Taylor Heise immediately saw the potential in Laila Edwards long before she was selected to the United States’ roster, and compete in her first women’s world ice hockey championship tournament.

On Saturday, everyone else did, too.

The 20-year-old Edwards scored a natural hat trick in a 5-0 win over Finland in the semi-final round, and propelled the defending champion Americans to their 23rd gold-medal game.

“She stepped up in a way that not a lot of people can. And I’m very proud of her,” said Heise, who set up Edwards’ final two goals. “I’m glad that she could prove that to herself. Because sometimes when you’re young and you get picked to a team like this, sometimes it takes a goal like that to prove yourself that you’re here for a reason. But we all knew that before.”

At 6ft 1in, Edwards is from Cleveland and the first Black hockey player to make the US national team roster. Coming off her sophomore season at Wisconsin, she is one of four Americans making their tournament debuts and now has five goals to share the tournament lead with teammate Alex Carpenter.

“It’s pretty good, I’d say,” Edwards said of her growing confidence. “Just confident in the team. So that always helps with my individual confidence. When our team’s rolling and everyone’s playing at their best and sharing the puck and just doing all sorts of things really helps with my confidence.”

Aerin Frankel stopped 15 shots to set a single-tournament record with her fourth shutout. Hannah Bilka and Savannah Harmon also scored for the Americans, who kept their perfect run intact in having appeared in every world championship final since the tournament was established in 1990.

The win sets up what could potentially be yet another familiar rematch against the US’s cross-border rival, Canada, in the gold-medal game on Sunday. The Canadians, who lost a 1-0 overtime decision to Team USA in preliminary round play on Monday, face Czechia, more widely known in English as the Czech Republic, in the other semi-final later in the day.

The two women’s hockey global powers have met in 21 of 22 world tournament finals, with the only exception 2019, when host Finland beat Canada in the semis before losing to the US in a 2-1 shootout. The Americans ended Canada’s two-year gold-medal run last year with a 6-3 win in the tournament played outside of Toronto. (Canada beat the US at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.)

“It doesn’t matter what team, it doesn’t matter what time, it doesn’t matter where we play. We could be playing outside for all I care,” Heise said. “We’re going to come out hard either way.”

Sanni Ahola finished with 50 saves in a game Finland was out-shot 55-15 in a game played before a predominantly loud “USA! USA!” chanting crowd in central New York.

“We battled hard, but the US were very good,” Ahola said. “They were very strong and fast, so we’re trying to survive. We didn’t have that many chances, but we should have used them better.”

Though outshot 22-4 in the opening period, Finland had two scoring chances late in the frame. Frankel stopped Susanna Tapani’s shot from the right of the net, and then hugged the post to prevent Petra Nieminen from jamming in the rebound.

The shutout was the fifth of Frankel’s career, and she broke the single tournament record of three shutouts first set by Canada’s Kim St. Pierre posted in 2005. She’s allowed just three goals in five games this tournament, all coming in a 5-3 win over Finland in the preliminary round.

After Bilka scored 12:01 in, Edwards broke the game open with three goals over a span of 13:10 bridging the second and third periods.

Edwards put the US up 2-0 by beating Ahola high on the short side with a shot from the left circle for a power-play goal with 6:46 left in the second period.

Heise set up Edwards’ second goal 2:34 into the third period by driving to the net only to be stopped by Ahola, who was out of position to prevent Edwards from converting the rebound. Four minutes later, Heise dug the puck out at the boards and and fed Edwards for a one-timer from the right circle.

Earlier in the day, former Northeastern University star and member of PWHL Boston, Alina Muller scored 4:07 into overtime in Switzerland’s 3-2 win over Germany in a placement-round game. The win secures Switzerland maintaining a spot among the top five nations in the A Group, while Germany stays in the five-nation B Group entering next year’s world championships.

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