LILLEHAMMER – In two hours, Sweden’s women’s team will defend its Youth Olympic gold against the Czech Republic. Coming into the gold medal game as the top-ranked nation in the preliminary round, the Damkronorna have to be considered as favourites to repeat.
In 2012 at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic women's tournament, Sweden was unstoppable in Innsbruck, scoring 43 goals and giving up zero.
It hasn’t been as easy a ride for the Swedes this time around. The team opened the tournament with a 2-1 loss to Switzerland in a shootout but rebounded with victories over Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Norway to take the No. 1 seed going into the playoffs.
“The first thing we did together is go by bus to here from Sweden,” said head coach Ylva Lindberg about her team’s when it was first put together. “It’s about a ten hour trip, the girls had lots of time to get to know each other.”
“They didn’t know each other before then, and we’ve used the tournament to try to grow as a team and to grow our game. I think we are on our way and we have one game left and I think we have a little more left to perform.”
Standing in their way is the Czech Republic, a relative unknown on that age group category for women’s hockey, but whose women’s Under-18 team had been steadily improving in the last few years and has produced stars such as goalie Klara Peslarova and forward Tereza Vanisova.
Still this team has had difficulty getting pucks in the net throughout the tournament, its best result a 3-0 shutout of Norway, the Czech Republic has scored just two goals in each of its five games at the Youth Olympic women’s tournament.
They will need more to match the firepower of the Swedes, who rolled 5-0 in the semi-final against Slovakia and have found their momentum offensively with ten goals in their last two games.
“We played a great match, we played our game and were successful,” said Sofie Lundin. “We are excited to be able to play for a gold medal now.”
In the preliminary matchup between the two teams, the Czechs weren’t able to solve Swedish goalie Anna Amholt, who stopped all she faced while chipped in with goal for the 2-0 shutout victory.
The team was able to get some shots on net in the semi-final against the Swiss, winning in a shootout despite outshooting the Swiss 29-10.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” said Magdalena Erbenova about scoring the game-winning goal. “I have never scored in a shootout before.”
Erbenova and co. will take on Amholt and the Swedes at 11:00 in Kristins Hall on Sunday.