Women’s Worlds Storylines: From the USA-CAN rivalry to ongoing contract negotiations

Hockey player Hilary Knight (USA) skates past Marie-Philip Poulin (CAN)
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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 BilkaTaylor 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

Li Li Leung talks USA Gymnastics’ cultural transformation, challenges still to come and embracing her AAPI heritage

Head of USA Gymnastics Li Li Leung.
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Li Li Leung joined USA Gymnastics as president and CEO in March 2019, when the organization was reeling from the fallout of Larry Nassar’s widespread sexual abuse and the subsequent revelations of larger cultural issues within the sport. Since then, Leung has seen USAG through an ongoing transformation, one that hinges on the work of the survivors and staff around her, whom she is quick to credit. That evolution, as she calls it, has included instituting new norms and standards at all levels of the sport, particularly in matters related to athlete safety.

Among the notable USAG initiatives that Leung has brought to fruition is the Athlete Bill of Rights, established in December 2020 as a tool “to unite the full gymnastics community around a shared vision of behavioral expectations.” At the same time, USAG instituted a protest policy for national team members aimed at supporting athletes who choose to use their voice on public platforms. Both initiatives were among the first of their kind in sport.

Prior to joining USAG, Leung served as a vice president at the National Basketball Association (NBA), where she was responsible for building and managing key partner relationships around the world. She continues to use that experience in her roles as vice chair of the National Governing Bodies Council of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation’s Executive Committee.

Leung, who began competing in gymnastics at age 7, was a member of the U.S. junior national training team and represented the U.S. at the 1988 Junior Pan American Games. She was a four-year member of the four-time Big 10 champion University of Michigan gymnastics team and was an NCAA Championships participant.

In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, On Her Turf sat down with Leung to talk about her journey with USAG, the challenges still to come and how being a member of the AAPI community has shaped the person she is today.

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This Q+A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

On Her Turf: Let’s start by talking about your journey since joining USA Gymnastics in 2019. What have the last four years been like for you?

Li Li Leung: This was just an incredible opportunity to give back to the sport that has given so much to me. And I really mean that because I started in the sport when I was 7 years old and did it for 15 years. It’s taught me all of these different skills that I apply to my daily life, both professional and personal. It feels a little bit like I’ve come full circle, and honestly, never in a million years did I think I would find myself in this role. … I joined at a time when it was a tumultuous time for the organization. It’s been just a little a little over four years now, and it has been an incredible journey — and believe it or not, I have enjoyed it. While it hasn’t been easy, I actually have enjoyed it, because I’ve been able to make it not just me. One thing that’s important to note is that — I had even said on my first interview with the board — it will take a village to accomplish what we need to accomplish. This is not a one-person job. And I was lucky enough to be able to bring on a leadership team that has been incredible, and also retain the staff that we have retained, as well as hire other new staff members. And it’s because of them and some really key volunteers that we’ve been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to do.

OHT: Can you talk a little more about this cultural transformation that the organization has experienced and your approach to tackling this all-encompassing change?

Leung: When I was interviewing for the position, I actually met every single board member. It was really critical to both sides that they felt that I matched the role and their needs and also I had to be confident in the board believing in the ultimate mission of the organization and what we wanted to achieve. So that the culture really does stem from the well – from the top down and everything in between as well. And when I was looking for leadership team, … one of the characteristics I was really looking for was they couldn’t have an ego. The job couldn’t be about themselves or about what they would personally get out of the role. It had to be about them believing in the bigger picture and believing in what we collectively wanted to achieve. I knew that we would only be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish if people were willing to roll up their sleeves and just do whatever needed to be done, so that was one of the key things in terms of having no ego.

Since 2018, we’ve turned over more than 70 percent of our staff. We’ve been able to retain the really key members of our staff, who have been critical to our success, but also have been able to really bring in new thinking, new blood, new perspectives. Because the other thing I was looking for when I was hiring for the leadership team was diversity in perspectives. That was critical because I did not want to be surrounded by “yes people.” I wanted to be surrounded by people who would be willing to have really robust conversations and engage in difficult conversations, because ultimately, you end up in a better place because of that.

In 2020, we reset our mission to be about building a community and culture of health, safety and excellence, with athletes who thrive in sport and in life. So we were no longer about developing technically superior gymnasts who perform well in gym. We reset our focus to be about helping set our athletes up for success with the skill sets that you learn in gymnastics, and when we come to the office each day, that’s what we’re thinking about. …

The other piece is we also know from a community standpoint that our national team coaches are the most visible representation (of USAG), and a lot of coaches model them. So we’ve been working really hard in terms of working on educating our national team coaches. We work with Positive Coaching Alliance to do educational training with them as well. And we also have introduced training specifically for young coaches coming in, because we know when they come in and they’re new, that they’re eager to learn, and that’s when you can start training and moving them in a way. So our thinking is with this top-down and bottom-up strategy, eventually the middle will meet.

OHT: You noted how the coaches can be some of the most visible representatives of USAG. Regarding the addition of 2008 Olympic silver medalists Chellsie Memmel (USAG technical lead) and Alicia Sacramone Quinn (USAG strategic lead), how have those women impacted the program?

Leung: The addition of Chellsie and Alicia has been fantastic. They have been phenomenal to work with, and the fact that they have firsthand experience of having gone through it themselves – that also gives them a very good idea of what they would change and what they wouldn’t change, at the same time. It has been a phenomenal addition to be able to have this perspective of firsthand, high-level, high-performing athletes to be able to lead our high-performance team. And the athletes are saying it as well. They’re saying, “We trust them; we feel confident in their decisions; we can relate to them” — all of those things that historically haven’t really happened before.

Then in terms of the athletes who are going to college and coming back to compete with USA Gymnastics – there are so many aspects that I think are great about this. One: It’s showing a lengthened career in a sport that historically has not been very long because it’s so demanding on the body. So that means that our athletes are physically healthier, as well, that they can train and compete at a high level for a longer period of time. It also means that they’re enjoying it more because they’re staying in the sport. From an emotional standpoint, they’re finding a lot more joy in the sport, and they’re talking about it, too. And we love the fact that they’re talking about it. We want them to talk about it, and we want them to have voices and feel open and free about sharing what they’re thinking about. I have to say I’ve been really enjoying seeing almost like — I’m not sure if I can go as far as a new era in the sport maybe — but just this evolution of the sport and the athletes changing in front of my eyes.

OHT: What do you consider now to still be the biggest challenge or obstacle for USAG?

Leung: There are a couple of big initiatives on the list. One is we want to build a training and wellness center where all of our disciplines will train under one roof. This is a long-term project, obviously, but my vision around it is that it will be the heart and hub of gymnastics in America. And while this is where national team athletes will ultimately train to some extent, it is going to be a welcoming place for athletes of all different disciplines and all different levels. We want it to be a place where young athletes can come through and see their role models training. We want this to be a place of education for our community and judges. We want to be able to run clinics there for all different levels. We just want this to be a gathering place of gymnastics and to be able to celebrate the sport there at the same time.

We’re also going to reset our foundation. There’s been the National Gymnastics Foundation, but we are going to reset it and basically be much more proactive on fundraising and development to grow the sport and also to raise more money for athletes in their training.

OHT: Turning to AAPI Heritage Month and being named to the 2023 Gold House A100 List (the A100 is named each May honoring 100 Asian Pacific leaders who made the greatest impact on culture and society over the past year). What did that honor mean to you?

Leung: It was such an incredible honor to be recognized by them, and my fellow honorees — when I read the list, I thought to myself, “I don’t belong.” There are some incredible names on that list. But again, I go back to what I said earlier: I owe this honor to a lot of the other people who work [at USAG]. I think the really important thing to recognize is that this was not done by just me. It was done by a lot of other people who are on staff and who aren’t getting the accolades or the recognition. But it was an incredible experience to be, and I’m very, very touched and honored to be on that list.

OHT: How do you identify within the Asian American Pacific Islander community? Did you embrace your heritage growing up and how has that shaped who you are today?

Leung: So I’ll tell you a story that I’ve mentioned to other people recently. I grew up in a town called Ridgewood in Bergen County, New Jersey, and most of my friends had blond hair and blue eyes. When I was growing up, I wanted the name “Nancy Smith,” and I wanted blue eyes. I wanted to fit in. As a kid, you always want to fit in. Then when you get older and wizen up a little bit, you realize that it’s okay and it’s good to be different, that you can use that to your advantage. And so upon growing up, I realized that it’s pretty special to be Asian American and there are benefits to being Asian American, and you should embrace the fact that you are different. In fact, I recently lectured to a women-in-sports-business class, and one of the questions they asked me was about impostor syndrome. I said the same thing that I’m saying to you now, which is absolutely embrace who you are. Absolutely embrace your differences, because those ultimately are embedded advantages to who you are and make you stand out from the rest of the crowd. So that’s my philosophy now.

OHT: Do you or your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

Leung: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a tradition, but in the Chinese culture, food is really important. Food is what brings people together. It’s a sign of respect, and that is the ultimate unifying language in a way. So when we do get together as a family, it’s really important for us to get together around a meal, because that’s when we share our stories. That’s when we connect with one another.

OHT: You might have just answered my next question, but I want to ask: What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?

Leung: It’s funny, I was actually at a conference last week and you were supposed to find someone you didn’t know in the conference and share a secret talent that you have. I shared that I can eat a lot more than most people think. Food is a really important part of our culture and in my upbringing and family.

OHT: Lastly, I wanted to ask, as we’ve seen an increase in hate-filled actions toward the AAPI community, what does supporting the AAPI community look like for you?

Leung: Well, I think kind of going back to my other answer, it’s just about embracing who you are and embracing your differences. I think part of it is being unafraid of it at the same time, which I know is really difficult. But if you’re going to truly embrace it, and then you can’t be afraid about embracing it at the same time.

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2023 Mizuho Americas Open: How to watch, who’s playing in inaugural LPGA event at Liberty National GC

Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand tees off on the eleventh hole during Day One of the HSBC Women's World Championship.
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The Statue of Liberty is the backdrop for this week’s inaugural Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. The tournament boasts a theme of mentorship and education, and includes a girls’ 72-hole, modified Stableford tournament featuring 24 juniors to go along with the 72-hole stroke-play event for 120 LPGA professionals.

The field is led by seven of the top 10 players on the Rolex Rankings including world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, No. 3 Lydia Ko, No. 4 Lilia Vu and No. 5 Minjee Lee. Also teeing it up this week are the finalists from Sunday’s Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play, where Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn captured her second LPGA title with a 3-and-1 victory over Japan’s Ayaka Furue.

Michelle Wie West is serving as the tournament host, and she’ll be on hand to welcome fellow Stanford alum Rose Zhang, who’s fresh off her second straight NCAA individual title and turned professional just last week. Zhang will have her first go at an LPGA prize purse, which tops out at $2.75 million this week with the winner taking home $412,500.

How to watch the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open

You can watch the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open on Golf Channel, Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, June 1: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Friday, June 2: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Saturday, June 3: 5-8 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Sunday, June 4: 4:30-5 p.m. ET (streaming only on Peacock); 5-7:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock

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Who’s playing in the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open?

The 120-player field features seven of the top 10 players (and 16 of the top 25 player) on the Rolex Rankings:

  • No. 1 Jin Young Ko
  • No. 3 Lydia Ko
  • No. 4 Lilia Vu
  • No. 5 Minjee Lee
  • No. 6 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 8 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 9 Georgia Hall

Also in the field are 2023 winners Celine Boutier (LPGA Drive On Championship), Ruoning Yin (DIO Implant LA Open) and Grace Kim (LOTTE Championship), plus several sponsor exemptions including reigning NCAA individual champion Rose Zhang and her Stanford teammate Megha Ganne. Ganne, a native of Holmdel, N.J., finished T-21 at the recent NCAAs and is playing as an amateur. Joining them as an exemption is fellow Cardinal Mariah Stackhouse, who has conditional status on tour in 2023. Monday qualifiers include tour rookie Alexa Pano and Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith.

Among the notable juniors expected to play are 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner Anna Davis, 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior winner Yana Wilson and 2022 U.S. Junior Girls’ runnerup Gianna Clemente. The 24 junior players were invited through their standings in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.

What’s the format for the Mizuho Americas Open?

The professionals will play a 72-hole stroke-play competition, with a cut to the top 50 and ties after 36 holes. The 24 juniors will play a 72-hole, no-cut competition using the modified Stableford scoring format and a different yardage than the pros.

During the first two rounds, the AJGA players will all be paired together. During the final two rounds, one junior player will play with two LPGA pros with groupings based on scores. This unique format marks the first time the AJGA and LPGA have partnered to showcase junior and professional competitors playing together.

Stableford scoring refresher: “Stableford” is a scoring system that awards points for the number of strokes taken on each hole in relation to par, rather than simply counting strokes like in stroke play. Unlike in stroke play, where players want the lowest score, the goal in Stableford scoring is to have the highest score. Standard Stableford points values are:

  • 0 Points – Double bogey or worse (two strokes or more over par)
  • 1 Point – Bogey (one stroke over par)
  • 2 Points – Par
  • 3 Points – Birdie (one stroke under par)
  • 4 Points – Eagle (two strokes under par)
  • 5 Points – Albatross or double eagle (three strokes under par)
  • 6 Points – Condor (four strokes under par)

More about Liberty National Golf Club

Located on the shore of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, Liberty National Golf Club was designed by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite and officially opened on July 4, 2006. After the course received mixed reviews following the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust in 2009, the course underwent a renovation led by Steve Wenzloff of PGA Tour Design Services. Of note, the course hosted an event during the PGA Tour Playoffs four times (2009, 2013, 2019 and 2021) as well as the 2017 Presidents Cup, where the U.S. defeated the Internationals 19-11 for the Americans’ seventh consecutive victory in the competition and its 10th straight win overall. For this week’s event, the course will play to a par of 72 with an unofficial scorecard yardage of 6,671 yards.

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