Previewing the 2022 Women’s World Championships
Photo credit:Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
By Kyle Cushman1 year ago
It’s been an unusually busy month of August on the hockey calendar. After the rescheduled 2022 World Juniors and the various national team camps that came before the tournament itself, the international hockey content is far from slowing down as the 2022 Women’s World Championships begin Thursday in Denmark.
This is the first time the Women’s World Championships are being held in the same year as the Olympics. Previously, the World Championships were skipped in an Olympic year. Back in September 2021, the IIHF announced the change to play the tournament every year including Olympic years, with the tournament taking place in August of an Olympic year rather than the usual slot in April for a non-Olympic year.
As such, we have even more summer hockey on deck. With only a handful of months since the last major tournament in February, there will be plenty of storylines and statements to be made at the Women’s World Championships over the next two weeks. Let’s get into the participants and who to watch for throughout the tournament.
Canada enters the 2022 World Championships as not only the defending champions from last year’s tournament but also the defending gold medallists at the 2022 Olympics. This event will be far from a walk in the park, as Canada will be looking to win back-to-back World Championships for the first time since 2004 with a significant hit to their scoring depth.
Natalie Spooner, Claire Thompson, and Rebecca Johnston all had double-digit points at the Olympics, and that doesn’t even include 2021 World Championships MVP Melodie Daoust.
With multiple national team mainstays unavailable for various reasons, an opportunity arises for numerous players to make their mark at this tournament. After being left off the Olympic team, Victoria Bach and Kristin O’Neill are back having played on the 2021 World Championships squad last summer. Bach in particular could find herself high in the lineup as well.
Where 24-year-old Jessie Eldridge is making her World Championships debut, fellow 24-year-old Sarah Potomak is making her World Championships return, having last featured for Canada back in 2017.
The biggest name making their return to the Canadian roster is Meaghan Mikkelson, as the 37-year-old veteran makes her national team return battling back from a significant knee injury. Her last appearance at a major tournament for Canada came back at the 2018 Olympics.
Star to watch: Who else but Marie-Philip Poulin? The undisputed queen of Canadian hockey added to her already astounding resume with her third gold medal-winning goal at the Olympics back in February. Oh, and she scored the overtime winner at the last World Championships too. The hype around Sarah Fillier as “the next one” is real and she will certainly play a major role for Canada, but it is still Marie-Philip Poulin’s time on the international stage.
X-Factor: Even with Canada’s four losses at forward, scoring will not be an issue for this team. The loss of Claire Thompson on the blue line, on the other hand, could pose some problems. Thompson set the record for scoring for a defender at the 2022 Olympics and was a dominant force on the ice for Canada. With her unavailable this time around, Erin Ambrose will be tasked with carrying even more of the workload on defence. Thompson and Ambrose were the only point-per-game defenders at the 2022 Olympics for Canada, and while there are plenty of players that could step up, Ambrose will need to lead the way in creating offence from the backend.
The country that has best the chance of upsetting the two giants at the top, Finland returns a very similar team to the one that won bronze at the Olympics in February.
Noora Raty, for my money the best goaltender in women’s hockey, remains away from the national team for various reasons. Luckily for Finland, goaltending is their deepest position, as quality netminders Anni Keisala and Meeri Raisanen will battle for the starting gig.
As per usual, the task for Finland will be to do what they need to do against the rest of the competition and make the most out of the elimination matchup against Canada or the USA. They’ve posed significant problems in the past and should’ve been the 2019 World Champions if not for a brutal review call. Their top unit can hang with the best, the difference maker will be whether their depth can hold serve as well.
Star to watch: Jenni Hiirikoski has long been the workhorse defender for Finland and she will once again be tasked with playing significant minutes, but it is Petra Nieminen I’m looking at here. The 23-year-old has cemented her place as one of the top players in the world with her point-per-game performances at the 2021 World Championships and 2022 Olympics. She’ll need to be a star once again, particularly against Canada and the USA, if Finland is to find themselves in the gold medal game.
X-Factor: Often for countries facing Canada and the USA, they have a couple of players that can hang with the best, but are sunk by their lack of depth. For Finland, getting any kind of depth scoring, especially in those big matchups, could be a major difference maker for them. 20-year-old Elisa Holopainen has been on the national team since she was 17 years old and has dominated the Finnish league for years but has yet to break out on the senior international stage. An improved performance from Holopainen would be a major boost for Finland offensively.
For the first time since the format change in 2012, Japan features in Group A at the Women’s World Championships. The Japanese national team has seen a surge in performance over the past year with record high finish at the 2021 World Championships and a strong showing at the Olympics.
Despite the upswing and recent performance at the Olympics, Japan brings a vastly different squad from in February. A whopping 12 players are not returning from the Olympics as the Japanese national team brings in a new generation of young players. Every new addition since the Olympics is 25 years old or younger, with the youngest being 16-year-old Kohane Sato.
Being in Group A and without the threat of relegation, this could be a tactical play from Japan to get their next-generation experience now without risking demotion to the D1A tournament.
Japan’s goal will be to minimize damage against the big fish and capitalize against Switzerland. Every team in Group A makes the quarterfinals, with the fourth and fifth-placed teams facing off in the quarterfinals. Barring a surprise, Japan and Switzerland will fight for the #4 and #5 seeds in Group A and face off again in the quarterfinals.
Star to watch: 25-year-old Haruka Toko has had a breakout calendar year with Japan. She finished tied for the team lead in scoring at the 2021 World Championships with four points before an especially strong tournament at the 2022 Olympics, leading Japan in goals and points. As the national team swings incredibly young, Toko will be leaned on as both their primary offensive threat and a leader.
X-Factor: With long-time starting goaltender Nana Fujimoto unavailable due to injury and rest, the crease is expected to be handed over to 27-year-old Akane Konishi. The backup to Fujimoto at the last two major tournaments, Konishi will have a significant task ahead of her if Japan is to grab a win at the event. We saw Fujimoto have some spectacular performances in February, Konishi will need to do the same for Japan to surprise.
Switzerland will once again be looking to claim just their second World Championships medal in program history in Denmark. The Swiss were a threat for bronze at the 2021 World Championships and the 2022 Olympics but came up just short against Finland in the bronze medal game at both events.
Always an upset threat with their top-end talent, Switzerland could certainly shake things up in Group A. If Finland spends too much attention punching up at Canada and USA and underestimates Switzerland, there could very well be an upset on the cards.
Switzerland’s strength lies almost solely in two players at the top of their lineup. The duo of Lara Stalder and Alina Muller can hang with the best from any country at the tournament, as shown by their performances at the Olympics. Muller and Stalder scored nine out of Switzerland’s 13 goals in February and will yet again be the catalyst for any upset potential for the country in pursuit of bronze.
Stars to watch: As already mentioned, Lara Stalder and Alina Muller are both legitimate world-class talents in women’s hockey. Both will play an incredible amount in Switzerland’s most meaningful games and will need to be electric if the Swiss are to pick up their first medal since 2012.
X-Factor: Switzerland has the legit duo at forward and a good goaltender in Andrea Brandli, but is severely lacking on defence. 19-year-old Lara Christen has already emerged as one of Switzerland’s top defenders with two major tournaments under her belt. She will need to be a calming presence on the backend and get the puck to Stalder and Muller as often as possible.
The Americans suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Canada at the 2021 World Championships in overtime and were unable to avenge their loss at the 2022 Olympics. Can the third time be the charm for Team USA?
If it is, they will have to do so without some important players once again. Brianna Decker, who is in the conversation for the best women’s player in the game today, remains out from her injury at the Olympics. Dani Cameranesi has since retired from the national team. Starting goaltender Alex Cavallini is pregnant.
Into the national team comes five young guns looking to make an impression. 19-year-old Rory Guilday, 21-year-old Hannah Bilka, and 22-year-old Taylor Heise are making their World Championships debut. 20-year-old Lacey Eden is back on the squad, having been on the silver medal-winning team in 2021 but was left off the Olympic roster.
Most notably, 23-year-old goaltender and 2021 Patty Kazmaier winner Aerin Frankel is back on the team and will be looking to earn her first national team action at the tournament with Cavallini’s absence. Frankel was the third-string netminder at the 2021 World Championships and did not play.
Canada has talent of their own that is unavailable as already discussed, meaning the 2022 World Championships is still shaping up to be a clash of the two titans with minimal separating them on paper.
Star to watch: The oldest player on Team USA, Hilary Knight is still right there as one of the premier players in the game. Knight reminded us she’s still got it back in February, leading Team USA in goals and points at the Olympics. Even with Decker’s absence, the Americans have plenty of veteran forwards to lean on, but it will almost certainly be Knight leading the way for Team USA.
X-Factor: Already mentioned as one of the players making her World Championships debut, keep an eye on Hannah Bilka out of Boston College. She’s been a point-per-game player in college and brings a ton of speed to Team USA’s bottom six. Just check out this end-to-end goal she scored that recently got traction on Twitter.
Star to watch: For a program to become a legitimate upset threat in women’s hockey, the process often begins with a star goaltender that can steal you a game. Over the past three years, 25-year-old Klara Peslarova has emerged as exactly that for Czechia. Peslarova posted a .933 save percentage at the 2021 World Championships and followed it up with a .945 SV% at the 2022 Olympics.
When you’re having the conversation for the best goaltender in women’s hockey today, Peslarova has to be included. Just ask Team USA, who could only score three times on Peslarova despite peppering her with 58 shots in the Olympic quarterfinals. Her ability makes Czechia not only a favourite to win Group B, but also makes them an upset threat in the quarterfinals.
X-Factor: As great as Peslarova is, she can’t score the goals too. Czechia’s top threat to do so is Katerina Mrazova, who is set to return to the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale after a dominant three-year stretch in Sweden. Mrazova was fantastic at the Olympic qualifiers to get Czechia into the show…but then had a disappointing showing at the Games themselves with just one goal at the event. For Czechia to surprise, Mrazova will need to score.
Star to watch: Denmark’s goal will be to avoid relegation. To do so, they will need a top performance from captain Josefine Jakobsen. A top forward for Djurgardens since 2016 and captain of the Danish squad since 2018, Jakobsen saw her league play dip this past season but still showed up for Denmark. She was a point-per-game scorer at both the Olympic qualifiers and the Games themselves. Jakobsen will need to do so again if Denmark is to stave off relegation.
X-Factor: Just 20 years old, Cassandra Repstock-Romme is Denmark’s starter and will need to be at her best when it matters most. Games against Germany and Hungary will almost certainly decide who is relegated from the elite division of the World Championships, a standout performance from Repstock-Romme against either nation could be the difference between survival and relegation.
Star to watch: Germany is missing a couple of notable players from previous tournaments as the national team swings younger. They are also one of two teams that we didn’t get to see at the Olympics. 20-year-old Lilli Welcke was a standout at the Olympic qualifiers and had a strong season in Germany. Expect her to be leaned on offensively given her success at the qualifiers. She is set to join the University of Maine in the fall.
X-Factor: 19-year-old Nina Christof actually outscored Welcke at the 2020 U18 D1A tournament for Germany, leading the team in scoring at the event, but didn’t find the same success at the Olympic qualifiers. Still, the RPI commit will likely be put in similar offensive situations and just like Welcke, will need to show up in big moments if Germany is to avoid relegation.
Star to watch: The other team to not play at the Olympics, Hungary boasts some of the top talents out of the three primary contenders for relegation. Fanni Gasparics was a standout for Hungary at the 2021 World Championships, scoring four goals in as many games. That kind of performance from the 27-year-old MAC Budapest star will be needed for Hungary to push for the final spot in the quarterfinals.
X-Factor: 18-year-old Emma Kreisz is a rising star in Hungarian hockey. The future University of Minnesota player has already moved to Canada to continue developing as a player, playing with Stanstead College Varsity this past year. She was impressive in Olympic qualifiers and could be a breakout star for Hungary in her second World Championships.
As strong as the men’s team is and given the quality of their women’s league, it was stunning to see the fall of Sweden’s women’s program over the past few years. A lack of investment saw the Swedish women’s team relegated from the elite division in 2019 and unable to win promotion back to the top flight with cancelled lower-level tournaments due to COVID.
They are back in 2022 and will be looking to not only book their ticket to the quarterfinals but earn their place back in Group A heading into future tournaments.
Star to watch: 21-year-old Josefin Bouveng was one of Sweden’s top players at the Olympic qualifiers but had a quiet showing at the Games themselves. Still, the soon-to-be member of the Minnesota Golden Gophers has emerged as a top talent in the Swedish league with Brynas over the past two years and looks to be one of Sweden’s most dangerous offensive weapons.
X-Factor: 24-year-old goaltender Emma Soderberg racked up accolades at the U18 level for Sweden and is now emerging as one of the team’s most valuable players. Soderberg has been excellent at the University of Minnesota-Duluth the past two seasons as their starter and parlayed that into a strong showing at the Olympics for Sweden.
Statistics from Elite Prospects, Mikael Nahabedian
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