BRAMPTON, Ontario — With a familiar berth in the women’s world hockey championship gold-medal game on the line, leave it to the United States’ so-called old guard to set the tone.
Captain Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel scored two goals each to lead a young and retooled American team to a 9-1 rout of the Czech Republic in the tournament semifinals Saturday.
“It wasn’t going to going to be an easy game,” said Kessel, who is making her seventh tournament appearance. “Nobody’s rolling over. They’re in that game for a reason. So I think having that experience and knowing that it’s going to be a battle no matter who you’re playing.”
Next up is another potential showdown against cross-border rival Canada in the championship game Sunday. Canada, which eked out a 3-2 overtime win over Sweden in the quarterfinals, faced Switzerland in the other semifinal later in the day.
Canada (5-0) finished atop the Group A standings following a 4-3 shootout win over the Americans on Monday.
With nine titles to Canada’s 12, the U.S. (5-1) has never missed a gold-medal game in tournament history, and it will be seeking to reclaim the title after losing to Canada in each of the past two finals.
U.S. coach John Wroblewski already was itching for a chance to play Canada.
“Getting over the hump of beating that team is something,” Wroblewski said.
“It’s not like there’s one thing to shut down against Canada. There’s a multitude of experience and confidence,” he added. “To dethrone someone that’s that good at what they do is going to take an outstanding performance from every single player and very few mistakes as well from the coaching staff.”
What’s been validating so far for the second-year coach is going with a lineup featuring five players making their tournament debuts. The mix of veterans — Knight and Kessel — and youngsters — Tessa Janecke and Caroline Harvey — filled the scoresheet against the Czechs.
The 33-year-old Knight also added an assist to increase her Team USA-record world championship total to 98 points. The 20-year-old Harvey scored and added four assists to raise her team-leading tournament total to 13 points. The 22-year-old Janecke scored twice to give her three goals and six points in her tournament debut.
Cayla Barnes had three assists while Abbey Murphy and Abby Roque also scored. Aerin Frankel stopped 14 shots to improve her tournament record to 4-1.
Adela Sapovalivova scored for the Czechs, who were making their Group A tournament debut after winning their first bronze medal last year. This marked the second straight year the Czechs have lost to the U.S. in the semis, following a 10-1 decision in Denmark.
Blanka Skodova stopped 15 shots and was pulled after Murphy put the Americans up 4-0 at the 8:13 mark of the second period. Katerina Zechovska allowed five goals on 26 shots.
The loss didn’t faze Czech Republic coach Carla MacLeod.
“Are you kidding me? Pumped right now. Guys, this is our first time in the A Pool. First time ever. We just played in the semifinal. We’re playing for a medal tomorrow,” said the former Canadian Olympian in her second year as coach. “I couldn’t be more thrilled of where we’re at.”
With the U.S. leading 1-0 after the first period, Knight scored twice in a span of 1:28 during a second period in which the Americans scored five times. Barnes set up Knight’s first goal to convert a 2-on-1 break 4:22 into the period. Knight then made it 3-0 with a power-play goal in which she tipped in Harvey’s shot from the left point.
Making her 13th world championship appearance, Knight has five goals in six tournament games, marking the eighth time she’s scored at least five. It also marks the eighth time she has posted at least nine points.
Knight deflected the attention by noting it was Kessel who set the tone by opening the scoring.
“Game 7 Kessel,” Knight said. “Amanda Kessel is one of the best and one of the greats, will go down as one of the greats to ever wear this jersey. And you never sleep on her.”
As for the possibility of facing Canada, Knight looked forward to facing whomever before noting the intense the rivalry between the world’s two dominant powers.
“Obviously, when U.S. and Canada take the ice, it’s one of the best games ever and it’s a hard-fought game. The fans get their money’s worth,” Knight said.
The U.S. and Canada have played for gold in 20 of the previous 21 tournaments, with the exception of 2019, when the Americans defeated Finland 3-2 in a shootout after the Finns beat Canada in the semis.
Canada ended the Americans’ run of five straight titles with a 3-2 OT win in 2021 in Calgary. Canada defeated the U.S. 2-1 in the final last year. The Canadians also are the defending Olympic champions after a 3-2 win over the Americans at the 2022 Beijing Games.