Canada searching for answers after historic loss to Finland

Finland's Noora Tulus (24) and Emma Nuutinen (22) celebrate the winning goal over Canada in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship preliminary round game in Plymouth, Mich., on Saturday, April 1, 2017. (Jason Kryk/CP)

PLYMOUTH, MI.— You didn’t need to know the score, because you could see the result written all over Brianne Jenner’s face.

"We’re givin’ it our all right now, but we’re not clicking," Jenner said, with a sigh, straight-faced, minutes after Team Canada lost to Finland for the first time in women’s hockey history. "We’re just struggling right now."

Indeed, Canada is.

On Saturday, in front of a sparse but mostly Canadian flag-waving crowd here at USA Hockey Arena, Team Canada lost its second straight game of the IIHF Women’s World Championship, this time at the hands of a Finnish team that got its first win over Canada in their 21st meeting at this tournament.

Finnish goalie Noora Raty compared the victory to "the semi-pro team beating a pro team," and thought about all the little girls back home who’d see the game and know "anything can happen."

The Canadians, who’ve won this title 10 out of 17 years, are now 0-2. In two games so far, they haven’t even had a lead yet.

"I think we’re gonna find a way to come back," Jenner said. "But it doesn’t feel good right now."

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who got her team on the board Saturday near the end of the first period to tie the game at 1-1, sounded like a broken record, talking about what her squad needs to do going forward against Russia on Monday, their last game of the round robin.

Poulin said "we have to find a way" at least four times in less than two minutes. "I keep saying it," she said, "but it’s true."

"We kinda juggled a lot with the pucks. We can’t make tape-to-tape passes. It’s not our game…we have to find a way to put more pucks in the net and be more intense and play with more heart."

Against the defending champions and host Americans on Friday, Canada was blanked in a 2-0 loss, and on Saturday against Finland, Canada was down by a goal and caught up three separate times before Finnish defenceman Ronja Savolainen scored to make it 4-3 with less than two minutes remaining.

The Finnish players watched the clock expire, all standing on their bench, all jumping before they skated over to congratulate Raty. The coaches threw their hands up, and one member of the coaching staff even did a rapid-fire double-fisted pump.

Raty, who won two NCAA titles with Minnesota and led the team to a 41-0 perfect season back in 2012-13, was rock solid, stopping 35 of 38 shots. Right winger Susanna Tapani pointed out after the game: "We have the best goalie in the world."

Raty actually retired from the women’s game after the Sochi Olympics, because she couldn’t make a living playing, but returned last year, and was glad she did.

"I personally tried this for 13 years," Raty said, of beating Canada, "and there’s a player that played since the ‘90s, so it’s an historic win for us. We also know it’s just the start of the tournament, but it’s huge for our confidence."

Head coach Pasi Mustonen seconded that. "We really believe we can beat anyone," he said. "That is actually more important than those points we got today, is the mental part of the game."

Finland has come close to beating Canada in the past, including a 5-3 loss at last year’s world championships in the semifinal.

"Us older players, we’ve known it’s close, but we’ve just been close," Raty said. "Now we finally did it, so now we know we can do it—we’re not just saying we can beat them."

The difference Saturday was that Finland attacked, scored first, answered every time Canada responded, and pressured the Canadians all over the ice. "We weren’t sitting back, we actually pressured them all the time—skate, skate, skate," Raty said. "Of course four goals is huge for us, usually we get one or two."

They got three on Canada’s starter, 22-year-old Emerance Maschmeyer, who got the hook after 27 minutes—the third goal trickled in, through traffic— and was replaced by backup Genevieve Lacasse.

The momentum shifts kept happening as Finland scored and Canada answered, and when left-winger Rebecca Johnston beat Raty just 36 seconds into the third period to tie the game, 3-3, it felt like Canada was going to build off that momentum.

"It was there," Johnston said of the chances the Canadians had in the third, including on a power play after Poulin was hauled down in front. "I think we need to get that grit in front of the net and really put in the dirty one."

Canada has yet to hear its own national anthem after a game here, and this was not the bounce-back game they were looking for. Because of the way the tournament is set up, with the best teams in the world all in Group A—USA, Canada, Finland and Russia— they’ll all advance to the quarterfinal, or get a bye to the semifinal.

So Canada is moving on regardless, but of course the goal is to get a win against Russia and play like they know they can for the first time this tournament.

"I think we have to come back on Monday and really come out for 60 minutes, not 40, not 20," Johnston said. "We need to focus on playing our game and not letting them get to us, or this loss get to us. We have to forget about it, but move on and learn from it."

Jenner, who won gold with Canada at the last Olympics, says the team knows what it needs to do.

"I think the game feels a bit harder than it should right now," she said. "We’re missing some passes, we’re not supporting as well as we could. This is all stuff that we know, we just gotta climb outta that hole, one step at a time."

And that first step comes on Monday, against Russia.