Four games, two practices, and hopefully some good questions (hopefully by someone else, I"m bad at those) are on deck today. Not to make myself the story here, but my morning consisted of getting lost, yelled at by security and locked out of the press box. All before 10 am!

Last night was the opening ceremonies at Table Rock restaurant in Niagara Falls, and Team Canada took the chance to visit behind the falls

Quick links for you:

The Victory Press has an excellent preview of Team USA

Annie Berg is Niagara's face at under-18 worlds | St. Catharines Standard

2016 Women's World Junior Championships Preview - Pension Plan Puppets

Patti Marshael - Team USA - International Ice Hockey Federation

Canada's new coach: Lisa Haley - International Ice Hockey Federation

Team Canada Morning Skate

The last team to practice this morning, Team Canada held a drills skate and ended with something fun:

Games on deck for today:

Finland 11 - France 1

Before the game, a reminder that this is the first time the French have had their Womens Jr team in the tournament and have a video recapping their Div1 victory.

Clip vidéo - Des Bleuettes en Or by Hockey_France

You can watch the game here.

France came into the game the biggest underdog of the tournament. Never making it to this level at U18 and the national team has not made it to the main group since 2000. They faced off against a team who saw their male counterparts win gold in their tournament, and a nation looks to them to bring hoe another gold medal.

The game begins with plenty of optimism for the French players. Play is even between the two teams as shots miss the net, or are blocked, and both teams race back and forth from end to end. About two minutes in Finland has a great chance but French goalie Anais Aurard makes the save, Finland collects the rebound, tries again but Aurard holds onto the puck. There's some pushing in front of the net but nothing comes of it. Finland starts to take hold of the game, as France is able to get the puck away from their net, but Finland keeps it from getting out of the French zone. France is finally able to spring the puck loose out of their end, takes the puck all the way into the Finnish zone, but loses it. Finland gets the puck and takes it down into the French zone, has a good shot but misses the net. Its a very quick game, lots of movement around the ice and little stoppages. #16 on Finland, Jeniina Nylund has a break away from the Finnish zone, comes in fast, great stick handling, but the puck is stopped by Aurard and rebounds out of the French zone. At 8:30 of the period, Finland #10 Even Savander is called for boarding France #7 Lisa Verney. France isn't able to capitalize on the power play, make no shots on net, and Finland actually takes control for about half the time. As the power play expires, Finland #21 Camilia Reinikainen takes the puck in from the neutral zone and scores the first goal of the game. 1-0 Finland. France takes a high sticking penalty in the game, and #7 Lisa Verney goes off for two minutes. Finland doesn't score on the power play. French Captain #12 Chloe Aurard has a break away but can't get a shot off as the Finnish defender comes in and keeps her to the side. Finland #7 Minni Lehtopelto takes a shot from the point and scores. 2-0 Finland. As the first period comes to an end, Finland gets a 3 on 1 but Aurard makes the save.

1st period ends 2-0 Finland. Shots are 16-1.

The second period doesn't start nearly as even in play. Overall about 75% of the time is spent in the French end. Finland is coming in hard on the french net and they knock the net off its moorings. Jenniina Nylund and France #3 Margot Rouquette get into it with some words and pushing, but the referees separate them. Off the face off after that, Finland gets the puck back to the defense and they shoot and score goal #3. In the first five minutes we've only left the French zone twice, only one of those made it down to the Finnish net. Goal #4 comes from Eve Savander, off a soft wrist shot on Aurards glove side. France calls a time out, and Aurard is briefly replaced by #25 Victorie Masure after speaking with an official. Aurard returns after a shift or two and continues to turn aside shot after shot. Finland takes a tripping penalty, but still spends the majority of the time in the French zone. A flurry of shots happens and Finland scores goal #5, by Jenniina Nylund. Later there's a group at the boards in the neutral zone who's pinning the puck down and the refs call the play dead. Out of that group Chloe Aurard ends up with a roughing penalty. Finland has the puck behind the French net, and comes around and scores from between the face off circles for goal #6 by Petra Nieminen. France Captain Chloe Aurard breaks out of her zone and shoots on the Finnish net, but is stopped by the lonely Finnish goalie Tiia Pajarinen. Later on C. Aurard takes a hard shot from the blue line as she's changing lines, but it doesn't do anything. She is either getting tired from lots of ice time or increasingly frustrated as she watches a pass go by her and throws her arms up as she changes lines. Finland # 2 Sini Karjalainen takes a laser shot from above the face off circles and it goes in for goal #7.

Second period ends 7-0 Finland. Shots are 40-5.

The third period starts with a Finnish goal, then another Finnish goal. Two goals in 55 seconds. The first is tapped in at Aurards feet by Petra Nieminen. The second comes after a French defense gets tied up with Aurard and Kiia Nousiainen taps it into the net. France is clearly frustrated, lots of stick slamming on the bench. After this the Finns seem to let up just a little. France is getting more puck time, more time to play with it, but the Finns won't let them get very far out of their own zone. Five minutes after the Finns make it 9-0, France Captain Chloe Aurard scores Frances very first goal in this tournament. The record setting goal is scored off of a Finnish turnover in front of their net. Finland is given an interference penalty, Eve Savander gets sent to the box. Finland scores shorthanded, after Miisa Klemola gets a breakaway out of the Finnish zone, goes around a falling French defender and knocks a backhand through the five hole. 10-1 Finland. As the Finnish penalty expires, Chloe Aurard is given a boarding penalty. Finland doesn't score on the power play. Chloe Aurard is a one person line skating through the Finnish defenders, but seems to be the only one capable of playing at the Finns level, and is left alone a lot of the time. After she slides into the boards by the French bench, she yells and tosses her stick over the linesmen and takes a seat. Finland caps off the game with goal #11 as Jenniina Nylund scores from the slot.

Third period ends 11-1 Finland. Shots are 55-8.

Players of the game:

France: Anais Aurard – 44 saves on 55 shots. Aurard was left alone to fend for herself as the French defense was overpowered by the Finns. She was my choice as POG, second was her sister, Captain Chloe Aurard. She played hard, had amazing hands when she got the puck and if France had a couple more of her, they'd have scored a few more goals.

Finland: Sara Sakkinen – The Finnish Captain had 4 assists on the day. Led the team to a resounding victory over the French team. There's no blowout too big in this tournament as Finland was only a +2 goal differential from playing in the relegation game last year.

Finland next plays Switzerland at Noon on January 9th, France plays Sweden at 2PM that day.

These two teams faced off in October where Finland won the game 5-0.

Sweden 5 - Switzerland 1
First Period scoring:
Sara Hjalmarsson - 1-0 SWE
Sofie Lundin - 2-0 SWE
Matilda AF Bjur - 3-0 SWE

Second Period:
Matilda AF Bjur (2) - 4-0 SWE

Third Period:
Alina Muller - 4-1 SUI
Sofie Lundin (2) - 5-1 SWE

USA 6 - Czech Republic 0
USA begins its defence of the gold medal vs last years 4th place team, the Czech Republic. Play begins and Team USA starts to dominate the ice immediately. For the first few minutes play stays in the Czech zone. 1:30 into the game USA # 22 Catherine Skaja gets an interference penalty, but the Czechs cancel out the power play with one of their own, by #17 Martina Maskova. After the penalties expire, USA #11 Sydney Brot muscles the puck off Czech #12 Kyla Hymlarova and takes it back into the Czech end. Nothing comes of that and we get some neutral zone back and forth between the two teams, but a pass gets caught up in a line change and the play is blown dead. USA #18 Grace Zumwinkle opens the scoring by deflecting a shot from the blue line by #6 Makayla Langei, and it's goal #1. USA is showing off some excellent stick handling around the Czechs, but it's not easy for them. Czech defense, #6, Magdalena Erbenova takes the puck into the USA end but the defenders there make her give up an early shot. USA #4 Madeline Wethington gets a tripping penalty, but the Czechs don't get a shot off during the power play. The Americans come in 2 on 1 into the Czech end, the defender, #5 Libuse Hola falls over, but the shot is saved by G Katerina Zechovska. Later USA F #16 Taylor Wente gets a breakaway but the shot goes high over the net. USA Scores as the period ends, to make it 2-0.

First Period ends USA 2 - CZE 0. Shots 12-1.

USA continues its dominance in the second period, but takes a too many men penalty early on. Luckily, the Czechs don't score on the power play. It's an easy game in the second period, not too much action, back and forth, until the USA scores coming from their own end.

Watch Here

The Americans continue their attack, making the Zechovska come out of her net to make the save, but the rebound slides right into the USA forward. She shoots at the empty net but hits the crossbar.

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Team USA doesn't let up, they go hard at the Czech net, and two forward end up sliding into the net. The Czech goalie is OK, but takes a moment to get up.

Her night doesn't get much better as she comes out to stop the puck, but the American forward meets her there and they collide, with Zechovska's helmet coming off in the process. She takes a little longer to get up this time but stays in the game to keep making saves.

Second period ends USA 3 – CZE 0. Shots 24-5

A slow period in the third as the Americans continue their domination of the game. It's not 100% apparent while watching, lots of back and forth with the puck, but the Czechs aren't getting any shots off. The Czechs and Americans pile up in the corner after the puck, but the Czechs get it.

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Unfortunately, the Americans keep it in the Czech end. The Czechs do put one in the American net, but it's one of their players, not a puck.

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They are stilling falling all lover the place this period, neither side doing much shooting. Lots of stalling the puck along the boards as well. A few face-offs due to that. The Czechs have a nice 3 on 2 with goods positioning, but a bad pass ruins it.

The Americans get an interference call with 6 minutes left, and the Czech coach uses that as an opportunity to call a time out and rest his PP unit.

While the Czechs don't score on the power play, the Americans rest up and starting at the three minute mark score 3 goals in two minutes.

Final Score: USA 6 – Czech Republic 0. Shots 35-7.
USA Goal #4 - Scored by Natalie Snodgrass
USA Goal #5 - Scored by Natalie Snodgrass
USA Goal #6 - Scored by Catherine Skaja

After the game I was wondering about the ice conditions with all of the players leaving their feet. Czech Forward Noemi Neubauerova let me know that she didn't notice anything wrong with the ice. I also spoke with Czech goalie Katerina Zechovska about the physical play she took, and she told me "I feel OK..I have a headache, but I think that's normal after a game. I think I'll go to sleep early today, but I feel OK".

The United States play tomorrow at 4:00PM vs Russia and the Czech Republic plays Canada at 7:30PM.

Canada 5 - Russia 2

Canada comes into the tournament looking to break the tie of gold medals between them and the United States on home ice (both sit at 4 golds each). With the largest crowd of the day behind them, they have a chance to start off with a win. The period begins with Canada in the Russian zone for a little while, but doesn't get the first official shot on net until two minutes in. Canadian forward #25 Daryl Watts catches the puck in mid air, drops it down. Hops over a Russian stick and takes a shot, but it's deflected by Russian goalie Valaria Tarakanova. Russian forward Yalizaveta Zenchenko comes into the Canadian zone fast but gets tied up with the Canadian defender and slides shoulder first into the boards. She takes a lie down in front of the ref for a minute, but seeing no call coming gets up and skates to the bench.

Kirstin O'Neill (CAN #10) skates into the Russian end but is cut off by Anna Klinkina (RUS #3) and they both take a tumble. Russia is given two minutes for tripping. The Canadian power play is well rehearsed and takes its time finding passes and shots. It doesn't score, however. It does score later, when Olivia Knowles (CAN #27) makes a nice pass from beside the net to Sophie Shirley (CAN #8) who slides it into the Russian net.

Two minutes later Canada scores again when Ashton Bell (CAN #26) passes it to Kristin O'Neill who goes behind the Russian net, slides it back to Bell, who taps it into the net.

Polina Bolgareva (RUS #7) tries to come into Canada's end 1 on 3 but the Canadians easily knock the puck away. Later Yekaterina Lobova (RUS #28) come shard at the Canadian net but loses balance and runs over Canadian goalie Stephanie Neatby. In the final seconds of the game Russia takes a shot that Neatby thinks she has but it fell out of her glove. A Canadian defender quickly cleared it out as the buzzer sounded.

End of first period. Canada 2 – Russia 0. Shots are 7-4

The second period is a bit slow to start but 3 minutes in Russian Captain Fanuza Kadirova comes into the Canadian end, slips by some defenders a scores on the overstretched Stephanie Neatby.

Russian defender #14 Daria Teryoshkina is committed to her job. She loses her stick, but keeps defending, even grabbing a Canadian shot out of the air. Things get a little chippy as a Canadian player is knocked into the boards by Nina Pirogova (RUS #13), who runs over the same Canadian as she gets up. Pirogova is given two minutes.

On the power play Ryleigh Houston gets the puck behind the Russian net then wraps it around to make it 3-1 Canada

Moments later Emma Maltais (CAN #17) comes into the Russian zone, splits the defensive pair and scores to make it 4-1 Canada. Russia canes goalies and now Sofia Merkusheva (RUS #30) is in net.

Sofia Senchukova (RUS #27) comes in with a great shot but gets tripped up by Olivia Knowles who is given 2 for hooking. The Russian power play is not looking as slick as the Canadian one. They don't have as much patience for the perfect shot, but being down 3 goals could play a factor.

As Knowles comes out of the penalty box she joins a great 3 woman rush to the Russian net, Malia Schneider (CAN #18) shoots but the puck ends up in the protective netting. Pirogova ends up with a penalty and Canada goes back to the power play.

Daryl Watts (CAN #25) scores to make it 5-1 Canada after a nice pas sin front of the Russian net by Shirley.

Julia Edgar (CAN #6) is given an interference penalty, this game is closer than the score would suggest, but Canada is slowly taking over. As I typed that Russia scores on the power play. Yekaterina Likhachyova (RUS #19) passes it to Yelizaveta Zenchenko (RUS #22) who scores.

End of second period. Canada 5 – Russia 2. Shots 16-12.

The third period starts as the others did, a little slow as trams feel each other out, and by feel each other out I mean body checking Russians into the boards without a call. Hometown reffing! There are no real shots for a few minutes until Canada gets three off at the Russian net, but Merkusheva stops them all.

Russia forcing the game into Canada's end but Canada is playing very good defense. There was some discussion between benches and refs about a possible Canadian penalty, but nothing comes of it, and things remain 5 on 5.

At the halfway mark Russia has only managed two shots, not the kind of stat you want when you're trying to mount a comeback. Tatyana Shatalova (RUS #15) comes streaking in and takes a pass in front of Canada's net but the shot is too early and the puck dribbles by the net.

Russia's making moves when Canada gets a penalty, but doesn't put one in. Some very close shots though. Annie Berg, #23 pulls down Kadirova but no penalty. AS the both lose the puck, Russia makes another great shot, but nothing.

As we get past the 2 minute left mark, Knowles for Canada gets a cross checking penalty, so Russia will end the game on the power play.

Final Score: Canada 5 – Russia 2. Shots 20-18

Russia's player of the game is #17 Fanuza Kadirova.

Canada's player of the game is #8 Sophie Shirley.
Post game I spoke with Annie Berg, who, being from Beamsville, ON, is the local star on the team. I asked if she felt any pressure for being local, having already been profiled in the local papers, and with family and friends in the arena. "No, it provides you an extra energy boost, you ant to do well in front of everyone you know, and knowing they're at the rink to support you helps out a lot." She also tangled with Russian near the end, so was it chippy between teams or just a hockey play. "No, we should always exepct physical play, and being the home team we'll aleays have to dig and fight for goals and the puck."

Tomorrow Canada plays the Czech Republic at 7:30PM and Russia plays the United States at 4PM.

Me- @elseldo / From Along the boards: Katry Tearle - @KatryTearle / Offical Tournament Twitter - @HC_U18WWC