The annual PHF All-Star Game was held in Toronto at the Mattamy Athletic Centre over the weekend. The tournament structure comprised three teams in Canada, the USA, and World (for the remaining nations). The first three periods were 14 minutes long, it was 4v4, and begin with Canada against the United States.
Let’s break down each period and some of the storylines that followed as the games progressed.
Canada Defeats USA in a Shootout
Boston Pride forward Élizabeth Giguère was noticeable in her transition play, generating 4 controlled zone entries. The rest of the Canadian squad was only able to generate 4 as a group, so Giguère led the way in that regard. In the offensive zone, Pride superstar Loren Gabel was creating high-danger chances from all areas.
Her goal was the icebreaker of the period, and she generated 5 shots at 4v4.
The Americans responded with Toronto 6ix forward Shiann Darkangelo creating a turnover in the neutral zone. She entered the offensive zone with possession and shot the puck glove side past Pride goaltender Corinne Schroeder.
Canada led the period with 14-9 shots, but could not muster another goal past American netminder Abbie Ives. A shootout was conducted for the tiebreaker, and 6ix forward Brittany Howard scored the winning goal. With the victory, the team moved on to play Team World.
Team World Made A Strong First Impression
A big story coming out of the whole event was the joyful energy that Team World was bringing with their goal celebrations. All of the players held the stick above their head, nicknaming it “the unicorn,” and younger kids were mimicking them as the goals continued.
It helped that Team World was constructed with players that excel in transition and featured prominent shooters. Emma Nuutinen and Tereza Vanišová each had 3 controlled zone entries in this matchup, with only Loren Gabel matching those totals on the Canadian side. Metropolitan Riveters defender Ebba Berglund generated 3 controlled zone exits, which led all players between the two sides.
As well, Nuutinen had 4 shots on goal and led the offensive attack in all of her shifts. Although Riveters forward Fanni Gasparics led the team in goals and garnered the most attention, it was Nuutinen who caught my interest the most. Every time she was on the ice, she made a positive impact.
Minnesota Whitecaps forward Denisa Křížová scored the game-winning goal, as Team World won 2-1. She created the turnover along the half-wall, winning the 1-on-1 battle. She drove to the net and got a lucky bounce off a Canadian defender, but it was created from her hard work.
Fanni Gasparics Hat-Trick Sends Team World To The Championship Round
Gasparics understood her assignment the entire game against both teams, and that was to win puck battles. She didn’t excel in transition, as her role was to get into open areas and use her skillset to create scoring opportunities. That was the case in her first goal of the game, where she stripped Natalie Snodgrass of the puck, and her net drive led to a goal.
Leah Lum can be spoken in a similar vein, where she is at her best in the offensive zone. On Team World’s second goal, Lum deceptively skates past two American defenders to spot Gasperics for the deflection. It was a terrific read in the 1v2 situation, and she took advantage of the missed defensive coverage. Now, considering this is an All-Star game, I don’t think the defense was on many players’ minds in this one.
For Team USA, Whitecaps forward Jonna Albers stood out in every shift. She created 2 controlled zone exits, 3 controlled zone entries, and had a team-high 5 shots. Although she didn’t score, the ice was tilted in her team’s favour when she was out there. Eventually, Connecticut Whale forward Taylor Girard used her foot speed to create a 2-on-1, and used backhand deke for a goal. She replicated the unicorn celebration after scoring, which got plenty of laughter from the two benches.
Gasparics scored the hat-trick, and Team World was able to secure the victory by a score of 3-2. This meant a rematch between them and Canada in the championship round.
Team Canada Narrowly Secures The Victory
Team World capitalized on the momentum from their previous two games and got off to a strong start. Lum went end-to-end to start the rush and found a trailing Taylor Baker, who took the shot. Gasparics buried the rebound to get her fourth goal of the tournament, and that was a textbook shift on how to play a 2-2 setup at 4v4. If you have the footspeed, use it to create odd-man rushes.
As is always the case, Gabel showed up when the moments mattered. The Canadian forward had a team-high 5 controlled zone entries, along with a team-high 3 shots.
However, on the game-tying goal, Howard was the standout for Team Canada. She entered the zone with possession and used the open space to hold onto the puck until the very last minute. Howard spotted the clear passing lane to Gabel, who buried it into the back of the net.
The hero of the game was Jade Downie-Landry, who plays for the Montreal Force. After creating the controlled zone entry, she used the defender as a screen to take a high-percentage shot. After it bounced off the defender, she found the puck and took it to her backhand to put it past Riveters goaltender Eveliina Mäkinen.
Team Canada won the game by a score of 3-2 to secure the victory. Gabel was named the All-Star MVP, and Schroeder was named the most outstanding goaltender. The fans in the crowd were very engaged throughout, and this format brought out more intensity than we’ve seen in any recent NHL All-Star game. They should be taking notes and could benefit from using a similar format to this one.
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