Women’s World Championship Preview: Poulin, Knight, Nieminen, and Müller ready to lead the way in Denmark
The 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship is upon us!
Team Canada will attempt to defend its 2021 World Championship title (and its Beijing Olympic gold) when the action begins in the Danish cities of Herning and Frederikshavn on Thursday.
The 2022 Worlds are slated to run from August 25 to September 4, with 10 different nations participating. With 31 games scheduled over nine days, there will be plenty of opportunities to take in one of the most exciting hockey tournaments around.
The United States and Finland respectively captured silver and bronze at the 2021 Worlds, which took place in a bubble at the WinSport Arena in Calgary.
The same three nations won gold, silver, and bronze at the women’s ice hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics in Beijing this past February.
The 2022 Worlds mark the first time this tournament has been held in Denmark. The five top-ranked national teams will play in Group A, while the next five will slot into Group B; all five Group A teams and the three best Group B teams will advance to the elimination rounds, while the bottom-ranked Group B team will be relegated.
Here’s an overview of all 10 teams participating at the 2022 Worlds, including some players to watch from each national side:
One of the most decorated players of her generation, future Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Marie-Philip Poulin will help lead the charge as Team Canada goes for back-to-back gold at the Worlds.
Earlier this year, Poulin became the first player to score in four different Olympic gold medal games. The 31-year-old forward also memorably tallied the overtime winner for Team Canada at last year’s Worlds, going bar-down over Team USA netminder Nicole Hensley to end the Americans’ run of five consecutive titles.
Team Canada is stacked with an absurd collection of talent, even with some big names missing — most notably, veterans Natalie Spooner and Mélodie Daoust, two of the top three scorers from last year’s Worlds, will not participate, nor will former Calgary Inferno captain Rebecca Johnston.
But three-time Olympian Meaghan Mikkelson is back at age 37 to serve as the veteran leader of Canada’s defensive group. And, of course, how could we not mention Sarah Fillier, Brianne Jenner, and NHL 23 cover star Sarah Nurse at forward?
Nurse, 27, was absolutely electrifying at the Beijing Olympics, scoring a record-breaking 13 assists and 18 points in just seven games to help Team Canada win it all. She’s a superstar in every sense of the word.
Expect Team Canada to go all-out in pursuit of gold at this year’s Worlds. Of course, they’ll have plenty of competition along the way …
They may not be the defending champs, but make no mistake: Team USA will come out firing at the Worlds.
The Americans captured gold at five consecutive Worlds between 2013 and 2019 before Canada finally ended the streak last year, temporarily relegating Team USA to silver.
This year, all bets are off. Four-time Olympian Hilary Knight is more than ready to get things started in Denmark, recently telling The Associated Press she believes Team USA is “the best team in the world.”
She might be right, Beijing results notwithstanding. On paper, Team USA boasts a very formidable roster headlined by national team standbys Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Amanda Kessel, Alex Carpenter, and 2021 top defender Lee Stecklein. Abby Roque is a big-time breakout candidate.
Knight is more than capable of backing up her talk. The 33-year-old forward scored six goals and 10 points in seven games at the Beijing Olympics, and she’s played at 12 World Championships. The Sun Valley, Idaho product is one of the most decorated hockey players on the planet.
Someone else to keep an eye on: Jesse Compher, a former Boston University star who took on a bigger role with Team USA in Beijing. Compher only just turned 23 and scored three goals in six games at the Olympics.
Team Finland always puts up a pretty good fight at the Worlds, having medalled in the last three tournaments (including a second-place finish in 2019). The Finns also captured bronze at the Beijing Olympics, and many of the key players from that squad will also take part in Denmark.
Three-time Olympian Susanna Tapani, who scored six goals in seven contests at the Beijing Games, will likely shoulder a lot of the offensive load for the Finns. She’ll be helped out by veteran forward Michelle Karvinen, who was actually born in Denmark but has consistently represented Finland internationally (including four Olympics).
It’s also worth mentioning left-handed defender Jenni Hiirikoski, who turned 35 in March and will take part in her 14th (!!) World Championship this year. Yes, that’s an IIHF record. She’s been playing at these tournaments since 2004 and has served as team captain since 2012. Behind her will be Anni Keisala, who posted a .949 save percentage at last year’s Worlds and earned top goaltender honors.
But you can’t fully tell the story of Team Finland without talking about Petra Nieminen, who scored 26 goals and 55 points in 34 games with Swedish League team Luleå HF in 2021–22. She’s an extremely dangerous offensive forward who only just turned 23 in May — and last year, she scored six goals in seven games at this tournament.
To best illustrate Nieminen’s scoring prowess, here’s a look at a filthy snipe of hers from the Beijing Games, where she served as an alternate captain and tied with Tapani for the team scoring lead:
In other words … she can Finnish.
Discount the Swiss at your own peril. Team Switzerland is coming off a fourth-place at the 2021 Worlds, and that was with star forward Alina Müller missing most of the tournament with an ankle injury.
Müller, 24, was back in full force in time for the Beijing Olympics, at which she finished tied with Knight and Johnston for seventh in scoring with 10 points in seven games.
Lara Stalder was the only other Swiss player to score more than three points in Beijing, and she amassed nine (including five goals) in seven games.
The 28-year-old forward served as Team Switzerland captain at both the 2021 Worlds and the 2022 Olympics. She’s been as reliable as they come for the Swiss squad, scoring 25 points in 27 games over five appearances at the Worlds.
Team Switzerland has played for bronze three times at the Worlds, winning once (2012). We’ll see if Müller, Stalder, and Co. can pick up some hardware this time around.
Team Japan is in Group A for the first time due to Team Russia’s expulsion from international competition.
Would it be surprising to see Japan go far at this year’s Worlds? A little … but this is also the team that won Group B at the Beijing Olympics and is coming off a sixth-place finish at the 2021 Worlds, its best result at the tournament to date.
Haruka Toko, a 25-year-old forward who scored three goals and six points in five games at the Olympics, will play for Team Japan in Denmark. So will her 28-year-old sister, Ayaka Hitosato, who tied for the scoring lead among all Team Japan defenders in Beijing.
Then, there’s Akane Shiga. The 5’5″ forward was just 20 when she scored four goals in seven games for Team Japan at the 2021 Worlds. One year older, and with her first Olympic experience under her belt, Shiga could accomplish great things at this year’s World Championship.
While the Czechs have never come all that close to medal contention at the Worlds, they managed to keep things pretty even against Team Finland in the quarterfinals at the 2021 tournament.
After that, Team Czechia once again managed to keep things respectable on the scoreboard in the quarterfinals against Team USA at the 2022 Olympics, falling 4–1 (including an empty-net goal for the Americans) — although the shot counter told a very different story about that game.
Klara Peslarova stood between the pipes for the Czechs in both those contests. She stopped 28 of the 29 shots she faced in the 1–0 loss to the Finns at the 2021 Worlds … and then, in the “close” loss to the Americans in Beijing, Peslarova made 55 saves on 58 shots (!!) while the skaters in front of her only tested opposing netminder Alex Cavallini six times.
Peslarova subsequently earned a spot on the Olympic All-Star Team. The 25-year-old was later named the top goaltender in the Swedish League, posting a 16–7 record and a .924 save percentage in 24 games with MoDo in 2021–22.
Also worth keeping an eye on for Team Czechia: Alena Mills, the longtime captain of the national team who led the way with seven points at the 2021 Worlds but failed to record a single point at the 2022 Olympics; Denisa Krizova, a former Boston Pride star forward who has been a national team standby for over a decade; and Dominika Laskova, a new Toronto Six recruit who can play both forward and defense.
Team Germany finished fourth at the 2017 Worlds but fell to seventh in 2019 and eighth in 2021. The Germans also missed out on qualifying for the 2022 Olympics, with their spot ultimately going to Team Denmark.
While longtime national team captain Julia Zorn — a big part of that fourth-place finish in 2017 — will not play at this year’s Worlds, fellow veterans Laura Kluge and Marie Delabre will participate.
Team Germany’s most intriguing player at the 2022 Worlds might be Nina Christof, who scored two goals in four games at last year’s tournament. Christof only just turned 19 last week and is committed to begin playing NCAA hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2022–23.
Hungarian hockey is on the rise! Team Hungary made its first-ever appearance at the Worlds in 2021 and even picked up a 5–1 win over Team Denmark in the preliminary round.
Fanni Gasparics scored four of Hungary’s eight goals at the 2021 Worlds, including a pair in the win over Denmark. The Minnesota Whitecaps draft pick also captained Team Hungary at the 2022 Olympic qualifiers, scoring two points in three games.
Here’s the video of Gasparics’ second goal against Denmark last year. Watch it with the sound on to experience the full jubilation of the moment:
Team Hungary finished ninth out of the 10 teams at the 2021 Worlds. Even if relegation was a thing at last year’s tournament, the Hungarians would have avoided it.
It’s been a banner year for Danish hockey. Team Denmark had never participated in the Olympic women’s ice hockey competition before this year, and they even managed a 3–2 win over the Czechs in the preliminary round.
Now, Denmark will host the Women’s World Championship for the first time ever.
Team Denmark scored three goals in four games at the 2021 Worlds, and team captain Josefine Jakobsen factored into all of them. The 31-year-old forward recorded two goals and an assist in four games at the tournament.
Jakobsen formerly starred at the University of North Dakota and currently plays for Djurgårdens in the Swedish League. She also led the Danes in scoring with four points (two goals, two assists) at the 2022 Olympics, although her teammates scored three additional goals without her input.
It’s also worth noting that Team Denmark has a pretty good young goaltender in Cassandra Repstock-Romme, who turns 21 tomorrow. Repstock-Romme posted a .926 save percentage over two appearances at the 2021 Worlds and was instrumental in the Danes qualifying for and then winning a game at the 2022 Olympics.
Finally, we have arrived at Team Sweden.
After participating in the first 19 Women’s World Championships (and even winning bronze twice), the Swedes ended up finishing ninth in 2019 and were relegated down to Division I competition.
The standard relegation and promotion systems were not used for the 2021 Worlds, leaving the Swedes in the lurch. But when the IIHF expelled Team Russia from international competition in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, Team Sweden slid back up as the 10th team in the main pool.
Team Sweden did play at the 2022 Olympics, narrowly advancing to the elimination rounds with wins over Denmark and China before being dished an 11–0 beating by Team Canada in the quarterfinals.
Michelle Lowenhielm and Hanna Olsson are two skaters to watch for Team Sweden at the 2022 Worlds. Lowenhielm captained the Swedes in Beijing, formerly played for the Connecticut Whale, and is a strong centre in the Swedish League; Olsson has dealt with injury issues but was one of the few bright spots for Team Sweden at the 2019 Worlds.
Expect Emma Soderberg to start in goal for the Swedes after a strong performance at the 2022 Olympics. The 24-year-old netminder posted a .913 save percentage in Beijing and has been outstanding as the No. 1 goaltender at the University of Minnesota-Duluth over the past two seasons.
Day 1 Schedule
Team Japan vs. Team USA — 9:00 a.m. ET (available on TSN)
Team Germany vs. Team Hungary — 9:30 a.m. ET
Team Finland vs. Team Canada — 1:00 p.m. ET (available on TSN)
Team Denmark vs. Team Sweden — 1:30 p.m. ET