Meet teams competing at women’s hockey world championships in Plymouth – Detroit Free Press
Free Press special writer Nicole Haase breaks down the eight teams competing at the International Ice Hockey Federation Womenâs World Championships, which runs Friday through April 7 at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth:
The Canadians have switched up their roster since the last world championshipÂ but still have 16 members of that silver medal-winning squad and 13 who won gold at theÂ Sochi Olympics in 2014. They continue to skew older, with just three college players. Star player Caroline Ouellette moved to the coaching staff this season, but the team still boasts a ton of talented players. TheÂ goalie from the last two Olympics, Shannon Szabados, has rejoined the team after time playing inÂ menâs leagues in the U.S. Sheâs joined by two other stellar goalies.
PlayersÂ to watch: Marie-Philip Poulin wasÂ the engineer of USAâs heartbreak at the last two Olympics. She hasÂ great hands, vision and always seems toÂ be in the right spot at the right time.Â Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast are two new additions to the roster on defense and should provide an interesting blue line in front of Szabados. Forward Rebecca Johnston was particularly good during the December series against the U.S.
Contender status: Serious. Until another team proves otherwise, itâs always a two-team showdown between the U.S. and Canada. While Canada has owned the Olympics, USA has owned the world championships. Canada last won gold in 2012. Aside from all theÂ talent, Canada has the advantage of having been on the ice and practicing for the past week, something the Americans werenât able to do because their boycott ended just three days before the tournament. That camp alone has to make Canada the favorites for gold.
USA has won the last three world championships and seven of the last nine. Similar to Canada, the U.S. returns 17 players from last yearâs WWC roster and 13 players from their Sochi silver medal-winning team. Robb Stauber is the new headÂ coach, as of the fall, after having served in assistant roles at five previous tournaments. Itâs a late coaching change less than a year before the Pyeongchang Olympics. He helmed the team in the December series, and it wasnât a great showing for Team USA. The players’ boycott has put a lot of attention on this tournament and, in turn, a lot of pressure on the players. Without much time to jell before the first puck drops, the odds arenât in their favor.
PlayersÂ to watch: Team captain Meghan Duggan took her leadership role to a new level during the player boycott. Sheâs also vocal on the ice, constantly encouraging teammates, directing traffic and generally being the point person for the squad. Up front, Kendall Coyne is small but speedy and provides great contrast to the size and shot of Hilary Knight. Amanda Kesselâs return to the ice should bring some creativity. On the blue line, Lee Stecklein is big and unflappable. She has been a stalwart at Minnesota for what feels like a decade and played in Sochi as a sophomore. Maddie Rooney was spectacular for Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA postseason and could make a name for herselfÂ this week.
Contender status:Â Serious. Before their fight with USA Hockey, the Americans probably wereÂ the favorites. Now theyâve hadÂ off-ice distractions and will have little time on the ice together. And they donât get any chance to ease in — theyâll face Canada right away Friday night. Canada likely willÂ win their opening matchup, but the Americans will have more time to get it together before the medal round.
The Russians have been upstartsÂ in recent years, winningÂ bronze in two of the last three world championships. Oddly, after achieving success at the 2016 WWC, Russia comes into the tournament with a new coach and shuffled roster. The team isÂ much younger and heavy on players from new coach Alexei Chistyakovâs Tornado Moscow Region squad.
PlayersÂ to watch: Three names on the Russian roster may be familiar to fans of the CWHL and NWHL. Lyudmila Belyakova and Yekateriina Smolentseva played in the inaugural NWHLÂ season before returning to play in Russia this year. Iya Gavrilova was a CWHL rookie-of-the-year nominee with the Calgary Inferno this season. She won a championship with the University of Calgary before scoring 21 points in 20 games in her first year in the CWHL. Smolentseva is a four-time Olympian and was the captain in Sochi. The breakout player to watch will be Anna Shokhina. Sheâs just 19Â but is captain of Tornado Moscow Region and averaged more than two points a game in the WHL.
Contender status: Decent. The Russians probably areÂ the favorites for the bronze, though Finland is close. Russia will need to find a way to score — goals in this tournament are going to be difficult to come by for most teams.
After going undefeated in the Nations Cup, Finland is playing as well as it hasÂ in years. Having goalie Noora RÃ¤ty back on the ice not only makes the FinnsÂ a better teamÂ but gives the players the confidence they need to push forward and be more offensive-minded.Â They have veterans andÂ promising younger players and seem to have found a good balance. No one other than the U.S. and Canada hasÂ won gold or silver at the WWC, but Finland hasÂ 11 bronze medals,Â the last coming in 2015.
PlayersÂ to watch: RÃ¤ty is where it starts and ends for Finland. After some behind-the-scenes disagreements, she is back on the team, and the difference she makes is tangible. Mira Jaluso is a stalwart defender andÂ has a good shot from the blue line. A breakout star for Finland could be Emma Nuutinen up front. She was coming into her own as the NCAA season ended. Riikka VÃ¤lilÃ¤ is 43 and started playing for Finland in 1988. She took a 10-year break from hockeyÂ but returned in 2013.
Contender status:Â Decent. The Finns haveÂ played in every bronze-medal game since the tournamentâs inception. Theyâre an established program and have RÃ¤ty.
The Swedes have two bronze medals at the WWC, the last coming in 2007. Coach Leif Boork, a 67-year-old veteran of the Swedish menâs league,Â isÂ feuding with Jenni Asserholt and Emma Eliasson, two of the best goal scorersÂ in the Swedish womenâs league, and will not put them on the national team. Their exclusion leaves Sweden trying to fill holes with little depth.
PlayersÂ to watch: Maria Lindh and Michelle LÃ¶wenhielm play at Minnesota-Duluth and helped that program host an NCAA tournament game this season. Sweden tends to be more defensive, but when they look to score, itâll be Anna Borgqvist and Fanny Rask providing the offense.
Contender status: Low. Leaving the best players at home and having a coach not particularly forward-thinking certainly doesnât bode well. TheÂ prospects for a medal arenât great, but neither would a third-place finish be surprising. Thereâs not a ton separating any of these squads, so one hot streak from a forward or goalie could really be all it takes.
The Czechs currently sit where Russia was a few years ago. Theyâre a program on the rise, but theyâre probably a few years off from really starting to make waves. But they definitely have enough raw talent to give teams a hard time and could find themselves upsetting the status quo. Theyâve never finished higher than sixth –Â which they accomplished last year. Theyâre in the limbo position of hoping to advance while also playing to make sure they arenât relegated. There were several Czech players in the NCAA this season, meaning not only is the talent getting a chance to develop, but the schools are seeing the potential in young players from the Czech Republic.
PlayersÂ to watch: Four of their talented NCAA players are Michaela PejzlovÃ¡, Tereza VaniÅ¡ovÃ¡, Katerina MrÃ¡zovÃ¡ and Denisa KÅÃÅ¾ovÃ¡. VaniÅ¡ovÃ¡ was Hockey East Rookie of the Year, with 28 points in 28 games, despite playing on the last place team. At Northeastern, KÅÃÅ¾ovÃ¡ stepped into the top forward role left by USAâs Coyne and did so admirably, tallying 45 points in 34 games. PejzlovÃ¡ won a national championship as a freshman at Clarkson and carved out a spot for herself on an already deep and talented roster. MrÃ¡zovÃ¡ actually played for the Boston Blades of the CWHL in 2012-13 and became the first European to win the Clarkson Cup.
Contender status: Low.Â The Czechs are the dark horse favorite for the bronze medal. Theyâre a young team with a lot of talent. The learning curve will likely be steep and theyâll need a strong performance from their goalies, but they have the potential to really make a splash this week.
Bronze medal winners in Sochi in 2014, Switzerland brings a similar roster to Plymouth. The teamÂ did not lose in itsÂ recent qualifying run for Pyeongchang. It has one bronze in the World Championships, in 2012. It hasÂ the most balanced squad of any of the teams not from the U.S. and Canada. Not only does itÂ score – 18 goals in four qualifying games – but itÂ has the defense and goaltending to back it up. Goaltender Florence Schelling was a major part of theÂ success in Sochi. Sheâs returning from an injury.
PlayersÂ to watch: Forward Lara Stalder is one of the best forwards playing in this tournament. A top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award (the MVP of NCAA womenâs hockey), she scored 56 points in 35 games at Minnesota-Duluth this season. In the final round of Olympic qualifiers for Switzerland, she had eight of theÂ 14 goals.Â Schelling is aÂ veteran presence and a natural leader.
Contender status: Not good. They shouldnât have a problem in Group B, but will likely find themselves struggling to match the depth of USA and Canada. A team cannot win on the back of one forward and a stellar goalie, so they need to see some others step up if they want to win another bronze.
Germany is coming off a disappointing round of play where they lost to Japan and failed to qualify for Pyeongchang in 2018. Itâs a blow to a squad that was riding high on their promotion to the top tier. The GermansÂ earned their place in the top division tournament after placing first at the Division I Group A championships in 2016. The Olympic qualifying loss seems to have rattled the program a bit, as they made some changes and shuffled the roster. Still, they come to Plymouth as the team most likely to be relegated and with the most to prove. Theyâve gone heavy on defenders on their roster, leaving them with just 10 forwards.
PlayersÂ to watch: Tanja Eisenschmid is a big offensive threat from the blue line. She played four years at North Dakota and gives them a steady presence in back – especially when combined with goalie Jennifer Harss. Sheâs a key part of their power play and provides such presence for them in the back. The Germans have three players currently in the NCAA. Lena Dusterhoft and Anna Fiegert are at Minnesota State-Mankato and Marie Delabre is at Merrimack.
Contender status:Â Not good. Itâs unlikely that Germany contends for a medal. Theyâre here to try toÂ stop any backslide after not qualifying for Pyeongchang and to try to not get relegated. The teams in this yearâs tournament seem to well represent the continued growth of the game, with each squad moving along the path at a different rate. If the Czechs are where Russia was a few years ago than it could be said Germany is where the Czechs were. Theyâve done a good job of starting to develop youth talent and theyâre creating a pipeline of players.
Friday’s game schedule
Noon: Czech Republic vs. Switzerland
3:30 p.m.: Sweden vs. Germany
4Â p.m.: Finland vs. Russia
7:30 p.m.: United States vs. Canada (NHL Network)