Spain has defeated Australia 4-1 to top Group C and dash Australia’s hopes of a gold or silver medal. However, Australia still has a chance to earn bronze.
After watching Spain dismantle Iceland 11-0 in their first game, there were two key objectives for Australia to give it the best chance of winning. First, shutting down Claudia Castellanos, and second, staying out of the penalty box.
Both tasks were easier said than done.
Australia created the first scoring chance of the game early on, but Spanish netminder Maria Sierra saved Molly Lukowiak’s shot attempt.
Spain seized control immediately after Australia’s initial scoring chance. Australia had difficulty clearing the zone, the pressure began to grow, and the penalties started to flow.
Goaltender Olivia Last made a string of excellent saves to kill off the first penalty. However, after a tripping penalty in the defensive zone, Spain converted on the powerplay.
A good string of passes found an open Haizea Fernandez in the right faceoff circle. Fernandez’s centring pass took a cruel deflection off Samantha Payne’s skate, who was clearing the crease and found the back of the net.
In the final minutes of the period, with Spain on yet another powerplay, it doubled its lead. Claudia Castellanos found a loose puck in the right circle and fired a short-side shot past a screened Last, popping the water bottle off the net.
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The second period saw Spain pile up the scoring chances, but Olivia Last saved every single one.
Last proved why she is Australia’s number one choice between the pipes, using a mixture of excellent positioning and athleticism to keep Spain at bay.
Australia was unable to maintain any offensive pressure due to the skating ability of the Spanish blueliners.
Time and again Spanish defenders were able to elude forecheckers and exit the zone, preventing Australia from cycling the puck. Australia had found success on the cycle against Iceland but was being forced to battle for opportunities.
The period ended with nine seconds remaining on another Spanish powerplay and with shots 14-1 favouring Spain.
Those nine seconds would prove costly for Australia as Spain won the faceoff, raced up ice and scored in just seven seconds.
Eva Aizpurua skated behind the defence and her initial shot hit Olivia Last in the mask, knocking it off, and then rolled over Last’s shoulder and into the net. Spain was now up 3-0 courtesy of three powerplay goals.
Australia created some scoring chances, pressing for a goal, but midway through the period, Spain would score its first even-strength goal of the game on the counterattack.
Claudia Castellanos gained the offensive zone and was able to generate a partial breakaway. Holding off the defender, Castellanos went backhand-forehand across the crease and placed the puck over Last’s pad and into the net.
Australia could have easily wilted, but it piled up the pressure and forced Spain into taking a penalty. With time about to expire on the powerplay, Australia finally got on the board, making it 4-1.
Gabrielle Arps’ initial shot was saved by Sierra but the rebound fell straight back to her. Arps smartly passed the puck across the crease which found Emily Brunt.
The Australian co-captain blasted the puck into the yawning cage. It was a fitting reward for a sustained attacking effort by Australia in the third period.
The scoreline would finish 4-1, while Spain was a worthy victor, Australia can take a lot of positives away from the match. The performance of Olivia Last, nominated Best Player for Australia, is just one of them.
Head Coach Tamra Jones and Assistant Coach Remi Harvey talked to The Inner Sanctum about the positives Australia can take away from the initial phase of the tournament.
“We learned a lot and gained good experience playing together,” they said.
“With limited preparation and ice time, we’re proud of how the playing group has come together.”
Indeed, Australia gained confidence in the match against Spain. While Spain controlled play in the first two periods, the third period was an evenly matched contest between the two teams.
Australia’s tournament isn’t over. Although it must be disappointing to not finish first in the group to have a chance for the gold medal, however, a bronze medal is still within reach.
Australia will now compete in Group E, which contains the second-placed teams from Groups A and B. Turkey and Latvia finished in second place and will join Australia in Group E.
Australia will play three more games this tournament. If it tops Group E, the third and final game will be a bronze-medal match.
The coaching staff is not getting ahead of themselves and knows that each game is providing their young team with valuable experience.
“The goal for our team remains to continue to develop and become more familiar with each other’s playing style. Our focus is to perform to our potential for all 60 minutes of each game,” Jones and Harvey said.
Up next for Australia is a match against tournament hosts Turkey on Friday, July 1 at 11:30 pm AEST. They then play Latvia the very next day, Saturday, July 2 at 11:30 pm AEST.
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