Chaos reigns in the PHF — U18 Women’s Worlds wrap up — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demestihas, Jan. 20, 2023

Happy Friday! It’s been all quiet on the PWHPA front, but U18 Women’s Worlds has wrapped up since I last wrote, and the PHF absolutely exploded in chaos over the past week, so there’s plenty to talk about.

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The last few games of U18 Women’s Worlds were unforgettably fun. Yes, Canada won it all again, and no, that wasn’t a surprise—but everything leading up to it was. Most notably, on January 14, Sweden toppled the US and moved on to the gold medal game. Last week I wrote about how impressed I had been with their play, even with a loss to the US and one to Canada, and they proved me right by showing up massively when it mattered the most with a 2-1 win. The US opened scoring just before the end of the first period, but Sweden scored on back to back powerplays in the second period, giving them a 2-1 lead that the US team was unable to erase in the third. Neither team was exactly clean, but Team USA had 18 Penalty Infraction Minutes (PIM) where Sweden had 12, and Sweden capitalized with the extra attacker where Team USA could not. Goalie Felicia Frank made 37 saves on 38 shots, earning the win with an impressive .974 SV% and cementing her as the best goaltender in the tournament in my eyes (and in the eyes of the Directorate, who awarded her Best Goalkeeper). She was also on the Media All-Star team, along with teammate Mira Jungåker (D). 

Ultimately, Canada trounced Sweden in the gold medal game with a 10-1 score. But for Sweden to win silver on home ice is a great success story, especially given the turmoil their senior women’s program has faced in recent years. Team USA won bronze, beating Finland 5-0 and returning home with a medal after a lackluster tournament.

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Slovakia’s Nela Lopusanova continued to dominate the competition, ending up with 12 points in five games (nine goals, three assists). Just behind her was Canada’s Caitlin Kraemer, with 11 points in five games (10 goals, one assist). Rounding out the top three was Team USA’s Maggie Scannell, unquestionably their MVP to me, with eight points in five games (four goals, four assists). Jungåker also won the honor of the tournament’s best defender.

The Media All Star Team:

G: Felicia Frank (SWE)

D: Mira Jungåker (SWE)

D: Molly Jordan (USA)

F: Caitlin Kraemer (CAN)

F: Pauliina Salonen (FIN)

F: Nela Lopusanova (SVK)

In other news, the PHF was rife with chaos in the last week. It’s no secret that the Beauts have been seriously struggling. They have only one win on the season and have been underperforming, based on the talent they have on paper. It’s been tough to watch at times, especially against teams like Boston who are all firepower all the time. This past weekend was a Beauts and Pride matchup that resulted in, finally, some changes.

First, on Saturday the Pride absolutely stomped on the Beauts, 8-0. There were a lot of penalties in this game, some of them maybe questionable calls, which has been a NWHL/PHF staple since the league’s inception so isn’t really a surprise. I don’t remember watching this game and thinking that it was a standout in terms of how the reffing was done, but Buffalo’s head coach Rhea Coad thought otherwise. She was given a game misconduct, which resulted in a two-game suspension, for “verbal abuse of an official.” This means she did not coach the Beauts on Sunday or in Connecticut on Tuesday.

Coad has come under fire from fans and media alike in the past weeks. I think it’s fair to look at the talent on the Beauts roster and then look at their play and say that something isn’t working there, and it’s the coach’s job to make players into a team. The Beauts have mostly not looked cohesive all season, there rarely seems to be a plan in the neutral zone, and besides their powerplay, they haven’t often seemed threatening in the offensive zone. While it’s not usually as simple as one coach or one player being the issue, when a team looks this consistently discombobulated and defeated, it’s reasonable to suspect that the coaching needs an adjustment.

One specific gripe I saw a lot was Coad’s treatment of Autumn MacDougall, whose overtime game-winner remains to this day the Beauts’ only game-winner of the season. MacDougall is in her third PHF season and had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 20 games last season. Seems to me like a player you’d want to play significant minutes, especially given the role she played in their only win. Instead, Coad had MacDougall stationed on the fourth line, and over the last few games she barely played at all. 

MacDougall didn’t travel with the team to Connecticut, and apparently neither did Coad. 

Although Buffalo only lost 2-1 on Sunday to Boston, they continued their losing streak. The Beauts were without Coad once again in Connecticut on Tuesday, where they lost 3-0. At some point during this time, MacDougall requested a release from the team. The Beauts fought back more on Wednesday, but still ended up losing 7-3. I thought that was a much better game in general, though.

The Whale are a really overpowering team right now, especially when Kennedy Marchment is on fire, and Samoskevich and Reyes have found some much-needed chemistry. Marchment actually scored her first-ever hat-trick in this game, which is a statistic that feels fake, because she’s so good. Claudia Kepler, already the Beauts’ leading scorer, tacked on two more goals in that game, and in general the Beauts showed more fight than I’ve seen for a while. I hope they’re able to turn it around, but I’m not sure what you could do at this point to make it happen. Losing MacDougall probably doesn’t make a difference given that Coad wasn’t playing her, but even if they have the cap space now to sign someone Coad will play, I don’t think an individual player will fix the team’s issues.

On the other end of her release, MacDougall ended up signing with the Montreal Force. 

I think this is a great fit for her. She’s fast and aggressive, which will make it easy for her to click with Montreal’s systems and style of play. I know that Montreal isn’t the only team who wanted her, but it sounds like they had the best offer. Toronto certainly couldn’t have offered her much, because they just turned around and announced a signing of their own, as if the week had not been crazy enough: Daryl Watts, winner of the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award (the first freshman winner ever), one of the most impressive NCAA forwards in recent history. Sure, why not, right? It’s not like Toronto are in second place with a +12 goal differential already. And they were off last weekend, so they may only be in second place because Boston has a game in hand. 

Toronto will have her speed and soft hands not only for the playoff push this year, but all through next year as well. We don’t have details on her contract structure, but given the huge cap bump between seasons, I wouldn’t be surprised if her contract is backloaded in some way. Regardless, Toronto is going all-in for a Cup this year, and it’s going to be nuts.

One other thing that happened this week is that the All-Star rosters were announced. I’ll have more thoughts of my own for you about the rosters and the weekend itself when it comes up, but for now you can read this breakdown from Holly Morrison at The Ice Garden.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Eleni Demestihas