The U.S. Women’s National Team’s road to gold at the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Espoo, Finland, was full of exciting moments, firsts and milestones, streaks and highlight-reel goals.
At the end of the 10-day tournament, the U.S. was crowned gold-medal champions for its fifth consecutive Women’s Worlds, and its eighth time in its last nine tries dating back to 2008. The U.S. finished the tournament with a perfect (6-1-0-0/W-OTW-OTL-L) record, its fourth consecutive time doing so in tournament history and its sixth time overall.
Team USA kicked off the tournament with a bang in its opening game against host country Finland. After falling behind 2-1 after two periods, the U.S. strung together five unanswered goals in the third to win, 6-2.
That evening, Melissa Samoskevich (Sandy Hook, Conn.), one of six U.S. players that made their IIHF WWC debut at this tournament, lit the lamp for her first time as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team in IIHF play
After the ensuing back-to-back wins against Canada and Switzerland, the U.S. earned its biggest win of the tournament with a 10-0 victory over Russia in its final prelim. That game marked defender Lee Stecklein’s (Roseville, Minn.) 43rd career start for Team USA in IIHF play, a career that includes two Olympic Winter Games and multiple Women’s Worlds, but it wasn’t until now that Stecklein would find the back of the net – and she actually did twice.
Coming out on top of Pool A following the preliminary stage, the U.S. would go on to face Japan in its first-ever WWC quarterfinal game and then Russia again in the semifinals. The semifinal match-up meant a lot to Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho), who made her 51st career start at the WWC against the Russians, the most for any member of Team USA in the tournament’s history. Knight was honored pregame and postgame by some of her teammates, and went out and had her biggest scoring outing of the tournament in that game (and the most for any one player in a single game) with five points, two goals and three assists. Hayley Scamurra (Williamsville, N.Y.) also scored her first career goal as a member of Team USA against Russia.
Entering the gold-medal game, the U.S. had a number of streaks happening. Thanks to some incredible defense and goaltending, the U.S. rode a 278:05-long shutout streak into the final, which was ultimately thwarted 38:30 later by Team Finland.
The shutout streak – the second-longest for Team USA in WWC history – was a combined effort between Maddie Rooney (Andover, Minn.) who backstopped the U.S. to wins over Switzerland and Japan, and Alex Rigsby (Delafield, Wis.) who was solid between the pipes in two victories over Russia.
On the offensive side of the puck, Cayla Barnes (Eastvale, Calif.) and Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill.) both enjoyed five-game point streaks throughout the tournament, while Knight found the score sheet in six straight games. For their efforts, those three were recognized by the coaches as the team’s top players and were all named to the media all-star team, while Coyne Schofield was also named best forward of the tournament by the directorate.
Knight finished the tournament as the leading point-scorer with 11 (7-4) and goal-scorer, while blueliners Emily Pfalzer (Buffalo, N.Y.) and Lee Stecklein (Roseville, Minn.) topped the charts in plus-minus with +16 and +14 respectively. In fact, the top eight players on the plus-minus chart all wore red, white and blue, including Pfalzer, Stecklein, Knight (+13), Dani Cameranesi (Plymouth, Minn.) (+12), Coyne Schofield (+11), Kelly Pannek(Plymouth, Minn.) (+10), Brianna Decker (Dousman, Wis.) (+10) and Annie Pankowski (Laguna Hills, Calif.) (+10).
With a win in the gold-medal game, Rigsby became the winningest goaltender in a single Women’s Worlds after registering five wins in five starts over the course of the tournament. Rigsby also topped the charts among all tournament goaltenders that played 40%+ of her team's minutes in save percentage with .953 SVS% and in goals-against average with a stingy .940. Rigsby and Rooney each registered two shutouts apiece, the most of any goalies in the tournament.
As a team, the U.S. finished the tournament at the top of the charts in scoring efficiency and in power-play efficiency, and will remain the top-ranked team in the world according to the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Ranking following its gold-medal victory in Espoo.
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