Fillier powers Canada past Switzerland to reach final of women’s hockey worlds

Canada forward Sarah Fillier (10) is congratulated by teammates forwards Sarah Nurse (20 and Natalie Spooner (24) after scoring her second goal against Switzerland period IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship semifinal hockey action. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

BRAMPTON, Ont. – For the third consecutive year, Team Canada is off to the IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medal game.

Earning a 5-1 win over Switzerland in the semifinals Saturday, the Canadians secured their shot at a tournament three-peat. They will take on rival Team USA on Sunday, who will appear in their 22nd consecutive final after taking down Czechia 9-1.

So not only will the 2023 gold medal game be a repeat of 2022, the bronze medal game will be as well, with Czechia and Switzerland going up against each other for the second year in a row.

Meeting at the CAA Centre 10 days after their first game against one another – the tournament opener for each team, that of which Canada won 4-0 – Switzerland has now lost 11 straight games to Canada at the Women’s Worlds.

In this contest, Canada’s Sarah Fillier was the standout player after the 22-year-old earned a hat trick to lead her team to victory.

“She’s a dominant player that plays the game so fast and I really liked her goals today,” said Canada head coach Troy Ryan. “The best thing about Sarah is if you look at all her goals on the chart, they’re totally different all the time. She finds ways to score and she’s just hungry. She wants to score goals and doesn’t care how she does it.”

Fillier’s seven goals tie her for the lead at the Women’s Worlds with Finland’s Linda Ljungblom. At 11 points in total, she leads Canada and sits third overall at the tournament.

When asked if she could be considered one of the world’s best at this point, captain Marie-Philip Poulin said yes.

“For sure, 100 per cent. She’s one of the best. She keeps proving it every night and that’s something that we’re really thrilled to see as teammates (and) friends. She’s just going to keep going.”

A quiet opening 20 minutes in regards to scoring, neither Canada or Switzerland managed to get themselves on the scoreboard ahead of the game’s first intermission. The most notable action in the first period was Switzerland’s captain Lara Stalder, who leads her squad with 10 points, receiving a game misconduct for checking from behind. The initial call was a two-minute minor but after a review of the hit, the referees upgraded their punishment.  It was a major loss for the Swiss as the top line of Stalder, Alina Muller and Rahel Enzler had together produced nine goals and 25 points heading into Saturday’s matchup.

“Losing Lara hurt us a lot,” said Swiss head coach Colin Muller. “I hope tomorrow that she’s able to play. I didn’t think the hit was as bad as they thought. … We definitely need her in the lineup and we don’t have enough top-quality girls right now to play at this level and she’s (missed) for sure.”

The majority of Canada’s five-minute power play transferred over to the second period but the team was unable to capitalize on the extended man advantage they were gifted. The first goal of the night did not come until more than halfway through the game when Fillier finally broke Switzerland goaltender Andrea Braendli. With helpers from linemates Natalie Spooner and Sarah Nurse, Fillier got ahold of the puck before striking from just outside of the right circle.

“Definitely a bit of relief,” said Fillier when asked how that first goal helped start off Canada’s offence. “It’s a lot better playing with a little bit of a lead, especially in a semi-final game. But I think it just brought a ton of energy to our bench and we weren’t satisfied.”

“Once (Fillier) scored that first one, it kind of opened up the game and we were able to get and create a lot more,” added Spooner.

Six minutes later, the Canadians added insurance to that lead after Fillier potted her second goal. The play was initiated by Spooner’s wraparound attempt – as although she wasn’t successful in scoring herself, she was successful in getting the puck to the front of the net – which Fillier was then able to jam in despite the heavy Swiss presence.

A delay of game penalty to Switzerland’s Muller helped Canada earn their third tally just under four minutes into the final 20. As the Canadian power play got going, there was some traffic outside of the goal crease after a shot from Claire Thompson. Spooner, earning her third assist of the night, was able to get the puck loose and over to Jamie Lee Rattray who scored her first of the tournament.

Fillier posted the hat trick with 4:56 to go, banging in a rebound off her own shot. The goal was immediately met with an eruption of cheers from the crowd, as well as hats raining down on the ice. Muller was able to get Switzerland on the board, spoiling Ann-Renee Desbiens’ shot at a shutout, with a little over two minutes remaining. However, it was far too little and too late at that point. Canada’s Rebecca Johnston capped off the night with one final goal as the clock dwindled down to mere seconds, officially sending the team off to the finals.

“…We’ve been very successful this tournament, we’ve won hockey games and so now it comes down to one more win,” said Nurse on the upcoming tilt against the U.S.

Aside from the medal games awaiting the Women’s Worlds on Sunday, Finland and Sweden will also be battling for the fifth and sixth-place spots to determine final grouping for next year’s tournament.

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