Team Canada Relying On Veterans As It Looks To Regain Women's Hockey World Championship | CBC Sports

When the final buzzer sounded at Brampton’s CAA Centre last April, Team Canada had to watch the Americans celebrating on Canadian home ice.

A hat trick from Hilary Knight propelled the U.S. to a 6-3 win in the final, ending a Canadian bid for three straight world championship titles.

A year later, the Canadians have the opportunity to return the favour as their quest for redemption begins in Utica, N.Y., on Thursday when they face Finland in the first preliminary round game of the women’s world championship.

Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the United States round out group A, while Japan, China, Germany, Sweden and Denmark will compete in group B.

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Canada looking for revenge against U.S. at women’s hockey worldsHost Rob Pizzo is joined by Karissa Donkin to preview the upcoming IIHF women’s hockey world championship in Utica, New York.

Going into this year’s tournament, Canadian GM Gina Kingsbury didn’t see a need for major changes. She thinks the team had a strong performance in 2023, even if it didn’t result in a championship.

The Americans held an evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., last week to select its roster.

Canada took a different approach, naming its roster in early March. Instead of a selection camp, the team gathered in Kingston, Ont., last week to start building chemistry and fine-tuning special teams.

A veteran rosterThere will be plenty of familiar faces on Canada’s roster, with 20 players returning from last year’s team. Cousins Julia and Nicole Gosling will make their world championship debut while Olympic gold medallist Ashton Bell returns to the blue line.

While the Americans will field a roster filled with lots of young, NCAA talent, Canada is bringing a roster filled with a bit more veteran talent, from captain Marie-Philip Poulin to Brianne Jenner, Jocelyne Larocque and Natalie Spooner.

“Some people may think we’re too cautious in a sense and would love to see a lot more young players on our roster,” Kingsbury said. “But we’ve got an incredible group of core athletes that have been with us for quite some time that have experience, that know how to win. They understand culture. They’ve established an incredible culture with our program.

“So for us, it’s making sure we bring up athletes that we feel are truly ready to compete at that level, and that will be successful at that level.”

Will the tweaks be enough to get past the Americans? Is this the year a Czech Republic team on the rise will break through to the gold medal game?

Here are eight players to watch during this year’s tournament: 

Sarah Fillier, F (Princeton University, NCAA)

Fillier is only 23 but is entering her fourth world championship. She was Canada’s best player and tournament MVP last year, posting 11 points in seven games.

Projected to be the top pick in the 2024 PWHL draft, Fillier is one of Canada’s best offensive threats, but she’s also responsible defensively.

WATCH | Playing in PWHL would be ‘a dream come true’ for Fillier:

Going No. 1 in PWHL draft ‘would be a dream come true’ for Sarah FillierThe 23-year-old forward from Georgetown, Ont., says she’s watched almost every game and is excited to join the league next season.

“She’s extremely smart,” Kingsbury said. 

Usually a centre, Fillier has spent the last few months playing on the wing at Princeton. It gives Canada’s coaching staff more options to deploy one of the best players.

Taylor Heise, F (PWHL Minnesota)
United States

Heise was MVP of her first world championship in 2022, when the Americans lost in the final to Canada.

Since then, she’s only gotten better. The PWHL’s 2023 first-overall pick has been one of Minnesota’s best players this season, logging 11 points in 14 games.

It’s no coincidence that the team’s worst stretch this season came while Heise was sidelined with an injury she sustained at the Rivalry Series in February. During her absence, the team lost three of five games. Minnesota is undefeated since she returned on March 3, and Heise has posted five points in those five games.

Minnesota forward Taylor Heise is a former world championship MVP and will be a key part of Team USA’s roster. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)Heise’s Minnesota teammate, Grace Zumwinkle, could also be a difference-maker should she see the ice, thanks to her shot and ability to drive to the net with power.

Zumwinkle was left off last year’s world championship roster and despite being the PWHL’s second-leading scorer, was chosen as an alternate on this year’s USA team. She won’t play unless there’s a serious injury to someone else on the American team.

Noora Tulus, F (Luleå HF, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)

Finland returns to the more difficult group A this year, but boasts a ton of skill up front including Petra Nieminen, who has been one of the goal scorers in the world for a while now, and Viivi Vainikka.

But it’s worth keeping an eye on Noora Tulus, who led the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL) in scoring with 61 points in 36 games this year en route to another championship for Luleå. Tulus is expected to declare for the 2024 PWHL draft, where she’s likely to be a high pick.

Natalie Spooner, F (PWHL Toronto)

Spooner has been playing the best hockey of her career this season with PWHL Toronto, where she’s scored a league-leading 15 goals, and with Team Canada, where she had six points in three Rivalry Series games.

She’s a quintessential power forward who uses her speed and skill to get to the net. She’s difficult to move once she puts herself there.

Natalie Spooner has been playing the best hockey of her career this season with PWHL Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)”In and around the net, I don’t know if there’s very many that can compete with her in that area,” said Kingsbury, who’s also PWHL Toronto’s GM. “She’s big, she’s strong, she creates space.”

Canada’s coaching staff could reunite Spooner with Fillier, knowing the two have chemistry. Or they could bring back an all-PWHL-Toronto line of Emma Maltais, Sarah Nurse and Spooner that looked dominant at the Rivalry Series.

Adéla Šapovalivová, F (MoDo Hockey, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)
Czech Republic

Šapovalivová captained the Czech Republic’s under-18 team to history in January by beating Canada to get to the gold medal game for the first time.

“She makes plays out of almost nothing,” Jared Cipparone, her coach with MoDo Hockey, told CBC Sports. “She’s got a really good eye for goal scoring.” 

Šapovalivová has another year of play in the SDHL before she joins one of the best NCAA programs, Wisconsin, in 2025. 

“I think within five years, she’ll be one of the best players in the world,” Cipparone said.

Kateřina Mrázová, F (PWHL Ottawa)
Czech Republic

Mrázová has been a big part of the Czech Republic’s hard-to-play against identity over the last two world championships, earning back-to-back bronze medals.

Kateřina Mrázová has been part of one of the best lines in the PWHL lately in Ottawa, forming a trio with Brianne Jenner and Daryl Watts. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)Mrázová centres one of the best lines in the PWHL right now in Ottawa, where she leads the team in points. 

“It was really apparent how smart she is as a player,” Ottawa linemate Daryl Watts said of getting to know Mrázová. “She’s got an edge to her, which is really fun.”

That edge and skill, from Mrázová and other Czech players like Tereza Vanišová, could be the X factor in helping the team make its first gold-medal game.

Lina Ljungblom, F (MoDo Hockey, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)

Ljungblom, 22, was Sweden’s top goal-scorer at worlds last year. She followed it up with a campaign with MoDo in Sweden that saw her finish third in points across the league, helping MoDo to the league final.

A natural goal scorer, she’ll be Sweden’s best offensive threat. But she’s also improved without the puck, according to Cipparone, her coach with MoDo.

“She was the leader of our team in terms of setting the tempo and how to play,” he said.

Forward Lina Ljungblom will be a threat to score for Sweden. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)A 15th-round pick by Montreal in last year’s PWHL draft, she could find her way to North America in the near future.

Caroline Harvey, D (University of Wisconsin, NCAA)
United States

Arguably the Americans’ best player in last year’s tournament, 21-year-old Harvey is entering her fourth world championship.

She’s fresh off helping Wisconsin to an NCAA final, in a season where she was named defender of the year in her conference.

The offensive defender led the U.S. in scoring with 14 points in seven games at last year’s tournament, and should be a big part of this team for years to come.

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