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Team Canada is counting on veterans to try to win back the women’s hockey world championship | Radio-Canada Sports

When the final buzzer sounded at the CAA Center in Brampton last April, Team Canada had to watch the Americans celebrate on the Canadian ice.

A hat trick from Hilary Knight propelled the United States to a 6-3 victory in the final, ending a Canadian bid to win three consecutive world championship titles.

A year later, the Canadians have a chance to return the favor as their quest for redemption begins Thursday in Utica, N.Y., when they take on Finland in the opening round of the Championship. of the feminine world.

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

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Hockey North previews the women’s hockey worlds:

Canada seeks revenge against USA at women’s hockey worlds

Host Rob Pizzo is joined by Karissa Donkin to preview the upcoming IIHF Women’s Hockey World Championship in Utica, New York.

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

“I know we probably didn’t score as many goals as we’re used to from an Olympic perspective and this performance,” Kingsbury said. “But I thought we played a really good team game throughout the game. That gold medal game as well, I felt like we had control of that game for the majority of the game.”

The Americans held an evaluation camp in Lake Placid, New York, last week to select their roster.

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

A list of veterans

There 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 medalist Ashton Bell returns to the blue line.

While the Americans will field a team filled with plenty of young NCAA talent, Canada will bring a team 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 are being too cautious in a sense and would like to see a lot more young players in our squad,” Kingsbury said. “But we have an incredible group of core athletes who have been with us for a while, who have experience, who know how to win. They understand the culture. They’ve established an incredible culture with our program.

“So for us, it’s about making sure we’re breeding athletes that we think are truly ready to compete at this level and will be successful at this level.”

Will the adjustments be enough to overtake the Americans? Is this the year a surging Czech Republic team advances to the gold medal game?

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

Sarah Fillier, F (Princeton University, NCAA)

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

Projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 PWHL Draft, Fillier is one of Canada’s best offensive threats, but she’s also responsible defensively.

WATCH | Playing in the PWHL would be “a dream come true” for Fillier:

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The 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 intelligent,” Kingsbury said.

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

Taylor Heise, F (PWHL Minnesota)

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

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

It’s no coincidence that the team’s worst stretch this season occurred while Heise was sidelined due to an injury she suffered during the Rivalry Series in February. During his absence, the team lost three out of five games. Minnesota is undefeated since returning March 3, and Heise has five points in those five games.

A female hockey player raises her arms in celebration near the boards.
Minnesota forward Taylor Heise is a former World Championship MVP and will be a key part of Team USA. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Heise’s Minnesota teammate, Grace Zumwinkle, could also be a difference maker if she sees the ice, thanks to her shot and ability to drive to the net with power.

Zumwinkle was cut from last year’s world championship team, and despite being the second-leading scorer in the PWHL, he was chosen as an alternate on this year’s U.S. team. She won’t play unless another member of the U.S. team is seriously injured.

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

Finland returns to the tougher Group A this year, but they have a ton of attacking skills, including Petra Nieminen, who has been one of the best scorers in the world for some time now, and Viivi Vainikka.

But it’s worth keeping an eye on Noora Tulus, who led the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL) 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 will likely be a top pick.

Natalie Spooner, F (PWHL Toronto)

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

She is a quintessential power forward who uses her speed and skill to get to the net. She has trouble moving once she gets going.

A female hockey player greets fans before playing a hockey game.
Natalie Spooner played 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 are many that can compete with her in that area,” said Kingsbury, who is also general manager of the PWHL Toronto. “She’s big, she’s strong, she creates space.”

Canada’s coaching staff could bring Spooner and Fillier together, 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 during the Rivalry Series.

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

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

Still only 17 years old, Šapovalivová had 29 points in 32 games with MoDo in the SDHL, where she faced players much older than her.

“She makes plays with almost nothing,” Jared Cipparone, her coach at MoDo Hockey, told CBC Sports. “She has a very good sense of scoring goals.”

Šapovalivová has one more year of play in the SDHL before joining one of the top NCAA programs, Wisconsin, in 2025.

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

Kateřina Mrázová, F (PWHL Ottawa)
Czech Republic

Mrázová played an important role in the Czech Republic’s difficult struggle for identity at the last two world championships, winning two consecutive bronze medals.

A hockey player moves the puck away from a falling opponent during a game.
Kateřina Mrázová has been part of one of the best lines in the PWHL recently in Ottawa, forming a line with Brianne Jenner and Daryl Watts. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Mrázová currently centers one of the top lines in the PWHL in Ottawa, where she leads the team in points.

“It was really obvious how smart she is as a player,” Ottawa teammate Daryl Watts said of knowing Mrázová. “She has an edge, 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 win its first gold medal match.

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

Ljungblom, 22, was Sweden’s top scorer at last year’s Worlds. She followed this up with a campaign with MoDo in Sweden which saw her finish third in league points, helping MoDo qualify for the league finals.

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

“She was the leader of our team in terms of pace and the way she played,” he said.

A hockey player wearing a Swedish jersey carries the puck past a German goalie.
Forward Lina Ljungblom will pose a threat for Sweden. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Montreal’s 15th round pick in last year’s PWHL draft, she could head to North America in the near future.

Caroline Harvey, D (University of Wisconsin, NCAA)

Arguably the best American player at last year’s tournament, Harvey, 21, is entering her fourth world championship.

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

The offensive defenseman led the United States in scoring with 14 points in seven games during last year’s tournament, and should play an important role on this team for years to come.

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