The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
If you watch women's hockey in North America, you probably already know a lot about Team USA and Team Canada -- but there are six other teams coming to Plymouth this weekend.
This championship does not have any bearing on Olympic qualification for Pyeongchang, but it is the last look at these teams in a major tournament before then. Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland could all contend for a medal in the Olympics, whereas the Czech Republic and Germany did not qualify for the Olympics. Japan is not playing in these World Championships after getting relegated to a lower division in the 2016 Worlds.
This post is more of an overview of each team's roster, status, schedule, and what to look for. Detailed (and extremely good) team previews can be found at Pension Plan Puppets under their IIHF World Championships tag.
- Result last year: Bronze medal finish (#3). Beat Finland in a shootout in the Bronze medal game, 1-0.
- IIHF World Ranking: 4th overall
- Roster rundown: Nadezhda Morozova was their starting goaltender last year at Worlds and will return; she got the shutout win in the bronze-medal match. Iya Gavrilova played in the CWHL this past season with the Inferno, and developed some serious chemistry with Team Canada's Brianne Jenner. Yekaterina Smolentseva and Lyudmila Belyakova both played in the NWHL in 2015-16, but have since returned to Russia to play. All three are strong players in terms of transition offense, which served them well when they played in North American leagues. 19-year-old Anna Shokhina has a gaudy 81 points in 36 games this year with Tornado Dmitrov and captained the Russian U18 national team two years ago before receiving the C in Dmitrov as well. 24-year-old Olga Sosina has been a steady presence on the Russian National team for years, and actually leads the nation in all-time points. Last year's captain, blueliner Anna Schukina, returns amid a successful season with Agidel Ufa, where she scored 13 goals and 15 assists. Other than her, every other defender on the team is under the age of 23. In fact, as PPP noted in their Russia preview, the entire squad is incredibly young. This fresh look for Team Russia might be more of a "win later" mentality -- trying to shape veterans for the future.
- Head coach: Alexei Chistyakov (Tornado Dmitrov, Russian Women's Hockey League)
- Schedule ahead: versus Finland at 4:00 PM Eastern on Friday, March 31; versus Team USA at 3:30 PM Eastern on Saturday, April 1; versus Canada at 3:30 PM Eastern on Monday, April 3
- Prediction: Russia might be more offensively gifted this year than last, but they might not have an experienced enough defense to pull off another third-place finish.
- Result last year: #4. Lost to Team Russia in a shootout in the bronze-medal game.
- IIHF World Ranking: 3rd overall
- Roster rundown: Noora Räty returns to Team Finland in goal after not playing in the tournament last year, while absent is Meeri Räisänen, who took the L in last year's bronze medal game. Riikka Välilä, who will turn 44 years old later this year, is still going strong with 21 points in 23 games with her SDHL team, HK71, in Sweden. Blueliner Anna Kilponen and forward Emma Nuutinen both will be joining the squad from the University of North Dakota -- which dropped a bombshell yesterday by announcing the cut of its women's hockey program. Nuutinen has 10G and 9A in 34GP and Kilponen has 2 goals on the season, both on the power play. Michelle Karvinen will also return as the team's leading scorer from last year's WWC, with 4G and 1A -- Karvinen has been playing in the SDHL as well with Luleå HF and has 70 points (30G, 40A) in 31 games. Defender Jenni Hiirikoski from Luleå HF is an astute playmaker from the back end and can also score; she has 9G and 13A this season after putting up 1G and 3A in the last Worlds as the team's captain. Overall, Team Finland has all of their key players back and a good mix of youngsters and veterans.
- Head coach: Pasi Mustonen
- Schedule ahead: versus Russia at 4:00 PM Eastern on Friday, March 31; versus Canada at 7:30 PM Eastern on Saturday, April 1; versus Team USA at 7:30 PM Eastern on Monday, April 3
- Prediction: Finland seems likely to avenge their upset from Team Russia, and it would be surprising to not see them return to the bronze-medal game.
- Result last year: Finished #5; lost to the eventual bronze medal winner Russia in the quarterfinals.
- IIHF World Ranking: 5th overall
- Roster rundown: The Swedes will likely again start outstanding netminder Sara Grahn, who played the majority of her team's games in the last WWC, earning a 1.59 GAA and posting a .921 save percentage. From the University of Minnesota-Duluth, they'll have Maria Lindh (5G, 10A in 37GP this season) and Michelle Löwenhielm (2G, 9A in 37GP). Defender Maja Nyhlén Persson is just 16 years old and did not have an impressive showing at the U18s for Sweden, scoring no points; her inclusion on the roster instead of veteran blueline stalwart Emma Eliasson is seen as a pretty big controversy (PPP's preview goes deep into some of the roster drama that has plagued Team Sweden in recent years). Eliasson has 36 points in 37GP for her SDHL team Luleå HF this year, where she is also captain. While the rest of Sweden's D corps is experienced in international play and should be able to hold the fort, none of them bring the game breaking scoring touch that Eliasson has. For scoring, they'll rely on speedy winger Lisa Johansson (22G, 17A this year with AIK of the SDHL this year in 37GP) and Anna Borgqvist (14G, 22A with Brynäs IF). Both Johansson and Borgqvist should be good for some goals in the tournament, and Grahn will likely steal a game or two.
- Head coach: Leif Boork
- Schedule ahead: versus Germany at 3:30 PM Eastern on Friday, March 31; versus Switzerland at 6:00 PM Eastern on Saturday, April 1; versus Czech Republic at 6:00 PM on Monday, April 3
- Prediction: Sweden could advance to the medal round with some puck luck and on the back of Sara Grahn, but they'll need to be defensively perfect (without Emma Eliasson) to do so.
Team Czech Republic
- Result last year: #6, after getting thumped 5-0 by Finland in the quarterfinals.
- IIHF World Ranking: 7th overall
- Roster rundown: 20-year-old Klara Peslarová played very well for the Czechs in the last Worlds and has a .926 save percentage in the SDHL this year, so she seems likely to be their starter again. Denisa Křížová plays for Northeastern in the ECAC and has 45 points over 37 games this past season. She and Alena Polenska both had 5 points in the last Worlds, though Polenska scored more goals -- Polenska plays for Dynamo St. Petersburg, where she has 13G and 19A in 36 games this year. 21-year-old Tereza Vanisova is with the University of Maine this year and is scoring at a point-per-game pace. The two most experienced players on the back end are 31-year-old Petra Herzigová and 30-year-old Katerina Flachsova, who are certain to help balance out a very young group. The Czech blueline does not score much, but they bring together a lot of experience from competitive leagues in Russia and Sweden, plus University of Vermont and Choate Rosemary Hall product Sammy Kolowrat. Also watch Aneta Tejralova, who wears an A for Dynamo St. Petersburg and is a strong playmaker. Overall, the Czech team might be the most fun team to watch in Group B; their speedy, young forwards and Peslarová in net epitomize what the Women's World Championships are all about for teams who are unlikely to medal and who have growing programs.
- Head coach: Jiri Vozak
- Schedule ahead: versus Switzerland at 12:00 PM Eastern on Friday, March 31; versus Germany at 12:00 PM Eastern on Saturday, April 1; versus Sweden at 6:00 PM eastern on Monday, April 3
- Prediction: The Czechs are an up-and-coming team that could surprise this year with some closer games if they return to the playoffs.
- Result last year: #7; they beat Japan twice in the relegation round to remain in the top division tournament (while Japan was relegated).
- IIHF World Ranking: 6th overall
- Roster rundown: Florence Schelling is back in goal; she's been lights out for Linköping HC in Sweden with a .963 save percentage over 10 games. They also have top-three Patty Kazmaier finalist Lara Stalder, who is coming off of a 23G/33A performance with UMD and is sure to put on a show. However, their leading scorer at the last Worlds was defender Christine Meier, who had 4G and 5A for 9 points in 5 games -- a pretty big deal even on a Group B team. She has 53 points in 17 games with the ZSC Lions Frauen of the SWHL. Phoebe Staenz has just completed her NCAA eligibility with Yale and scored at nearly a point-per-game pace in her senior year (24 points in 25GP); she had a goal and 2 assists in last year's tournament. A player to watch this year might be 26-year-old forward Anja Stiefel, who joined Luleå HF this year (leaving the Swiss league) and who has been playing with some of the best Finnish players; she has 8G and 11A in 34 games. Switzerland has some extremely strong talents on their roster, but not a great deal of depth when compared to other WWC teams, which is why they only narrowly avoided relegation last year, but it's a short tournament and some huge performances from their stars could create an upset.
- Head coach: Daniela Diaz
- Schedule ahead: versus Czech Republic at 12:00 PM Eastern on Friday, March 31; versus Sweden at 6:00 PM Eastern on Saturday, April 1; versus Germany at 12:00 PM on Monday, April 3.
- Prediction: The Swiss might be the most likely team to perform an upset of some kind in the tournament -- but whether that propels them into the playoffs remains to be seen.
- Result last year: Germany played in the lower Division I last year and won the Group A tournament there, earning a spot in the top division this year.
- IIHF World Ranking: 8th overall
- Roster rundown: Jennifer Harß had the best save percentage (.962) in the Division I tournament last year; the 29-year-old is a UMD product and a veteran of the national team. Linköping HC's Laura Kluge is their best forward, with 6G and 3A in 5 games last year. Manuela Anwander is also an offensive threat who most recently put up 1G and 3A in Olympic qualifications. Germany is most interesting on their blueline, with three defenders coming out of the WCHA. Lena Düsterhöft and Anna Fiegert are currently with Minnesota State, and Tanja Eisenschmid is a product of UND who has been a streaky scorer but very defensively reliable in a division with high-flying offense.
- Head coach: Benjamin Hinterstocker
- Schedule ahead: versus Sweden at 3:30 PM Eastern on Friday March 31; versus Czech Republic at 12:00 PM Eastern on Saturday April 1; versus Switzerland at 12:00 PM Eastern on Monday April 3
- Prediction: Germany's goal is to stay in the top division, but if it's them versus Switzerland or the Czech Republic in relegation, I'm not sure that they can win.
All of Team USA's games will be streamed or broadcast by the NHL. Click for details. We're not sure about any Group B games yet, but will update this post if more information comes out.
Filed under: team russia; team finland; team czech republic; team sweden; team switzerland; ice hockey; 2017 women's world championship; team germany
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