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What you need to know for the women’s hockey world championship | Radio-Canada Sports

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The Canadian women’s hockey team arrived at last year’s world championship tournament in Brampton, Ontario as the undisputed queen of women’s hockey.

After a barren period in which its American rival won five consecutive major titles before the pandemic, Canada won back the world title in a Calgary bubble in 2021 and retained it in 2022 while winning back the gold medal Olympic that year in Beijing, beating the United States in the final each time. Canada also had a dramatic victory against the Americans in this season’s Rivalry Series, coming back from three games to zero to win the final four games.

But, despite enjoying home ice advantage in front of supportive crowds in the hockey-loving Greater Toronto Area, the Canadiens were knocked off their throne in Brampton. After nearly being toppled in the quarterfinals by Sweden’s red-hot goaltending (Emma Soderberg made 51 saves before Sarah Nurse scored in overtime to save her team from a huge upset), Canada coughed up four unanswered goals in the third period of the final against Sweden. The Americans lost 6-3 and saw their jubilant rivals hoist the world championship trophy on Canadian ice.

Canada gained some revenge this season by once again overcoming a 3-0 deficit to win the Rivalry Series, capped by an emphatic 6-1 loss in Game 7 in Minnesota in February. But the Canadians are looking for full revenge at this year’s world championship in Utica, N.Y., where group play began today as Canada prepares for its opener Thursday night .

Here’s what you need to know for the tournament:

Yes, Canada and the United States will likely meet again in the final.

We’ll spare you the suspense right away. Although it is possible that another country could defeat one of the two superpowers in the round of 16 (Sweden almost did last year), history strongly suggests that another matchup between the Canada and the United States for gold is imminent.

The cross-border rivals have faced each other in 21 of the 22 women’s world championship finals, and no other country has ever won one. They also duopolized the Olympics, appearing in six of the seven women’s finals and winning all the gold medals. Add those numbers up and, that’s right, Canada and the United States have faced each other in 27 of 29 major championship games in women’s hockey.

Not that that’s a bad thing. The Canadians and Americans have given us some of the most memorable international hockey moments of this century. Think of an enraged Hayley Wickenheiser accusing the Americans of trampling on the Canadian flag before Canada’s victory in the 2002 Olympic final in Salt Lake City. Or the Canadians happily sipping beers and smoking cigars on the ice after winning gold in Vancouver in 2010. Or the raw ecstasy and agony that followed Canada’s incredible comeback to win the classic match for the 2014 Olympic title in Sochi. Their clashes at the World Championships have also delivered plenty of drama, as nearly half of the Canada-USA finals since 2000 have gone to overtime or a shootout.

With Canada sticking with essentially the same veteran team that didn’t make it at last year’s worlds, the U.S. champions are adding new ingredients to the rivalry by bringing 14 college players to Utica.

This is the first world championship since the birth of the Professional Women’s Hockey League.

The launch of the six-team PWHL in January finally gave Canadian and American national team players a true league of their own. Before that, they had been hard at work on the Dream Gap Tour under the banner of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association while trying to build a more “sustainable” alternative to the rival Premier Hockey Federation.

The PWHL began to take shape in June when a group led by billionaire Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter bought and shuttered the PHF and quickly entered into a working agreement with the PWHPA. Franchises were awarded to Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Minnesota and New York; each team recruited a few star players; a draft took place in September; and the PWHL’s inaugural 24-game season began on New Year’s Day in Toronto.

Understanding that international hockey still generates a lot of interest in women’s hockey, the PWHL is taking a break to allow its best players to participate in the world championships before resuming on April 18 for the final two and a half weeks of the regular season , followed by the playoffs.

Some players to watch:

Natalie Spooner (Canada): The PWHL leader in goals (15) and points (20) in 19 games for league-best Toronto scored twice in Game 7 of the Rivalry Series.

Marie-Philip Poulin (Canada): The 33-year-old captain, blessed with an uncanny knack for scoring international goals, remains one of the sport’s best scorers. She ranks third in the PWHL in goals (eight) and points (17) in 16 games for Montreal. Poulin is in bad shape heading into the World Cup, but he is expected to play.

Sarah Fillier (Canada): After scoring eight goals in her 2022 Olympic debut, the young forward won the world championship MVP last year by accumulating 11 points in seven games. Fillier, 23, remained at Princeton University this season, but is projected to go No. 1 overall in the upcoming PWHL draft. Learn more about her here.

Taylor Heise (USA): The 2022 World MVP and first pick in this year’s PWHL draft has 11 points in 14 games for Minnesota, the league’s top American team. Heise, 24, missed time with an upper-body injury suffered in Game 7 of the Rivalry Series, but she has five points in five games since returning to Minnesota’s lineup.

Hilary Knight (USA): After scoring a hat trick in last year’s final, the 34-year-old captain is on track to become the oldest American woman to ever compete at the world championship. Knight, who plays for Boston in the PWHL, already owns the all-time records for points (101) and goals (61) at the worlds.

Katerina Mrazova (Czech Republic): The power-forward forward helped her country win bronze at the last two world championships and is now the PWHL’s leading European scorer with 17 points in 19 games for Ottawa.

Canada’s schedule:

The Olympic championships open Thursday at 7 p.m. ET against Finland, who beat Sweden in last year’s fifth-place match to earn promotion to the top group. Canada faces Switzerland on Friday at 3 p.m. ET and the bronze medalist Czech Republic on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, before closing out its preliminary round slate Monday at 7 p.m. ET against the United States. TSN broadcasts the games.

How the tournament works:

The five teams in the Canadian group are assured of a place in the quarterfinals on April 11. They will be joined by the top three teams from Group B, made up of Sweden, Japan, Germany, China and Denmark. Russia remains excluded from international hockey due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Barring a major upset, Canada and the United States will play in separate semifinals on April 13 before facing each other again in the final on April 14.

For more on the women’s world championship, read this preview from CBC Sports contributor Karissa Donkin and watch her appearance on the latest episode of Hockey North with host Rob Pizzo.

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