U.S. women meet challenge, reach world championship semifinals

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PLYMOUTH, Mich. (AP) — In their final game before the start of single-elimination play, Hannah Brandt and her American teammates faced a stern challenge at the women’s hockey world championship.

Finland had tied the score in the third period, and goalie Noora Raty had been holding the U.S. at bay.

“We want close games. We want to have to battle,” Brandt said. “We’re going to need that going into the semis and hopefully the finals.”

Brandt scored with 7:35 remaining in the game, and the United States beat Finland 5-3 on Monday night to secure the top seed for the knockout round of the tournament.

Hilary Knight scored twice for the Americans, who won all three of their games in group play and will advance straight to Thursday’s semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of a quarterfinal between Russia and Germany.

“I thought that was a great test for our team,” Brandt said.

Canada received the other bye into the semis and will take on the winner of a Finland-Sweden quarterfinal. The quarterfinals are Tuesday.

“It will be a rivalry (Tuesday),” Finland captain Jenni Hiirikoski said. “There’s a lot of friends in that team, and it’s nice to play against them.”

Finland upset Canada 4-3 on Saturday, and the Finns would have received one of the two byes if they’d been able to earn a point against the U.S.

They rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the game at 3 in the third period, but Brandt put the Americans back ahead, redirecting a nice pass from Gigi Marvin. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson added an empty-net goal for the U.S.

Raty, who had 35 saves against Canada, had 35 against the Americans as well, keeping the game close until the very end.

Shortly after Brandt’s goal put the U.S. ahead, the Americans had to kill off 95 seconds of a 5-on-3 disadvantage. They were able to do it.

“We knew Finland was going to come to play,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. “They’re a great team. We saw what they did against Canada the other night.”

After a dispute with USA Hockey that had players threatening to boycott this tournament, the women’s national team reached an agreement to end the wage dispute shortly before the event started. Then the Americans began the competition with a 2-0 win over rival Canada.

They followed that up with a 7-0 victory over Russia, but Finland become the first team to score on the U.S., taking a 1-0 lead on a wrist shot by Susanna Tapani past Alex Rigsby.

Knight tied it later in the first period when she was able to stuff home a loose puck while the Americans had a 5-on-3 advantage.

Kendall Coyne put the U.S. ahead with a goal 3:33 into the second, and Knight made it a two-goal lead. Finland pulled within one when Hiirikoski scored in the final minute of the period, and Michelle Karvinen tied it with 10:56 left in the third.

The first three goals by the U.S. came on the power play. Finland was whistled for five penalties in the second period alone.

“Special teams — you love ’em, you hate ’em sometimes. They can screw up the flow of the game,” Duggan said.

“You’ve got to capitalize on special teams, obviously, so I think we’ve had a few power-play goals through the tournament, so I’m really happy with that. We’ve got a lot of players that are playing in a ton of different roles.”

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Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

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Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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