Women's World Hockey Championships
🏆 The set up
Because of this little thing called a pandemic, for the first time ever, the Women’s World Championships are taking place in the same year as the Olympics.
In terms of the setup, typically, the world’s top 10 teams — ranked by the IIHF based on prior World Championship and Olympic performances — are split by skill into two groups of five (the top five teams in group A and the bottom five squads in group B) for the initial round-robin competition. With Russia banned this year, 11th-ranked Hungary is participating in the tourney.
- After the preliminary round (crucial for seeding purposes), every squad in the elite Group A and the top three from Group B advance to the single-elimination knockout round.
A key difference between the round robin and knockout stage? If a game is tied after three periods of regulation play, the game moves to three-on-three sudden death overtime (OT).
- OT is five minutes during the prelims and 10 minutes for the elimination games (with the exception of the gold medal game, where it's 20 minutes), followed by a shootout. Hello, anxiety.
🏒 The groups
With the format in mind, let’s take a look at the groups. Group A may be stacked with top talent, but with Group B teams facing potential elimination after the round robin, there will be drama to spare.
Group A: In ranking order, Canada, the U.S., Finland, Switzerland and, for the first time ever, Japan fill out the top tier. The round-robin battle of North America will likely be a sneak peek of the gold medal game. That said, keep an eye out for potential upsets by Finland or even Switzerland — no win is guaranteed.
Group B: Continuing down the list, Czechia, Sweden, Germany, host-country Denmark and Hungary round out the second tier of competition. After making their first Olympic appearance in February, the Czechs have the most momentum, but don’t sleep on a home team success story.
Now we know the big picture, let’s narrow in on the top three contenders…
🍁 Canada: The defending champs
It feels like just yesterday that forward Blayre Turnbull rolled her stretcher onto the ice for the gold medal celly after defeating Team USA 3–2 in OT at last year’s final. Now she’ll attempt to help the red and white secure a second straight title for the first time since 2001.
Players to watch: You can’t talk about Canadian hockey without discussing the aforementioned Poulin. She’s netted three Olympic golden goals, along with last summer’s World Championship winner, and has no intention of slowing down. A hard-working player on and off the ice, the 31-year-old is aging like the finest of wines.
- We don’t know about you, but we’re also feeling 22-year-old Sarah Fillier. Joining the national team ahead of the 2021 World Championships, this rising star already has two gold medals to her name and notched a four-goal performance in the team’s 14–1 pre-tournament exhibition win over Denmark on Saturday.
- And it’s not just the offensive talent that’s sweet as maple. Goalie Ann-Reneé Desbiens — affectionately monikered “The Great Wall” for her stellar performance in Beijing — remains ice cold even in the most heated of situations.
Keys to success: Canada has won World Championship and Olympic golds in the past year, but now the team needs to adapt to the Natalie Spooner–sized hole in the locker room, as the beloved forward enjoys her maternity leave.
- Canada needs to stay prudent — Team USA has some serious speed on their side, plus a growing disdain for silver jewelry.
Game 1: The squad will start their tournament against last year’s bronze medalist, Finland, today at 1 p.m. ET. Elimination may not be on the line, but seeding certainly is. Let’s go, girls.
🦅 Team USA: The runners up
After five straight years of World Championship golds, the script was flipped last summer when the Americans fell to Canada in the Worlds, the Olympics and the Rivalry Series.
Players to watch: Hilary Knight has been the heart and soul of Team USA for as long as we can remember: this year marks the forward’s 12th Women’s Worlds appearance, good enough for a team record. She has dangles for days and never seems to struggle against a Canadian defense. Every team needs a knight in
shining sweaty armor.
- Another cornerstone of the team comes in speedy forward Kendall Coyne Schofield. You might remember her from the 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition, and her ability to literally blow past opponents has been consistent throughout her national team tenure. A master of the knife shoes.
- Let’s not forget one of the newer kids on the block: forward Abby Roque. After making her Olympic debut in Beijing, Roque — the first Indigenous player on the squad — is more than ready to use a physical style of play to try and best the Canadians.
Keys to success: The squad will need to find a way to compensate for a Brianna Decker–less lineup, as her (potentially) Olympic tournament–altering injury still leaves her sidelined.
Game 1: The squad should be able to ease into round-robin play with a solid win over No. 5 Japan bright and early today at 9 a.m. ET.
🦁 Finland: The underdog
Finland’s World Championship story can be summed up as, “Always the consolation game, never the final.” But the team may be ready to build off their controversial 2019 near-success and leapfrog their way to the elusive gold medal.
Players to watch: The Lady Lions have a strong netminder in Anni Keisala, a necessary strength to stand a chance in this year’s Group A competition. She boasted a stellar .949 save percentage in last year’s tournament and should be a reliable presence between the pipes.
- On the attacking end, upcoming forward Petra Nieminen just finished an electric professional season in Sweden, where she scored 26 goals in 34 games. Blink and you’ll miss her.
Keys to success: For Finland, this year will only be considered a success if they move beyond the bronze, which likely means usurping either Canada or the U.S. They’ve done it before, but they’ll need to be quick to the puck and consistently firing on all cylinders to get the job done.
Game 1: As mentioned, the Lions will have their chance to do so right off the bat as they face Canada today at 1 p.m. ET.
📺 The surrounding stor
With women’s professional hockey still in a state of flux — the PWHPA’s upcoming league’s been postponed, the Dream Gap Tour’s TV broadcast is up in the air and Canada’s suffered a recent loss of funding — this tournament will provide the much-needed coverage these athletes deserve.
- Featuring one of the greatest rivalries in sports, Women’s World’s will yet again show decision-makers that many people do, in fact, watch women’s hockey. Drop that puck.