The IIHF Womens World Championship, postponed from Halifax in April, begins Friday in Calgary when Denmark plays the Czech Republic at noon and Team Canada takes on Finland at 4 pm mountain time. It was confirmed Wednesday that no fans will be allowed in the Winsport Arena for at least the entire preliminary round. The fall back is TSN, the sports network is set to bring all 31 matches to television for the first time in this tournament’s history.
Despite the fact that this championship was first held in 1990, this is only the 20th version of the event. It didn’t become an annual occurrence until 1999 and even then it’s not held during Olympic years. It was cancelled in 2003 because of a SARS virus outbreak in China and it was cancelled again in 2020 because of Covid. Team Canada won the first eight championships and ten total, while the United States has won nine of the last eleven including the last five in a row. In fact, Canada didn’t make the final in 2019 having been bumped off by Finland, a team that lost the Gold Medal game to Team USA 2-1 in a shoot-out. The Finns were that close to breaking the complete golden dominance of North America.
There’s a chance they could get that opportunity again. Finland features two of the most exciting and talented players in the tourney with a pair of 19-year-olds named Viivi Vainikka and Elisa Holopainen. They both helped Finland win bronze in the 2019 U18’s and then silver at the Worlds the same year and both are prolific scorers. Vainikka’s Luleå HF team won the regular season and playoff championships in the ten-team Swedish Women’s Hockey League where she had 13 goals and 27 points in 36 games. Like Holopainen, she was just 17 when their team upset Canada 4-2 in the semi-finals in 2019.
Despite these upstarts the North American ladies remain the favourites. Team Canada offers up a diverse group in many ways, symbolized by the presence of veteran star Marie-Philip Poulin and a young tenacious national team newcomer Sarah Fillier. All you need to know about Poulin’s impact on the national hockey landscape is that she has twice (2010, 2014) scored the Gold Medal game winning goals at the Olympics. The 30-year-old team captain was the three-time MVP of the now defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) that has been replaced by the NWHL. Fillier is a decade younger and a star in college hockey in the United States at Princeton. As a freshman (1st year) she scored 57 points in 29 games, including 22 goals, and followed that up with 43 points in 23 games the next season.
Team Canada defeated Team Finland 4-1 in a pre-tournament match yesterday (Wednesday).
The United States has confidence and they know they’re the queens of the ice castle until someone comes along and knocks them off. This is personified with their captain Kendall Coyne-Schofield, who famously raced around the rink and impressed the world during the skills competition of the 2019 NHL All-Star Game in San Jose as a replacement skater for Nathan MacKinnon. She’s been a part of seven World Championship Gold Medal teams and led the US to a Gold Medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics, their first title at the Games since 1998 in Nagano, Japan.
The two North American squads are joined in Group A by Finland, Switzerland, with star Alina Müller who led the 2018 Olympics in scoring, and the athletes representing the Russian Olympic Committee. Group B consists of Denmark, Japan, with their excellent goaltender Nana Fujimoto, Germany, Czech Republic and Hungary. After a single round-robin series in each group, the five teams from Group A and the best three teams from Group B advance to the quarterfinals.
Barring some level of upset, there’s always a distinct possibility that this Championship will come down to pure grit and determination between the two North American combatants. Comeback wins, overtime wins, and all-around nail-biting drama are often a big part of the women’s Gold Medal matches whether at the Olympics or the Worlds. This year, with more talent from around the globe burgeoning, this year’s tournament could be very much worth the watch from start to finish.