18/04/2024

The USA's Jesse Compher in a face-off with Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin

The IIHF Women’s World Championship is upon us, starting on August 25 at 11pm AEST and running until September 5, with puck-drop for the final scheduled at 3:30am AEST.

The tournament will consist of 10 teams split into two groups like it was in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The five teams in Group A will all advance to the quarter finals, and will be joined by the top three teams in Group B.

Group A Preview

Group A consists of the United States, Canada, Finland, Switzerland, and Japan. 

While all five Group A teams are guaranteed a spot in the knockout stages, that does not make group play any less important. If anything, it makes it more important. 

The seeding is crucial for these teams to get the best possible quarter final opponent, and try to cause an upset against either Canada or the USA, which would have an impact on the entire tournament.  

Canada

Canada comes together moments after the siren sounds sealing its Gold medal. Photo Credit: Hockey Canada

While the Canadians come into the tournament as favourites, it is unknown what impact the external issues Hockey Canada is facing will be on the squad.

Canada won Olympic gold in Beijing over the USA and dominated that tournament from start to finish. Retaining the bulk of the squad from that Olympics, it’s understandable Canada is considered the favourite to win its second international tournament this year.

One issue throughout the Olympic run for Canada was ill-discipline; they conceded 34 penalties over the seven games, the most of any team. By comparison, Finland had 26 penalties, Switzerland 22, and the USA committed a paltry 15 penalties. 

However, Canada’s penalty-killing unit was excellent, only allowing five goals with a penalty-kill percentage of over 85 per cent.

With so little time between these two tournaments compared to a usual IIHF calendar, the burning question is will Canada have been able to address its ill discipline and give away fewer penalties, or will other teams find a way to exploit the Canadian penalty kill?

USA

Team USA players come together to celebrate after scoring against Finland. Photo Credit: USA Hockey/Twitter

For the USA, it will come in feeling hard done by in Beijing, having been the second-best team. The squad will, unfortunately, be without Brianna Decker, as it was for most of Beijing, as she broke her leg early in the first game against Finland.

The USA still has an incredibly strong squad, but the path to success will likely go through Canada, and that will not be easy for the Americans. The fascination with this squad will come from its performance against Canada, making their group stage match must-watch hockey.

A strong performance in that match with a victory and the USA would likely overtake Canada as the favourites to win.

While a loss would not rule the USA out, it would make the path more difficult, with Canada being able to take the momentum from victory against the USA and use it against the Americans later in the tournament.

For the Americans, strong performances will be required from goaltender Maddie Rooney, who should be the undisputed starting goalie with Alex Cavallini not in the squad. 

Finland

Finland comes together to celebrate its bronze medal victory. Photo Credit: IIHF/Twitter

For Olympic bronze medalists Finland, it will be looking to find a way to improve its spot as the third-best team in women’s hockey. 

Given the two teams above are Canada and the USA, that is no easy feat and will require Finland to perform at the top of its game from puck-drop in the opening game against Canada until the final whistle to end the tournament.

It can be done though, as Finland finished second in the 2019 Women’s World Championships, losing to the USA in a shootout in a gold medal game in controversial circumstances.

During the Olympics, Finland struggled in the opening two games before finding its rhythm en route to a bronze medal. The biggest reason for that was because its opening two games were against the USA and Canada respectively.

This time around?

It is Canada up first before a game against the Americans two days later. 

If Finland wants to find a way into the final, a victory from one of the opening two games will be crucial; otherwise, Finland will be on the outside looking in.

Switzerland

The Switzerland team celebrates advancing to the semi-finals after beating the ROC. Photo Credit: Swiss Ice Hockey/Twitter

Despite winning only one of its four group stage games in Beijing, Switzerland found its way to the semi-finals, losing 10-3 to Canada but improving on its group stage result against the Canadians, which was 12-1.

The bronze-medal loss to Finland had less to do with Switzerland and more with how dominant Finland was in that game, stifling momentum each time the Swiss looked like they were doing something. 

The upside is that Switzerland did beat Finland in the group stage of that tournament, so they know that they can do it.

The key to a deep run will be victories against Japan and Finland during the group stage to lock up the third spot and secure a game against a side from Group B.

If it can do this, a path to the semi-finals should open up for Switzerland, with the upset of a lifetime standing between it and the final.

Japan

https://twitter.com/7olympics/status/1492433840362688514?s=20&t=qnuH3pfIpM0pLctdofOBDw

Being in Group B for the Olympics, Japan finds itself in group A this time, with the guarantee of second-phase qualification, and will look to take full advantage of this.

Japan performed well during the Olympics, winning three of its four preliminary games (the loss came in a shootout to China) before losing in the quarter-finals to Finland by six goals.

Japan should be able to learn from the Olympic experiences and put in some competitive performances during the group stage.

A poor group stage will see the Japanese drawn against either Switzerland or Finland barring some chaos and massive upsets, which would likely result in another exit at the quarter-finals. 

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Group B preview

Group B consists of Denmark, Sweden, Czechia, Germany, and Hungary.

With only three teams getting a spot in the quarter-finals from Group B, every single shift matters for the teams and players in this group, making Group B must-watch hockey. 

Denmark

https://twitter.com/7olympics/status/1489454928200441858?s=20&t=MUzncpuGOwmXuMXTQmyvDg

Having not made it out of the preliminary round in Beijing, it will be an uphill battle for Denmark to make it to the quarter-finals at the Women’s World Championships. 

The upside for Denmark is it found a victory against Czechia during the Olympics and will not have to face Japan or China, both of whom defeated Denmark in Beijing.

The downside is that at the 2021 Women’s Worlds, it finished in 10th with the same teams in its group (avoiding relegation due to COVID-19), except for Sweden.

A strong turn-around will be required for Denmark, and it will need to pull out all the stops to avoid a last-placed finish again.

Sweden

https://twitter.com/7olympics/status/1491054631169966084?s=20&t=MUzncpuGOwmXuMXTQmyvDg

Finding its way into this tournament with the Russian team not competing, Sweden will be looking to take full advantage of the opportunity at the Women’s World Championship.

Making it to the quarter-finals before losing 11-0 to Canada in Beijing, Sweden struggled at points during the Olympics. Still, it should be able to perform strongly in the group stage having gained experience against two of the teams it will face at the Women’s Worlds in Denmark (who it beat in the group stage at the Olympics) and Czechia.

One of the things Sweden managed to do well in Beijing was killing penalties, successfully killing the 16 penalties it took in the group stage. A replication of that will go a long way to helping it advance beyond the group stage.

A strong goaltending performance will also help Sweden, which was one of the biggest strengths of the side in Beijing, with a 94.48 save percentage during the group stages.

Should Sweden find a way to replicate its Olympic performances, a spot in the knockout stages will be theirs.

Czechia

Klára Peslarová covering up the puck on one of her 55 saves. Photo Credit: Czech Olympic Team/Twitter

With two wins in Beijing, a loss to Denmark, and a shootout loss to Japan, Czechia will be looking to advance to the quarter-finals again and should be able to do so.

Like Sweden, defence and goaltending will be key for Czechia to perform well at this tournament.

Klára Peslarová was a crucial part of the Czechia side at the Olympics.

Having amassed 55 saves on 58 shots in that quarter-final match against the USA in a 4-1 loss (one empty net goal), Peslarová knows she can perform when the pressure is on.

If Czechia wants to finish top of Group B and draw the best possible match for the next tournament stage, Peslarová will need to be at her best.

Germany

German forward Laura Kluge. Photo Credit: German Ice Hockey Federation

Finishing eighth at the 2021 Women’s World Championship with two wins and two losses, Germany will be looking to put out a repeat performance in 2022 and perhaps try to go a spot or two better. 

There is plenty of experience in the squad, despite being a young side, with several players plying their trade at the collegiate level in the USA and the rest playing at various clubs around Europe.

The squad’s youngest player is Nina Christof at 19; Christof scored twice in the game against Hungary at last year’s event in 58 seconds.

Having not played in international competition in almost nine months, the Germans might have a little rust, but some warm-up friendlies against Hungary should have helped the side shake that rust off and be ready to pounce from the opening puck drop.

Hungary

The Hungary squad comes together on the ice. Photo Credit: Hungarian Ice Hockey Association

Finishing ninth in 2021, Hungary will be looking to improve its finish from last year’s tournament in just its second appearance at the Women’s Worlds in the top division, having earned promotion in 2019.

There is some turnover within the squad, with eight of the 23 players selected not appearing at last year’s event. 

Like Germany, it has the bulk of its squad playing in the domestic league, with a few players competing in North America and Europe.

A strong performance will be required by Fanni Garát-Gasparics, who led the team at last year’s tournament with four goals if Hungary wants to advance. 

If you are looking for a good story, keep an eye out for Regina Metzler, the youngest player in the Hungarian squad at just 16 years old.

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