2024 IIHF Women's World Championship: Group A Preview

2024 IIHF Women's World Championship: Group A Preview

2024 IIHF Women's World Championship: Group A Preview by Victory Press Staff, Nicole Haase, Melissa Burgess, Zoë Hayden

Next, we'll take a look at the Group A teams, who are all guaranteed a position in the quarterfinals at Worlds. Group A play starts at 3:00 PM Eastern with a faecoff between Team Finland and Team Czechia, and Team USA plays Team Switzerland at 7:00 PM Eastern.

Team USA

2023 finish: Gold; The Americans took a 6-3 win thanks to three goals from Hilary Knight, who tallied her 100th career point and scored twice on the power play 37 seconds apart with under four minutes to play to break a tie and put USA in line to win. Canada had the lead three different times, but the Americans answered each time. 

Forwards: Hannah Bilka, Alex Carpenter, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Britta Curl, Joy Dunne, Lacey Eden, Laila Edwards, Taylor Heise, Tessa Janecke, Hilary Knight, Abbey Murphy, Kelly Pannek, Hayley Scamurra, Kirsten Simms

Defense: Cayla Barnes, Rory Guilday, Savannah Harmon, Caroline Harvey, Megan Keller, Haley Winn

Goaltenders: Aerin Frankel, Nicole Hensley, Gwyneth Philips

Head coach: John Wroblewski took over the team just before the World Championships in August 2022 and has had the role ever since.

Keep an eye on: It sure seems that the past two Rivalry Series have shown that the US is at its best (and better than Canada) when the roster is stocked with collegiate players. The roster uploaded to the tournament website has 12 collegiate players on it, eight of whom played in the National Championship game two weeks ago. The roster is young and fun with a ton of flair and talent, balanced with some of the best women to ever play the sport. Kirsten Simms led the entire country in scoring at Wisconsin this season. Abbey Murphy and Britta Curl were tied for third overall and eight of the top 20 point scorers in NCAA DI women's hockey are on this roster. Joy Dunne was the National Rookie of the Year and scored the lone goal in the title game to give Ohio State their second National Championship. 

There is so much potential in all of that skill, but the Americans have to put it all together and do that consistently. They're the reigning World Champions playing on home soil and need to not get bogged down in the weight of that. John Wroblewski runs a tight ship where the team is pretty regimented and the expectation is consistency that leads to predictability, but there’s also a trust and confidence from the staff that has given players like Laila Edwards, Caroline Harvey, Tessa Janecke, and Haley Winn room to grow and improve without fear of mistakes while showcasing the individual talents that make them among the best in the world. I'’s an interesting contrast, but we saw Harvey break out last tournament, leading all skaters with 14 points while being named Best Defender. All this after barely touching the ice at the 2022 Olympics. 

For the first time in what feels like a very long time, USA led the tournament in both power play and penalty kill, scoring at a 52% clip and killing nearly 88% of the player advantages. The anemic and disappointing special teams of the recent past are too fresh in the memory for one tournament's numbers to erase, but maybe fans can be cautiously optimistic that this part of the game is consistently on the upswing. It's honestly less about whether or not they score and more on if they look like they're moving the puck with intent, shooting at the right moments and generally playing like there's something on the line. 

How are they going to do?: It's likely going to come down to US vs. Canada for the gold medal and it’s nearly impossible to predict what a single game between the two teams can look like. If the US plays their game, moving fast in transition and taking advantage of the way Taylor Heise, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Abbey Murphy (among others) can move a game from their own zone to lighting the lamp, they'll be in a really good spot to repeat and win gold. They can't let teams force them to the perimeter and be content with moving the puck listlessly around the boards. If we see Murphy circling the zone with speed, Hilary Knight and Laila Edwards staking claim to ice in front of the net, Winn and Savannah Harmon getting good looks from the blue line, Harvey cheating up into the offensive play and Simms flipping backwards to move across the zone and pick her shot, things are going well for the Americans. That might not lead to a gold medal because hockey is like that, but if it will show that they were able to execute like they wanted. 

– NH

Team Canada

2023 finish: Won its first silver medal since 2017, falling in the gold medal game 6-3 to the United States. Although Canada was ahead heading into the final frame, the United States put up four goals in the third period for the win. Brianne Jenner had a pair of goals in the gold medal game for the second straight year.

Forwards: Laura Stacey, Sarah Fillier, Brianne Jenner, Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner, Emily Clark, Emma Maltais, Marie-Philip Poulin, Blayre Turnbull, Kristin O'Neill, Jamie Lee Rattray, Julia Gosling, Danielle Serdachny

Defense: Jocelyne Larocque, Renata Fast, Ella Shelton, Ashton Bell, Erin Ambrose, Jaime Bourbonnais, Nicole Gosling

Goaltenders: Ann-Renée Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer, Kristen Campbell

Head coach: Troy Ryan returns. He'll be assisted by Kori Cheverie, Courtney Kessel and Caroline Ouellette on the team put together by general manager Gina Kingsbury.

Keep an eye on: It'll be interesting to see how Canada utilizes its goaltenders. If we're going based on PWHL performance, these are three true starting goalies. Campbell has a 2.06 GAA and a wild 12-5-0 record with Toronto, but will she be Ryan's top choice on the international stage? (Ryan does coach Campbell on PWHL Toronto, so there’s certainly the familiarity there.) However, Desbiens also has a 2.29 GAA with a 5-4-1 record with Montreal, while Maschmeyer has a 2.33 GAA with a 7-6-4 record. Of the three, Maschmeyer has played the most, with over 1,000 minutes. Will Canada use a rotation, or stick with whoever's hot?

Aside from the goalies, this team is simply oozing pure talent. Natalie Spooner is playing some of her best hockey while in her postpartum era, and she has 20 points in 19 PWHL games, including five tallies on the power play. Marie-Philip Poulin is always a joy to watch, though she has been injured as of late. No matter where you look on the roster, there’s so much depth here that even a third line could be considered a top line on another team – that’s how good they are.

How are they going to do?: Canada is bringing all of its top talent to Worlds, and will almost certainly nab either a gold or silver medal as a result. Both the Canadians and Americans are undoubtedly the best teams in the tournament, so it won't be a surprise to see them line up in the gold medal game. Canada has gone with a largely more experienced, professional roster, with PWHL players making up the majority of the team and even its coaching staff. It's been fun to watch players like Natalie Spooner and Brianne Jenner on their respective PWHL teams over the course of the season, but now it'll be a treat to see them play together again rather than against one another.

This roster is pretty similar to last year's, with just Rebecca Johnston, Micah Zandee-Hart and Claire Thompson not returning. (Johnston is working with the NHL's Calgary Flames, while Thompson is in medical school.) Like any year, it’ll be the little things that will make the difference when it comes down to it. Canada’s power play at last year’s Worlds was fifth-best, even though they had the most advantages of any team, so that's one area they need to improve on.

– MB

Team Czechia

2023 finish: Team Czechia captured their second consecutive bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Switzerland. Denisa Křížová had 2 goals in the victory and Blanka Škodová made 11 saves.

Forwards: Anežka Čabelová, Klara Hymlárová, Anna Kalová, Denisa Křížová, Natálie Mlýnková, Kateřina Mrázová, Noemi Neubauerová, Kristýna Pátková, Michaela Pejzlová, Tereza Pištěková, Tereza Plosová, Vendula Přibylová, Adéla Šapovalivová, Tereza Vanišová

Defense: Sara Čajanová, Klara Jandušíková, Daniela Pejšová, Tereza Radová, Aneta Tejralová, Andrea Trnková, Karolína Kosinová

Goaltenders: Klára Peslarová, Blanka Škodová, Viktorie Švejdová

Head coach: Carla MacLeod has been head coach of Team Czechia since Worlds in 2022 and immediately led them to consecutive bronzes.

Keep an eye on: This marks the return of goalie Klára Peslarová to Worlds after she sat out last year's tournament recuperating from injury. She played 26 games with Brynäs IF in the SDHL this season, posting an 0.934 save percentage across the regular season and playoffs. If Czechia was able to repeat their bronze medal performance without their #1 goalie last year, I think they're even more dangerous now that she's back in the lineup. Blanka Škodová is a great option at #2 and they definitely have the strongest goalie tandem in the tournament among the non-North American teams.

A huge part of Czechia's international success has been their youth movement, and this roster brings several players from the squad that won silver at U18s in Switzerland this past January. Tereza Plosová, Anežka Čabelová, and Adéla Šapovalivová were a deadly line together in Zug and will be looking to repeat that success. Šapovalivová will be playing her third straight tournament on the senior squad and made the transition to the SDHL this season, scoring 36 points in 42 games with MoDo. She will join the University of Wisconsin next season. Čabelová is making her senior team debut. She spent this past season with RINK Academy in Kelowna and is committed to Boston University. Plosová has been with Djurgårdens IF and is committed to the University of Minnesota for next season; this will be her second appearance with the senior team at Worlds.

Outside of U18s, Natálie Mlýnková of the University of Vermont is coming off of a campaign where she led Hockey East in points and won the 2024 Cammi Granato Award for Hockey East player of the year. She was excellent at Worlds in 2023 – this could be a big breakout year for her. Klára Hymlárová was perhaps the toughest shot-blocker in the tournament last year, and she has just completed five years of NCAA play with St. Cloud State.

Kateřina Mrázová, Denisa Křížová, Tereza Vanišová, and Aneta Tejralová are all players we've been watching in the PWHL all season, playing with and against Team USA and Team Canada players – plus their coach Carla MacLeod has been behind the bench for PWHL Ottawa. I'm interested to see how this expanded experience and knowledge affects their matchup against the #1 and #2 teams in the world. 

How are they going to do?: This is a young team that is dangerous on offense and has started to consistently bring the physical conditioning and defensive ability to back it up. Czechia is difficult to play against and they've made it clear that they don't think bronze is their ceiling. Anything less than a third-place finish would be an immense disappointment for this program, but I'm certain they expect to meet Team USA or Team Canada in a semifinal and potentially execute an upset that puts them in the gold medal game. It'll be immensely difficult, but every year it's going to get harder for the North American teams to hold them off. Their U18 team took down Team Canada in the semis earlier this year.

– ZH

Team Switzerland

2023 finish: Finished fourth overall after dropping the bronze medal game narrowly by a score of 3-2 to Czechia. Lara Stalder and Lena Marie Lutz both scored, but they couldn't find that third goal to beat Blanka Škodová.

Forwards: Rahel Enzler, Naemi Herzig, Emma Ingold, Sinja Leemann, Alina Marti, Alina Müller, Kaleigh Quennec, Noemi Ryhner, Lara Stalder, Vanessa Schaefer, Ivana Wey, Laura Zimmermann

Defense: Alessia Baechler, Annic Büchi, Lara Christen, Janine Hauser, Alena Lynn Rossel, Nicole Vallario, Stefanie Wetli

Goaltenders: Andrea Brändli, Alexandra Lehmann, Saskia Maurer

Head coach: Colin Muller returns for another year.

Keep an eye on: Lara Stalder and Alina Müller are the two to watch most closely, as they both led the team last year at Worlds with 11 and 10 points each, respectively. Rahel Enzler had seven points and was a plus-6, best on the team, including two power-play goals.

Stalder had an incredible 129 points, including 63 goals and 63 assists, in just 17 games as the captain of EVZ women's team in the SWHL B league this season after making the move from Sweden to help grow the game in her home country. In the playoffs, she had 56 points (28G, 28A) in seven games, so it’s no surprise that EV Zug won the league championship. They've earned a promotion to the SWHL A league for next season.

Müller has been on one of the top lines for PWHL Boston this season and has 13 points, including 10 assists, in 19 games while playing alongside the likes of Hilary Knight and Loren Gabel. She had 25 points (15G, 10A) in six games with ZSC Lions Frauen before the PWHL season began.

How are they going to do?: Defensively, Switzerland had some work to do after last year's Worlds. They gave up the most goals of any team in the tournament, with 30 goals allowed in seven games, and allowed the most shots, too. With that said, Switzerland has improved vastly over the last few years. Think back to 2019, when they finished at the bottom of Group A lost all four games with a minus-19 goal differential. They've since had three consecutive fourth-place finishes, and while they may not be quite able to compete with the top 3 teams in Canada, USA, and Czechia, there's definitely been progress.

– MB

Team Finland

2023 finish: 5th overall thanks to a 3-1 win over Sweden in the placement game, moving them back to Group A. Sweden scored in the first minute of the game, but Finland controlled the game, outshooting them 42-19. Jenni Hiirikoski, Kiira Yrjänen and Noora Tulus scored in the win.

Forwards: Anna-Kaisa Antti-Roiko, Elisa Holopainen, Michelle Karvinen, Julia Liikala, Petra Nieminen, Jenniina Nylund, Julia Schalin, Sofiana Sundelin, Susanna Tapani, Noora Tulus, Viivi Vainikka, Sanni Vanhanen, Emilia Vesa

Defense: Jenni Hiirikoski, Nelli Laitinen, Krista Parkkonen, Sanni Rantala, Eve Savander, Ronja Savolainen, Siiri Yrjölä

Goaltenders: Sanni Ahola, Anni Keisala, Tiia Pajarinen

Head coach: Juuso Toivola was an assistant on this team for about eight years before he took over the head coaching job from longtime coach Pasi Mustonen in early 2022. This will be his third World Championship.

Keep an eye on: Continued improvement. I think we might still be a few years away from the younger generation getting the experience to really make an impact across all parts of this roster, but I am optimistic about what's possible for the Finns for the first time in a few years. It felt a bit like they'd stagnated and were a bit stuck in limbo while they figured out how to mix their veterans and younger players together in a way that worked. Last year they had dropped to Group B and while they did fight back up to the top Group, they were ousted by Czechia in the semifinals for the second straight tournament in part because they only managed one goal on 42 shots on net in that game. They've not won a medal since 2021 and would set a new low for themselves by not getting on the podium for three straight years. On paper, things look great. That quarterfinal was their only loss, Petra Nieminen was the second-leading scorer in the tournament and the stats show they are keeping pace, but that just hasn't translated to the ice when it matters most. 

Once again, this roster implies that Finland is in a good place to finish higher. Jenni Hiirikoski continues to defy the marching of time while she takes the ice for her 15th Women's World Championships. Noora Tuluus had yet another standout season with Luleå in the SDHL, leading the league in a number of offensive categories. I've long liked the way Susanna Tapani and Michelle Karvinen use their size to win pucks, stake a claim to a patch of ice and be a nuisance in front of the goalie. It's good to see both of them back with this team. Siiri Yrjölä will join the recent parade of Finns to play at St. Cloud State and could bring some needed energy and swagger to the Finland offense. 

For much of the collegiate season, Sanni Ahola held a goals against average of under one per game. She’s quite simply capable of shutting down some of the best team offenses and individual offensive players in the country every week in the WCHA. She'sproven herself on the international level as well and she's just such an asset for this team to have. They are so solid on defense, but also have the luxury of being a bit loose and offensively focused because they know she's back there. It’s impossible to understate how much of an asset a goaltender like her is. 

How are they going to do?: I reserve the right to adjust this once I've seen a few games in this tournament and get a feel for how everyone is playing, but I don’t think they finish higher than fourth. I think they'll supplant Switzerland, but would need to see some serious improvements/changes to believe this team can take down Czechia this time around. The Czechs are a bit further along in their development and acclimation of high level young talent. 

I think all the pieces are there for Finland to be a team that faces off regularly with Czechia and Sweden and the game is a toss up each and every time, but right now they haven’t shown they can make all those pieces work together in a way that makes them better than the sum of the parts. Having watched a couple of Finns take over games at the U18 World Championships, I’m hopeful for the future, but think at this point they're still behind Czechia and will have to settle for a fourth or fifth place spot that likely comes down to a battle with Sweden for the higher placement.

– NH