Team Canada relies on veterans to win back women’s ice hockey world championship | CBC Sports

When the final siren sounded at the CAA Center in Brampton last April, Team Canada watched as the Americans celebrated on Canada’s home ice.

A hat trick from Hilary Knight gave the United States a 6-3 victory in the final, ending Canada’s bid to win three straight World Cup titles.

A year later, the Canadians have an opportunity to return the favor as their quest for redemption begins Thursday in Utica, N.Y., when they face Finland in the first round game of the Women’s World Cup.

Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the United States complete Group A, while Japan, China, Germany, Sweden and Denmark compete in Group B.

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Before this year’s tournament, Canadian GM Gina Kingsbury didn’t see the need for major changes. She believes the team had a strong performance in 2023, even if it didn’t result in a championship.

“I know we probably didn’t score as many goals as we might be used to from an Olympic perspective and that performance,” Kingsbury said. “But I thought we played a really great game together the whole time. Even in that gold medal game, I felt like we were in control of the game most of the time.”

The Americans held an evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., last week to select their squad.

Canada took a different approach, naming its squad in early March. In lieu of a selection camp, the team met last week in Kingston, Ont., to begin building chemistry and fine-tuning special teams.

A veteran squad

Canada’s roster will feature many familiar faces, including 20 players returning from last year’s team. Cousins ​​Julia and Nicole Gosling will make their World Championships debut, while Olympic champion Ashton Bell returns to the blue line.

While the Americans will field a roster full of young NCAA talent, Canada is bringing a roster full of slightly more experienced talent, from captain Marie-Philip Poulin to Brianne Jenner, Jocelyne Larocque and Natalie Spooner.

“Some people might think that we are being too cautious in some ways and would like to see a lot more young players in our squad,” Kingsbury said. “But we have an incredible group of core athletes who have been with us for quite some time, have experience and know how to win. They understand the culture. They have established an incredible culture with our program.”

“So for us it’s about making sure we produce athletes that we believe are truly ready to compete at that level and will be successful at that level.”

Will the changes be enough to get past the Americans? Is this the year an up-and-coming Czech team makes a breakthrough into the gold medal game?

Here are eight players to keep an eye on during this year’s tournament:

Sarah Fillier, F (Princeton University, NCAA)

Fillier is only 23 but is competing in her fourth World Championships. She was Canada’s top player and tournament MVP last year, scoring 11 points in seven games.

Fillier is expected to be the top pick in the 2024 PWHL Draft and is one of Canada’s greatest offensive opponents, but she is also responsible on defense.

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The 23-year-old forward from Georgetown, Ont., says she has seen almost every game and is looking forward to joining the league next season.

“She’s extremely smart,” Kingsbury said.

Normally a center, Fillier has been playing wing in recent months at Princeton. It gives Canada’s coaching staff more opportunity to utilize one of their best players.

Grace Zumwinkle, F (PWHL Minnesota)
United States

Zumwinkle returns to the American World Cup squad after being left off the gold-winning squad last year.

What follows is a tremendous first professional season in the PWHL, with the Minnesota forward ranking second behind Natalie Spooner and leading the league in goals (nine). Zumwinkle continues to find ways to create opportunities for herself and her teammates, and her size and speed make her difficult to stop when she’s driving hard toward the net.

A female ice hockey player in a purple uniform celebrates a goal.
Grace Zumwinkle could make a difference in the right role for Team USA. (David Berding/Getty Images))

Given the right opportunity, she should make all the difference for Team USA.

Noora Tulus, F (Luleå HF, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)

Finland returns to the more difficult Group A this year but has plenty of talent in attack, including Petra Nieminen, who has been one of the world’s top scorers for some time, and Viivi Vainikka.

But it’s worth keeping an eye on Noora Tulus, who led the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL) with 61 points in 36 games this year and was on her way to another championship for Luleå. Tulus is expected to declare for the 2024 PWHL Draft, where she will likely be a strong pick.

Natalie Spooner, F (PWHL Toronto)

Spooner played the best hockey of her career this season with PWHL Toronto, where she scored 15 league goals, and with Team Canada, where she scored six points in three Rivalry Series games.

She is a thoroughly strong striker who uses her speed and skill to get to the net. It’s difficult to move her once she’s there.

An ice hockey player greets fans before an ice hockey game.
Natalie Spooner played the best hockey of her career this season with PWHL Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

“In and around the net, I don’t know if there are very many in that area that can keep up with her,” said Kingsbury, who is also GM of the PWHL Toronto. “It’s big, it’s strong, it creates space.”

Canada’s coaching staff could bring Spooner and Fillier back together, knowing the chemistry between the two is right. Or they could bring back an all-PWHL Toronto line of Emma Maltais, Sarah Nurse and Spooner that was dominant in the Rivalry Series.

Adéla Šapovalivová, F (MoDo Hockey, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)
Czech Republic

Šapovalivová made history as captain of the Czech Republic U18 team in January, defeating Canada and reaching the gold medal game for the first time.

Just 17 years old, Šapovalivová collected 29 points in 32 games with MoDo in the SDHL, where she played against players much older than her.

“She makes plays out of almost nothing,” Jared Cipparone, her coach at MoDo Hockey, told CBC Sports. “She has a really good feel for scoring goals.”

Šapovalivová will play one more year in the SDHL before joining one of the top NCAA programs, Wisconsin, in 2025.

“I think within five years she will be one of the best players in the world,” Cipparone said.

Kateřina Mrázová, F (PWHL Ottawa)
Czech Republic

Mrázová has been an important part of the Czech Republic’s hard-fought identity at the last two World Championships, winning two consecutive bronze medals.

An ice hockey player knocks the puck away from a falling opponent during a game.
Kateřina Mrázová was recently part of one of the PWHL’s best lines in Ottawa, forming a trio with Brianne Jenner and Daryl Watts. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Mrázová currently centers one of the best lines in the PWHL in Ottawa, where she leads the team in points.

“It was really obvious how smart she is as a player,” Ottawa linemate Daryl Watts said of meeting Mrázová. “There’s something special about her that’s really fun.”

This edge and the skill of Mrázová and other Czech players like Tereza Vanišová could be the deciding factor in helping the team win its first gold medal game.

Lina Ljungblom, F (MoDo Hockey, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)

The 22-year-old Ljungblom was Sweden’s top scorer at the World Cup last year. She then embarked on a campaign with MoDo in Sweden, where she finished third in the entire league in points and helped MoDo reach the league finals.

A natural goalscorer, she will be Sweden’s best offensive threat. But according to Cipparone, her coach at MoDo, she has improved even without the puck.

“She was the leader of our team in terms of tempo and style of play,” he said.

An ice hockey player in a Sweden jersey carries the puck in front of a German goalkeeper.
Striker Lina Ljungblom will pose a goal threat for Sweden. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Pres)

She was selected in the 15th round by Montreal in last year’s PWHL draft and could find her way to North America in the near future.

Caroline Harvey, D (University of Wisconsin, NCAA)
United States

The 21-year-old Harvey, arguably the Americans’ best player in last year’s tournament, is competing in her fourth World Cup.

She is in the process of helping Wisconsin to an NCAA final in a season in which she was named defender of the year in her conference.

The offensive defenseman led the U.S. in scoring at last year’s tournament with 14 points in seven games and should be an important part of this team for years to come.

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