Canada was dominating Switzerland, but more than 30 minutes into the game, it still couldn’t find the back of the net.
Enter Sarah Fillier.
Midway through the second period, the budding superstar walked into the slot and fired. The first sound was the loud ring of the post. But then, jubilation. Finally, after 21 shots, a goal.
Fillier wouldn’t stop there, either. She added two more, sending hats flying onto the rink at the CAA Centre in Brampton, Ont., as Canada beat Switzerland 5-1 in the semifinals at the women’s hockey world championship on Saturday.
It sets up a highly anticipated gold-medal showdown on Sunday against the U.S., which trounced the Czech Republic 9-1. Canada, the reigning Olympic gold medallist, will be eyeing its third straight world title against a young, hungry American side featuring five rookies.
“It’s not hard to get up for this game, and I’m sure they’re saying the same thing over there,” Fillier said.
It’ll be the 22-year-old Fillier’s fourth major final against the U.S. She’s emerged victorious in each of the previous three, helping flip the rivalry edge back to Canada.
‘It’s really special’
The Georgetown, Ont., native is now tied for the tournament lead with 10 goals, to go along with four assists.
“To score a hat trick on Canadian soil 15 minutes away from my hometown, tons of friends and family, and then sharing that moment with my teammates who have been on a crazy journey the last three years, it’s really special,” she said.
After being held off the scoresheet in Canada’s game against the Czechs, head coach Troy Ryan pulled Fillier aside for a chat. Ryan thought there was another level for Fillier to hit.
“She’s at her best when she’s almost like a shark,” Ryan said. “She’s hunting pucks and she’s always aggressive, attacking.”
Fillier responded in a big way, tallying eight points and five goals in four games since. She recalled the conversation with Ryan on Saturday, saying it was all about mindset.
“I need to have the mentality that I can be dominant with people that I’ve looked up to my whole life,” she said. “And then just being dangerous every time I step onto the ice.”
Her line, where she centres Sarah Nurse and Natalie Spooner, has been Canada’s most productive.
Two of Spooner’s three assists in the game came on Fillier’s goals, while Nurse contributed one helper as well. Jamie Lee Rattray added insurance with a power-play marker early in the third period.
Nurse, who also scored the overtime winner in the quarterfinals against Sweden, said their chemistry is a result of years being around each other.
“We obviously know that Spooner is a pretty, pretty awesome net front presence. Filly is obviously a super high skilled player and so being able to find the right timing, right spots for each other, it’s been a lot of fun to play with those two,” she said.
Spooner, Nurse and Fillier span three generations of the team. They are three-, two-and one-time Olympians, respectively.
Before the tournament, Spooner told CBC Sports that Fillier brings the whole package.
“She always seems be in the right spots to score goals. Obviously, so skilled. She’s good offensively, she’s great defensively. So I mean, I think that there’s a lot of things,” she said. “But if you look at her like you just saw her, you’re like, ‘Wow, this girl can score goals.'”
If Canada is to beat the U.S. for three-peat gold, it’ll need Fillier to continue finding twine.
Canada enters the gold-medal game having beaten the Americans five straight times, including the final four of this year’s Rivalry Series.
It will have the home crowd on its side, and an arena that doesn’t quite seat 5,000 people has sounded much louder than that at times — a level that should only get ramped up against the U.S.
“It’s exactly what you dream of as a little kid. We got to do it in Calgary a few years ago just in front of friends and family [due to COVID-19 restrictions] so to play tomorrow in front of probably 5,000 fans is really exciting,” Fillier said.
But the Americans should be confident after their demolition of the Czechs, a game in which five players recorded at least three points. Defender Caroline Harvey, 20, led the way with one goal and three assists while veterans Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel each potted a pair.
Even a group-stage loss to Canada left the Americans not feeling too badly about themselves, having forced overtime with two goals in the final minute before falling in a shootout.
Knight, the U.S. captain, said games between the rivals are always electric.
“It’s just one of those rivalries that we can’t put into words. It’s really special and there’s a lot on the line all the time,” she said.
American head coach John Wroblewski has been careful to place too many expectations onto his young squad.
Instead, he revelled at Canada’s talent, including Marie-Philip Poulin, Nurse and Fillier.
“There’s a multitude of experience and confidence,” he said. “To dethrone someone that’s that good at what they do is going to take an outstanding performance from every single player.”