France, Minnesota Prospects, Sweden Selects, NAP make semifinal round
When the U14 Girls World Selects Invitational kicked off on Wednesday, there were 12 participating teams with hopes of being the last club standing. After 60 preliminary round games and playoff quarterfinals, there are four teams remaining. France, Minnesota Prospects, Sweden Selects and North American Prospects are the four clubs left with an opportunity to be crowned champions on Saturday.
Can France’s defense find consistency?
France began their pool play schedule with back to back shutouts against Italy Selects and Pro Hockey. In its next two contests, they suffered losses to Midwest Prospects and North American Prospects by scores of 2-1 and 5-0, respectively. They rebounded in the final game with a 5-0 victory over Swiss Selects. Maëlie Moussier led the team with four points, all assists. She collected one in every game but the loss to NA Prospects. Second in team scoring was Isabella De Gaulmyn with one goal and two assists. 11 of France’s remaining 15 skaters all recorded at least one point across the five preliminary round games. In the three wins, France held opponents to four shots twice, and 12 shots once. In the two losses, they gave up 29 and 21 shots.
France entered the quarterfinals as the No. 5-seed and was once again matched with No. 4-seed Midwest Prospects. It was another close game, with a strong defensive and goaltending effort backstopping France to a 2-0 victory. Following a scoreless first period, Sophie Gailly broke the deadlock close to four minutes into the second. Domitille Ratto doubled the lead with a power-play goal near the end of regulation. In net, Maya Bidet Visconti and Alice Chevrier were unbeatable. The duo split duties and turned aside six shots and 14 shots, respectively, for the combined shutout. Next up, France will try and replicate another strong effort against the No. 1-seed North American Prospects. Whether France’s defense holds up or if the NA Prospects can find a way to break through should make for an intriguing semifinal matchup.
NA Prospects remain undefeated
Only one team remains undefeated throughout pool play and the quarterfinal round. A large reason why North American Prospects found themselves entering the playoff round as the top-seeded club was a result of its goaltending. Statistically, Bailey Unruh and Rylee Allison have been the best players between the pipes at this year’s tournament. They have held teams to just three goals across six games thus far. Unruh has recorded a 0.32 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. Allison, meanwhile, has a 0.50 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.
Despite a 5-0-0 record in preliminary round play, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Three victories came via shutout, but it was the Finland Selects and Czech Selects that gave NA Prospects some nervous moments. Jaiden Krushelniski, leading scorer for NAP with seven goals, put the team on her back in a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against Finland. Down 2-1, she scored the tying goal late in the second period before finishing off the win with the overtime winner. Maya Dutton notched the game-winner in a 1-0 victory against the Czechs.
In their quarterfinal matchup with Draftday, Krushelniski collected another three goals and Dutton added another in a 5-1 final. A rematch is now in the cards against France in the semifinals, who fell to NAP 5-0 in pool play. If this second battle between the two sides plays out like the first, all eyes will be on Dutton and Krushelniski. Two players that will make life difficult for France to try and contain.
Benedict leads Minnesota Prospects’ high-flying offense
No other team scored more in the preliminary round than Minnesota Prospects. Recording 29 goals across five games, they were led by Carmen Benedict’s seven goals and nine points. Her point total was good enough to tie for second overall in pool play with Sweden Selects’ Ebba Hesselvall. Minnesota displayed some of the best depth of any team throughout its lineup, as all but one player recorded at least one point. For an offense that averaged close to six goals a game, time would shortly tell if they could keep up a dynamic attack in the playoffs.
And continue it did, as they bested the defending-champion Czech Selects in the quarterfinals, 6-4. Things got off to a quick start when Amálie Karásková put the Selects up 1-0 just 59 seconds into the game. 25 seconds after, Mia Sutch struck twice in just under three minutes to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. Helena Neckářová tied the game at 2 shortly after before Karásková collected her second goal minutes later. The Prospects swung momentum back in their favor when they pounced for four goals in the final several minutes of the period to take a 6-3 lead into intermission. The second frame was not as eventful as the first, but Karásková managed to complete her hat trick with her second shorthanded tally.
As a result, Minnesota will take to the ice against Sweden Selects in the semifinals. With players such as Sutch, Benedict and Hesselvall, it should be a fast-paced tilt with goals galore on both sides.
Sweden Selects victorious in rematch, move on to semifinals
Heading into the final day of pool play, the Sweden Selects were one win away from a perfect 5-0-0 record. Instead, they skated to a 1-0 loss to Pro Hockey. Through fate – or just a coincidental result from overall team records – they were tasked with a second game with Pro Hockey a mere few hours later. The main difference being that the winner would move on to the semifinal round of the playoffs.
Abbey Petro was in goal for a 26-save shutout in the first meeting, but Emily Perrier started between the pipes for the second. Right from puck drop, Sweden attacked with full force and jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the end of the first period. Emma Holmberg scored twice, and Ebba Hesselvall added one as well. After the third goal, Petro was put back in the crease. The move seemed to have ignited a fire in Pro Hockey. Coming out of the intermission, they scored the next two goals which cut Sweden’s lead to 3-2. In search of the equalizer, Petro was pulled for the extra attacker. Instead it was the Selects scoring twice on the empty net to secure a 5-3 win.
Stemming from that result, No. 2-seed Minnesota Prospects will now take on No. 3-seed Sweden for a chance at the championship game. Both squads like to score, and have plenty of top-tier talent among their rosters. If the goaltending of Minnesota holds, Sweden may be in for a long game. But if past results are any indication of things to come, the Selects know a thing or two about putting pucks in the net.
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