Just six months after the 2022 Winter Olympics concluded, the best women’s hockey teams return to the ice this week for the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship. It marks the first time the top division women’s world championship will be held in the Olympic year since women’s hockey debuted at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
The tournament, which runs from August 25 through September 4, is being held in Frederikshavn and Herning, Denmark. Here are a few of the biggest storylines to follow as the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship gets underway.
2022 Women’s Hockey Worlds: TV schedule, how to watch, tournament format and more
Can Canada keep up the momentum?
Canada enters the tournament as both the defending world champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist. In addition, the Canadians also took the top prize at the U18 World Championship earlier this summer.
While the Canadian roster includes 18 players that won Olympic gold six months ago — including stars Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Nurse, Brianne Jenner, and Sarah Fillier — the team has also seen some turnover since February.
Most notably, 2021 Worlds MVP Mélodie Daoust did not attend selection camp and is not on the world championship roster. Daoust suffered an injury during Canada’s first game of the Beijing Olympics and didn’t compete again until the semifinal round. Canada is also missing Natalie Spooner (who recently announced her pregnancy), Claire Thompson, and Rebecca Johnston.
Despite some of the notable names missing, Canada enters as the favorite for the 2022 world title. During a pre-tournament game vs. the U.S. on Tuesday, Canada skated away with a 3-1 win thanks to goals from Fillier, Blayre Turnbull, and world championship rookie Jessie Eldridge.
U.S. women’s hockey team looks to return to the top
The United States, which won five straight world titles before last year’s overtime loss to Canada, will be aiming to start a new win streak at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship.
The U.S. roster includes a veteran core led by Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne-Schofield, Amanda Kessel and Lee Stecklein. Knight, 33, will be making a USA hockey record 12th world championship appearance this year.
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Three players will be making their USA Hockey senior national team debut in Denmark (Hannah Bilka, Taylor Heise, and Rory Guilday), while two players (Lacey Eden and Aerin Frankel) will be making their USA Hockey return. Both Eden (Wisconsin) and Frankel (Northeastern) competed at last summer’s World Championship, but weren’t selected for the Olympic team. Eden was cut in the lead up to Beijing, while Frankel, the 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award winner, wasn’t included in the residency program.
It will be interesting to see how new U.S. head coach John Wroblewski makes use of those new faces — as well as younger players like Caroline Harvey, Jincy Dunne, and Grace Zumwinkle. The American bench was underutilized at the Beijing Olympics, which certainly impacted how the team performed.
U.S.-based fans can find info on a TV schedule of available games here.
Can Finland women’s hockey team push past bronze?
Finland is the perennial bronze-medal favorite, having claimed the third step of the podium at last year’s world championship and the previous two Olympic Games.
The Finns will be led in Denmark by Anni Keisala (named best goalie at 2021 Worlds), four-time Olympian Jenni Hiirikoski, and top scoring threat Petra Nieminen. Finland also has a new coach, Juuso Toivola, who took over during the 2022 Winter Olympics after the team’s previous coach, Pasi Mustonen, returned home for a family emergency.
“Obviously, (the Canadians and Americans) are still the ones to beat, but I’m excited to see if we have something new in our pockets,” Finnish GM Tuula Puputti told the Associated Press.
U.S. hockey players balance tournament with ongoing contract negotiations
In 2017, the U.S. women’s hockey team made headlines when players threatened to boycott that year’s world championship if USA Hockey didn’t increase player compensation and benefits. Five years later, players are preparing for Worlds while simultaneously negotiating a new contract. The U.S. players’ current one-year agreement with USA Hockey is set to expire midway through the tournament on August 31.
“Obviously we would have loved to have a deal done heading into this world championship to eliminate distraction and conversation with the contract, given that the conversation started months ago,” player representative Kendall Coyne Schofield told On Her Turf in a phone interview.
How exactly players and USA Hockey would handle a situation where an agreement is not reached by August 31 remains to be seen, but Hilary Knight said last week that she remained optimistic. “I’m really confident in our group and the amount of work and effort and sweat that we put into being the best and playing at this level,” she told On Her Turf.
USA Hockey declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations.
Can Sweden make the most of its world championship opportunity?
As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the team representing the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) — a designation that is the result of the nation’s state-sponsored doping program — is currently suspended by the IIHF. With Russia barred, Sweden was invited and seeded into group B.
Sweden used to be a consistent threat in women’s hockey — winning back-to-back Olympic medals in 2002 and 2006, plus two world bronze medals in 2005 and 2007. But a ninth-place finish in 2019 relegated the Swedes to the lower division world championship tournament, which was then cancelled in both 2020 and 2021.
“I think Sweden belongs in the [top] group,” two-time Olympian Nylén Persson told TSN. “It has been a little bit frustrating that we haven’t had the chance to play to get ourselves a chance to go up to the [top] group.”
Japan looks to continue women’s hockey growth with spot in group A
At the 2022 Winter Olympics, Japan’s women’s hockey team earned the top spot in group B thanks to wins against Sweden, Denmark, and two thrilling shootout victories vs. China and Czechia.
Japan will face much stronger competition at this year’s World Championship. After the IIHF barred Russia from competing, Japan was promoted to group A. While wins against powerhouse teams like the U.S. and Canada are improbable at best, the experience should be beneficial for the young team, which is likely to be led by 21-year-old forward Akane Shiga.
Can the U.S. improve its power play?
The U.S. power play has struggled of late, including at the Beijing Olympics, where the Americans only managed to score on the power play one-quarter of the time (compared to 36% efficiency for Finland and 41% for Canada).
“I don’t think we were at our sharpest in Beijing and I think that showed,” Hilary Knight told On Her Turf last week. “I’m really excited with the group that we’ve got… and combine that with all of these schemes and things that we’re working on, it’s going to be a lethal combination for us.”
Which American goalie will take the lead?
For the first time since 2015, the U.S. roster doesn’t include Alex Cavallini. Cavallini, who recently announced that she is pregnant, started all three Olympic knockout games earlier this year. That said, the U.S. still has three very talented goalies on the roster: Maddie Rooney, Nicole Hensley, and Aerin Frankel.
Rooney, 25, backstopped the U.S. to Olympic gold in 2018 and then played two games at the Beijing Olympics.
Hensley has the most world championship experience, having served as the American team’s go-to goalie at Worlds in both 2017 and 2021.
Frankel, the 2021 Patty Kazmaier winner for Northeastern, will be looking to record her first international minutes. She was on last year’s world championship roster, but didn’t touch the ice.
Meaghan Mikkelson returns to competition
After sustaining a major knee injury in May 2021, three-time Olympic medalist Meaghan Mikkelson tried to rehab in time for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The mother-of-two started skating again in October 2021 and played her first game with the Canadian team two months later. But in the end, the timeline was too tight and Mikkelson was one of Canada’s final roster cuts in the lead-up to Beijing.
But the 37-year-old Mikkelson wasn’t ready to call it quits. She showed up to Canadian camp this summer and was named to the 23-player world championship roster.
“I just couldn’t leave it where it was,” she told the Canadian Press. “I was having trouble sleeping at night thinking ‘should I go to camp?’ and I just felt like I could show up here, my whole heart would be here, and I thought I would be able to contribute.”
Which team will shine in group B?
Just like at recent world championships, the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship will feature two weighted pools. While often overlooked due to the U.S.-Canada rivalry in group A, the teams in group B represent the international growth of women’s hockey. This year, group B will consist of Czechia, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, and host Denmark.
Czechia has made a big mark on the international game in the last 12 months, including in the nation’s Olympic debut in February. During the team’s quarterfinal round game vs. the U.S., Czechia scored first and managed to keep the game tied at 1-1 until the third period.
“We never played U.S. or Canada, so it’s like, ‘Oh my god, they play so well.’ And it was a bit intimidating for us,” Czech captain Alena Mills told TSN. “But now that we played against them, it’s like, ‘Oh, we can take the puck away from them. We can push them on the boards. We can score the first goal.’ So, I think it was huge in our Czech hockey development and helping us to maybe get a bit more of a championship mentality.”
Group B also boasts plenty of current NCAA talent, from Swedish goalie Emma Soderberg (Minnesota Duluth) to Czechia forward Noemi Neubauerova (Providence) to Hungarian forward Mira Seregely (Maine). The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) is also represented by five players on group B teams and one in group A (Evelina Raselli, Switzerland). A full list of player affiliations with pro leagues and colleges can be found here.
In addition to trying to make it to the quarterfinal round at Worlds, all five group B teams will also be trying to avoid relegation. The lowest ranked team at the end of pool play will be relegated to the lower division tournament for next year’s world championship.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC