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After two weeks of not knowing if they would play in the IIHF Women's World Championship being held in their own country, the U.S. Women's National Hockey Team came together on a short practice schedule and proceeded to go 5-0 in the tournament, culminating in their fourth straight gold medal with a 3-2 overtime victory over Canada on Friday, April 7.

Team USA opened the tournament on March 31 against Canada, shutting out their arch-rivals, 2-0.  They then proceeded to claim the top seeding in the playoff round with a 7-0 victory over Russia and a 5-3 win over Finland. Finland fell to Russia in their opener, 2-1, but came back with a 4-3 upset victory over Canada, their first win against the Canadians in major tournament play.  After losing twice, Canada bounced back with an 8-0 drubbing of Russia to take the #2 spot and a bye to the semifinals.

In Group B, newly-promoted Germany turned some heads by getting wins over Sweden and the Czech Republic to finish atop the group.  Sweden also got two wins, defeating Switzerland and the Czechs.  The Swiss got a shootout victory over the Czechs and a regulation win over Germany, but still finished third in the group, falling into the relegation series against the Czech Republic.

In the best-of-3 relegation series, it was Switzerland that survived and will remain in the Top Division for 2019, falling to the Czechs in the first game, 4-2, but winning the next two by scores of 3-2 (OT) and 4-2.

The playoff round started with Finland shutting out Sweden, 4-0, and Germany pulled off a 2-1 upset of Russia in the quarterfinals.  The win guaranteed the Germans a best-ever finish for a newly-promoted team.  However, reality set in as Team USA ended Germany's run, steamrolling them 11-0 in the semifinals.  Meanwhile, the Finns had to face Canada in a rematch in the semis, and Canada rolled to a 4-0 victory.  The Germans got blown out again in the Bronze Medal Game, as Finland took home the hardware with an 8-0 win.

In the championship game, Canada scored quickly as Meghan Agosta lit the lamp just 61 seconds into the contest, but Kacey Bellamy responded for the Americans, knotting the score 3-1/2 minutes later.  After a scoreless second period, Bellamy scored again after a nice feed from Hilary Knight just 42 seconds into period 3, but Canada capitalized on a power play 9 minutes later on a goal by Brianne Jenner.  Regulation finished tied, 2-2, but Knight ended it halfway through the extra period when she took a drop pass from Kendall Coyne and rifled it home for the victory.

WWC Top Players
Tournament Chairman, Frank Gonzalez of the IIHF presents the Directorate Awards to top defenseman Jenni Hiirikoski (FIN), top forward Brianna Decker (USA) and top goaltender Noora Räty (FIN). 
Image credit: Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images

Gopher performances in the World Championship – All 10 former and current Gophers playing with their respective national teams earned medals in the tournament.  Megan Bozek, Hannah Brandt, Amanda Kessel, Gigi Marvin, Kelly Pannek, and Lee Stecklein earned gold with Team USA, Sarah Davis and Sarah Potomak took home silver with Canada, and Mira Jalosuo and Noora Räty earned bronze with Finland.

Between the pipes, Noora Räty won the award as Best Goaltender of the tournament.  She played in all 6 games for Finland, going 3-3 with a .924 save percentage, 2.03 goals-against average, and 2 shutouts.

USA Golden Gophers
Your GWH gold medalists with the U.S. Women's National Hockey Team: (front) Hannah Brandt, Kelly Pannek, (rear) Megan Bozek, Gigi Marvin, Lee Stecklein, and Amanda Kessel.
Image credit: Brad Frost

Amanda Kessel led all Gopher skaters participating in the tournament with 6 points, scoring the opening goal of Team USA's semifinal game against Germany and dishing out 5 assists.  Sarah Potomak scored twice for Canada and added an assist for 3 points, Gigi Marvin recorded a goal and an assist, Hannah Brandt and Mira Jalosuo each added a goal, and Megan Bozek had an assist.  Neither Lee Stecklein nor Sarah Davis recorded a point, but Stecklein had a +1 plus/minus rating and Davis was even.