It's been less than a year since the last one, but here we are again on the cusp of another IIHF Women's World Championships. What's new? What's odd? Does anyone remember what happened last year? Welcome to a somewhat haphazard guide to the 2023 Women's Worlds.
I'm not qualified to give you a team-by-team deep dive to set up the tournament, but what I can do is give you the highlights, a little context, and which round-robin games you ought to check out. If you want the full broadcast schedule and a format explainer, tune in to PPP tomorrow for a handy page you can bookmark.
The tournament is taking place just along the road a bit at the CAA Centre in Brampton, Ontario. Once again there are ten teams, one trophy, and thirty-one games of hockey jammed into twelve days. Group A consists of Canada, USA, Czechia, Switzerland and Japan, while Group B is made up of Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Germany and France. There are still tickets available to some games, and if you're in Ontario there's also an online 50/50 you can sign up for.
This appears to mark the first time in at least a decade – going back well beyond when Worlds became a ten team tournament – that all games will be played on the same sheet of ice. The CAA Centre in Brampton boasts four NHL-size rinks but only one of them has real seating options, and Ticketmaster seems to be showing the same seating map for every game. Seating capacity tops out at 5,000, which is extremely low for a major hockey event in Canada.
Three games a day on the same sheet of ice (four on Quarter-Final Thursday) means that the ice for the prime-time games is going to be sub-optimal at best. Expect a lot of falling in the late games, and cross your fingers nobody gets seriously injured. Or maybe I'm underestimating what the fine staff at the CAA Centre can do with their facilities in the face of the laws of thermodynamics.
There's a rumour going around that Brampton was Hockey Canada's backup option for this tournament, and something like this makes that rumour easy to believe.
Canada comes in as the reigning World and Olympic champions, and won the last four games in this season's seven-game Rivalry Series against Team USA. They have minimal changes to the lineup since last Worlds.
The only rookie on the squad is Colgate University captain Danielle Serdachny who led her team in points by a wide margin this season, scoring 25 goals and 40 assists in 40 games. Serdachny is the first of Canada's 2018-19 Under-18 squad to make it to a Worlds roster with the senior team.
Natalie Spooner is back from maternity leave, and you'll hear all about it not only from the commentators but also in her adidas commercial, likely several times a game. She's one of a few returning players – along with Rebecca Johnston and Claire Thompson – who were at the Olympics but not on the squad a few months later for the 2022 Worlds.
As per usual the big game everyone is looking forward to is USA vs Canada, which takes place at 7:00 pm local time on Monday.
In a surprising move, Team USA only formally named their roster for Worlds on Saturday, after most teams were already in Ontario and playing pre-tournament games.
The roster includes six rookies, two of whom (plus Worlds 2021 rookie Britta Curl) were not on the roster for a single Rivalry Series game this season. We'll see if this has any impact on team cohesion or if the newest of the newcomers are intended mainly in case of injury. Some of the differences are understandable - future HHOFer Brianna Decker retired, captain Kendall Coyne-Schofield is pregnant and veteran goalie Alex Cavallini only gave birth three months ago (although she did get an invite to pre-Worlds camp). But cuts to players like Jincy Dunne, Hannah Brandt and Maddie Rooney raise a lot more eyebrows.
On the other hand, Team USA has come in second place for the last three major tournaments and a lot of their scoring continues to come from their vets. Taylor Heise might have led the tournament in scoring last year but she only registered one assist against Canada. Change is necessary if they're going to get back to gold.
This is a "prove it" year for 2022 bronze medalists Czechia, whose only loss last year was in the semi-finals to the Americans. The round robin in Group A is likely to be a very different animal, particularly since they are without their stalwart goalie Klara Peslarova. Always a younger-skewing team, the Czechs have brought along a few members of their U-18 team, including 17 year old goalie Michaela Hesova. Given how much time Peslarova logged in net, Hesova probably has as much chance as anyone else to step into her skates.
Czechia takes on Switzerland in the final game of the round robin at 7:00 pm on Tuesday night. Always fierce rivals, this rematch of last year's bronze medal game should be well worth your time.
For the second year in a row, Switzerland's 2022 Worlds campaign was hindered by injuries and COVID exposure, leading to short benches and a disappointing loss to Czechia in the bronze medal game. All the familiar names are back, Alina Mueller and Lara Stalder on the front lines and Saskia Maurer and Andrea Braendli in goal. I would really love to see what a healthy Team Switzerland can do.
The game against Czechia is sure to be high-stakes but to be honest I'm really looking forward to Switzerland taking on Canada at 7:00 pm tomorrow night. Canada is obviously the heavy favourite but when Switzerland really wants it, you almost believe they have a chance.
Japan found themselves in Group A last year, courtesy of the Russian team's suspension. Although they didn't win a single game in the round robin, their scoring improved and they won both their placement games, forcing Finland into group B.
Fun fact, this year they appear to have brought along twin sisters to round out their forwards. Keep an eye out for Rio and Riri Noro making their senior team debut after playing together on Japan's U-18 team last season.
I have a soft spot for both Team Japan and Team Switzerland, so my pick on Japan's schedule is their matchup on Monday at 3:00 pm.
After being named silver medalists at the 2019 World Championships, Finland's post-pandemic play fell off a cliff, with their results in 2022 seeing them relegated to group B. Since then they've lost top scorers Elisa Holopainen and Susanna Tapani, not to mention Michelle Karvinen, and given starter Anni Keisala a pair of rookie back-ups. Many will expect them to run the table in Group B, but whether they're good enough to get them back into Group A remains to be seen.
It is good to see legendary defender Jenni Hiirikoski on the roster and playing in both pre-tournament games. Hiirikoski suffered a nasty skate cut to the neck just two weeks ago in the SDHL finals.
Team Sweden found themselves unexpectedly elevated back into the top level last year after Russia was suspended, and they did their best with it, not only avoiding relegation but coming in seventh. In recent years you just don't know what you're going to get with this team. It could be glorious, it could be a mess.
The game to watch for Finland and Sweden teams is likely to be when they face each other at 11:00 am on Sunday. Two teams with shiny hardware in their history looking to get back to the limelight - not to all sorts of other history between them.
Team Hungary qualified for the Top Division when they won the Division IA championships in 2019 and they just keep hanging on. I haven't seen a lot of them, and my impression is that they're probably the slowest team in the tournament, but they Have A Goalie in Aniko Nemeth, and we all know that a good goalie and a bit of luck can take you far in these tournaments.
Germany knows all too well what a good goalie can get you - Jenny Harss backstopped the team to fourth place in 2017. This will be their second Worlds since she retired, and they're now down to just one experienced goalie – Sandra Abstreiter, who was third-string in Harss' final season and played three of Germany's five games. Again, a team I haven't seen much of in a while, and with many names I don't know. We could see a rebound, but my gut says this is not the year we'll see them back in the bronze medal game.
Hungary and Germany are likely to both be in the battle between making the quarter-finals and getting relegated. Their game at 11:00 am on Tuesday could be the difference.
This is France's second kick at the can, we last saw them in the Top Division in 2019 when they got most of the historic firsts out of the way, not only first goal (which not all teams manage to do on their first foray time up) but first win. Still looking for things like first shutout and first regulation win, as well as the first time they stay up for more than a tournament.
France has plenty to prove and now they have some experience under their belts. They have some history with Sweden so check out their game at 3:00 pm on Tuesday.
Div IA Worlds
Speaking of the Division IA World Championship tournament, normally it takes place more or less simultaneously with the top-level tournament, meaning we usually know by the end of the tournament what team will be coming up a level for next year's Worlds. Due to COVID concerns in host country China, this year's tournament has been moved to the end of August, so it will be several months before we'll know who will take the tenth spot in 2024.
There's a fair bit of speculation that the PWHPA will take advantage of this annual spotlight to formally announce their new league, either during the tournament or directly after. I'm very much looking forward to the announcement, but I hope it doesn't overshadow the tournament any.