in the Swedish crease. At the time of the goaltending change, Russia had peppered Lizana with 26 shots, while Sweden could only garner eight shots.

Despite the goaltending change, Sweden continued to struggle on offense. With a power play in the last minute of the second for Sweden (a tripping call on Russia), Pernilla Winberg had the best scoring chance but was unable to add a goal on the score sheet.

The third period was defined by a lot of back and forth. Early in the period, Sweden tried to turn things around. Shots by Jenni Asserholt, Emma Eliasson and Erika Grahm were all denied by Alexandrova.

At the 11:22 mark of the frame, Sweden was called for cross checking. With Frida Nevalainen in the penalty box, it became difficult for the Swedes to build momentum. While they were effective in containing the Russian offense during the third, the opportunities to score goals were sliding away.

As there was less than four minutes remaining, Sweden opted for an extra attacker by competing with the open net. Despite their best efforts, it was Russia that got onto the score sheet. Yelena Dergachyova would score into the open net as Russia prevailed by a 4-0 final. Asserholt was named Player of the Game for Sweden, while Tatiana Burina was recognized for the victorious Russians.

With the victory, Russia is off to the quarterfinals. In many ways, the Russian squad is similar to the Swiss squad of 2012 that won the bronze medal. The Swiss were a talented squad that flew under the radar and surprised many. Russia is in a similar setting and a medal win would provide great momentum heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

As Sweden must regroup for the relegation round, the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds have served as a learning experience. The squad has 13 players that are aged 22 years and younger. The struggles of today will serve as the backdrop for the possible glories of tomorrow.

One of the leaders on Sweden’s team, Elin Holmlov, commented on what went wrong, “We just need to put the puck in the net and take advantage of the chances we get.” Johanna Fallman, a young defender for Sweden added, “I think we did our best. We just couldn’t score in this game. We did really well, and we had experienced players.”

Despite the heartbreaking loss to Russia, she remarked on the young team that Sweden had, “I think we have seven people who have played in at least one Women’s Worlds. These young players are very talented and they have lots of energy and excitement.”

One of the top scorers for Russia, Iya Gavrilova spoke about the confidence Russia would gain going into the quarterfinals, “Definitely. It is always special to play against Sweden. They are a good team and we wanted to show we were athletic.”

When asked if the win against Sweden made a statement, Gavrilova replied humbly, “I don’t know if the win makes a statement or not. We try to play our game. We have four lines rolling.”

With Gavrilova and her Russian teammates facing Florence Schelling and the Swiss in the quarters, she stated, “We are now trying to prepare for our Switzerland our game. It will be a tough game. They have a good goalie and it comes down to one game. We have to go into the next game expecting to be at the top of our game.”

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