2024 IIHF Women's World Championship: Group B Preview

2024 IIHF Women's World Championship: Group B Preview

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

The IIHF Women's World Championship top division tournament begins today in Utica, New York, and not without some early surprises in terms of official roster registration. All games of the tournament will be broadcast on TSN in Canada and on NHL Network and ESPN+ in the United States.

First, Melissa, Nicole, and Zoë will preview the teams from Group B.

Team Sweden

2023 finish: Finished sixth overall after falling 3-1 in the fifth-place game to Finland. Captain Anna Kjellbin had the lone goal in that game for Sweden, who was generally led in the tournament by Hilda Svensson, Hanna Olsson. and Lina Ljungblom.

Forwards: Hilda Svensson, Josefin Bouveng, Wilma Sundin, Sofie Lundin, Sara Hjalmarsson, Lova Blom, Hanna Thuvik, Thea Johansson, Ebba Hedqvist, Lina Ljungblom, Hanna Olsson, Felizia Wikner Zienkiewicz, Mira Hallin

Defense: Linnéa Andersson, Mira Jungåker, Emma Forsgren, Maja Nylén Persson, Ida Karlsson, Paula Bergström, Anna Kjellbin

Goaltenders: Emma Söderberg, Ida Boman, Tindra Holm

Head coach: Ulf Lundberg, who has held the head coaching position since 2020.

Keep an eye on: Sweden is bringing its top three performers from the U18s to this year's Worlds, amid quite a bit of roster turnover. Ebba Hedqvist had 10 points, including nine assists, at U18s. Hilda Svensson had eight points, as did Mira Hallin, who is making her senior Worlds debut. These three should be super fun to watch, not just this year but for years to come.

Others to watch include Lina Ljungblom, who led MoDo with 46 points this season and was third in scoring in the SDHL. Sara Hjalmarsson and Hanna Thuvik were also among the top players in the SDHL & should provide for an exciting Swedish team as they look to rebound after a tough 2023 tournament.

Last year, Sweden relied on Emma Söderberg in net, as she appeared in five games and Sara Grahn in just two. Söderberg has largely been the backup for PWHL Boston behind USA's Aerin Frankel, and is 3-3-0 on the season with a 2.81 GAA. She is the only PWHL player on Sweden, since Ljungblom – who was drafted by PWHL Montreal – stayed in the SDHL for the 2023-24 season.

How are they going to do?: It’s been a rough few years for Sweden, having been relegated to Division 1A in 2019 and getting back to the top level in 2022 following Russia's expulsion. Sweden made it to the quarterfinals in 2022 but had a disappointing finish last year, so it’s not a huge surprise to see some turnover – seven players from last year’s roster are not returning. With a slightly refreshed roster, but still plenty of veteran experience, I'd expect Sweden to push for a semifinals appearance in hopes of finishing fourth or better.

– MB

Team Japan

2023 finish: Japan fell to 7th after failing to win any games in 2023. They had the second-worst offense in the tournament, scoring just 6 goals. Their best result was an OT loss to Czechia in the group stage. This puts them in Group B again, after being promoted to Group A in 2022 following Russia's exclusion from the tournament.

Forwards: Yoshino Enomoto, Makoto Ito, Remi Koyama, Mei Miura, Marin Nagaoka, Rio Noro, Akane Shiga, Suzuka Taka, Haruka Toko, Rui Ukita, Yumeka Wajima, Hikaru Yamashita

Defense: Ayaka Hitosato, Akane Hosoyamda, Shiori Koike, Kohane Sato, Kanami Seki, Aoi Shiga, An Shinoda, Shiori Yamashita

Goaltenders: Riko Kawaguchi, Haruka Kuromaru, Miyuu Masuhara

Head coach: Yuji Iizuka, who has been with the Japanese national team program since 2007, coaching both at the senior and U18 level. 

Keep an eye on: This is essentially the same team that Japan brought in last year's tournament, with very few changes to the lineup. They have several very good young players including Miyuu Masuhara and Riko Kawaguchi in goal and PWHL Ottawa's Akane Shiga at forward. Haruka Toko is, as always, going to be a treat to watch. This year was her best pro season so far with Linköping HC; she scored 43 points in 36 games during the regular season. She can be absolutely deadly on the rush and has an excellent passing ability. Her teammate on defense, Ayaka Hitosato, has also been with her in Linköping the last 2 seasons.

Since the last Worlds, several other players from Team Japan have made the move to European leagues. Yoshino Enomoto left the Japanese league to play in Switzerland this past season and had 9 goals and 18 assists in 24 games with Lugano. Defender Aoi Shiga played with Lugano this season as well, scoring 4 goals in 12 games. In the SDHL this year, Mei Miura and Hikaru Yamashita have been with AIK and Kanami Seki has been with HV71.

While there haven't been major lineup changes, a lot of players on this team have made changes in their own hockey careers. It'll be interesting to see how this affects their preparation and conditioning for this tournament where they will mostly be facing European opponents. I'm personally watching to see how they do gaining and maintaining possession in the offensive zone – faceoffs and forecheck. If they can be consistent with those pieces of the game, goals will follow.

How are they going to do?: Japan couldn't hang in Group A last year – I had high expectations from them, but after holding Czechia to OT in a tough group stage match last year, they seemed to run out of gas. In the placement round, they took a tough 1-0 loss to Sweden when they couldn't solve Emma Söderberg. I think offense could still be a problem for them in this group, but the defensive matchups in general will be more favorable in Group B and not cause them to overextend themselves in the early parts of the tournament. I think Japan could improve to 5th or 6th place if their offense executes, but they could be at risk of upsets in the group stage if it doesn't.

– ZH

Team Germany

2023 finish: 8th overall after losing the placement game 8-2 to Finland. They were 3-1 coming out of group play, with wins over Sweden, France and Hungary, but were winless after group play. 

Forwards: Nina Christof, Nicola Eisenschmid, Franzisca Feldmeier, Celina Haider, Bernadette Karpf, Laura Kluge, Emily Nix, Julia Schiefer, Lucia Schmitz, Svenha Voight, Theresa Wagner, Lilli Welcke, Luisa Welcke

Defense: Tabea Botthof, Daria Gleißner, Ronja Hark, Nina Jobst-Smith, Charlott Schaffrath, Tara Schmitz, Carina Stroebel.Goaltenders: Sandra Abstreiter, Lisa Hemmerle, Hannah Loist

Head coach: Nova Scotia-native Jeff MacLeod was an assistant coach with this team at the last Women's Worlds and after four months in the role was promoted to head coach in May 2023. He coached the U18 team at their World Championship in January 2023, covering the maternity leave of coach Franziska Busch.

Keep an eye on: Germany's ability to play a full 60 minutes. It's been their biggest problem at the U18 and senior level. There are sparks of what could be in terms of the future of women's hockey in Germany and I've felt like Jeff MacLeod has said a lot of good things about short- and long-term planning and work to be done within the federation in growing the sport and the pool of players. I'm really hoping we see those things moving forward, but in the short term, they have to work on fitness and being able to play consistently through the length of a game. They handled most of their fellow Group B teams, but struggled against Finland and Group A. In their placement game, they were competitive with Finland through about half the game before the Finns pulled away. 

Sandra Abstreiter has played just three games in the PWHL. She's obviously putting in a lot of time in practice, but it’s probably not an ideal situation heading into a tournament where she'll face a lot of shots. That being said, she's been absolutely stellar for them for several years and have given them a chance to be in so many games. Hannah Loist is just 17 and started half of Germany's games at the U18 tournament in January. It will be interesting to see if she gets any minutes to start giving her more experience. 

They scored just 13 goals in six games in 2023 and six of them came in their opening win over Sweden. That was a massive win in which Germany read their defense perfectly and executed their plan to slip past it for chances in close. They need to be more offensive and they need to not make Abstreiter stand on her head. Luisa Welcke had a good debut tournament in 2023 and twin sister Lilli should be making her debut this year, after a pre-tournament injury kept her out last year. They had moderate seasons after transferring to Boston University. Franzisca Feldmeier had 17 points with Linköping in the SDHL. Nina Jobst-Smith has been a strong defender for Minnesota Duluth. She put up 21 assists in 2022-23, but with fewer offensive threats on the team this season, hasn't been as productive. She's a strong threat from the blueline, but with Germany she’s usually so tied up in defending that she doesn’t get the opportunity to join the offensive play. 

How are they going to do?: I don't think they’ll be in danger of relegation, but it certainly isn’t a given. Having Abstreiter is such a safety net, but they have to do more with the chances she gives them. They get to ease into the tournament a bit with their first game against newly promoted Denmark and they tend to be better at the start of the tournament, so they'll be looking for a strong, decisive win to build from. But you can be sure Sweden remembers last year's loss and Japan will not be an easy opponent for them. It seems likely they'll end up seventh or eighth again. There's a gap between them and the next level of teams (Sweden, Switzerland and Finland) and I don’t think enough growth has happened for them to bridge that. They can have individual great games, but haven't proven they can put together a whole tournament of them.

– NH

Team China

2023 finish: China won the Division IA tournament, which they hosted last August in Shenzhen, to earn promotion to the top division. In 2022, they were promoted to Division IA after winning Division IB. Both years they went 5-0-0-0 to advance.

Forwards: Mengying Zhang, Minghui Kong, Sijia Wu, Fancong Meng, Xin Fang, Jiaxin Wang, Yingying Guan, Ziyu Zhao, Yifan Wang, Yue Qu, Rui Zhu

Defense: Baiwei Yu, Tian Yuwei, Qinan Zhao, Sijia Du, Siyang Liu, Qianhua Li, Zhixin Liu

Goaltenders: Xueqin Wei, Jiahui Zhan, Yuqing Wang

Head coach: Scott Spencer, who was the head coach at Lindenwood from 2014 to 2019. Spencer then spent one season as an assistant coach with Mercyhurst before joining the coaching staff of KRS Shenzhen. He coached the national team for the first time in Shenzhen for the Division IA tournament.

Keep an eye on: China isn't bringing any of their "import players" to the top division tournament. These are players who moved to China to play with KRS Shenzhen ahead of the 2022 Olympics, some as early as the 2017-18 season when the CWHL team was established, and remained with the team when it became part of the Russian Zhenskaya Hockey League. (Check out this article from 2018 for some context about how the import players worked with the Chinese national team in Shenzhen.) While they remained on the national team roster, KRS Shenzhen did not bring these players back for the 2023-24 season. The team is competing this year in the new domestic pro league in China, the Chinese Women's Ice Hockey League.

These players suited up with Team China in the Olympics and were part of the squad that earned them this promotion to the top division this past August. This includes star goaltender Tia Chan who plays with UConn, PWHL Montreal's Leah Lum, Colgate's Kassy Betinol, SLU's Anna Segedi, LIU's Anna Fairman, plus veterans Jessica Wong, Rachel Llanes, and Madison Woo. PWHL Toronto's Hannah Miller also played with Team China in the Olympics. 

Each of these players was a huge part of the program's growth and success since starting to compete for China. The timing in choosing to remove these players from competition is odd, since they remained on China's international roster well after the Beijing Olympics, which were the focus of their program ramp-up back in 2017. China technically does not legally permit dual citizenship but has historically permitted elite athletes to represent China in international competition without formally renouncing their previous citizenship. This seems like an indication that that practice is changing, at least in hockey.

All of that said, China is still bringing their leading goal-scorer from the Division IA tournament in Minghui Kong, experienced and brilliant defender Baiwei Yu, and several players (notably Fancong Meng, Xin Fang, and Jiaxin Wang) who have been dynamic scoring threats for China at the U18 level. This will be a huge test for the young players and an opportunity for them to show what they've got in a very deep Group B.

They are also bringing 17-year-old goaltender Grace (Jiahui) Zhan who was born in Beijing but has spent the last several years playing prep school hockey for the Hill-Murray School in Minnesota and is committed to Dartmouth for next season. I'm interested to see whether she might get tapped for some starts as the only player with real experience in the North American system, but most of the time, I'd expect to see veteran Yuqing Wang in net.

How are they going to do?: China has felt like a program on the upswing, but this Group B is a lot tougher than either of the divisions they just won handily, and many of the players who helped them advance to the top division will not be available. Most likely they end up being relegated again, since I think it's just too big a leap to expect this squad to pull off without the players that got them to this level. It's a bit of a trial by fire and the goal here should be to learn and react.

– ZH

Team Denmark

2023 finish: Denmark finished second in the Division IA tournament in August to advance to the top division, narrowly coming out on top of Austria in the standings on the strength of their goal differential.

Forwards: Frederikke Foss, Silke Glud, Lilli Friis-Hansen, Nicoline Jensen, Nicoline Jensen, Frida Kielstrup, Sara Knudsen, Julie Oksbjerg, Maria Peters, Olivia Ranum, Sofia Skriver, Mille Sørensen, Sarah Stauning, Emma Russell

Defense: Amalie Andersen, Josephine Asperup, Sofie Skott Dahl, Kristine Melberg, Silja Rasmussen, Amanda Refsgaard, Lærke Søndergaard

Goaltenders: Caroline Bjergstad, Emma-Sofie Nordström, Caroline Thomsen

Head coach: Björn Edlund, a former pro player in Sweden who coached Denmark to their Division IA top-2 finish last year. He's currently the general manager of MoDo in the SDHL, having served as GM, head coach, or both since 2017. Prior to that he was an assistant coach with the club since 2014.

Keep an eye on: 21-year-old Emma-Sofie Nordström has been an ace in net for St. Lawrence University this season and this will be our first real look at her as Denmark's starter in the top division; back in 2021, as an 18-year-old, she was lit up in a group stage match against Hungary for 5 goals. In the Division IA tournament in August, she was 3-1-0 with a 1.77 GAA and a save percentage of 0.925. With St. Lawrence she went 25-11-0 this season with 7 shutouts. Nordström has the potential to steal games for Denmark and make the relegation situation interesting.

They will be without their best offensive weapon from the Division IA tournament, captain and veteran Josefine Jakobsen, who announced her retirement from the national team program in late March as she hopes to recover from injury and return to professional play with Brynäs in the SDHL. In her stead, they'll be looking to players like Nicoline Jensen, Silke Glud, and Amanda Refsgaard for leadership and offensive playmaking. 

​​Frederikke Foss played in August with Denmark in the Division IA tournament and didn't get on the scoresheet, but she does have 23 goals and 25 assists with Shattuck-St. Mary's this season and is committed to the University of Maine next year. Denmark is bringing a very young group to this Worlds, but few who have shown the scoring touch that she has.

How are they going to do?: Denmark was relegated out of the top division in 2022, the year they hosted the tournament, and will be fighting to stay at this level with a young, skilled group. They have good goaltending and some offensive weapons that could catch other teams in Group B off guard, but it'll be an uphill battle.

– ZH

The tournament kicks off at 11:00 AM Eastern with Group B play between Denmark and Sweden, followed by two Group A matchups: Finland vs. Czechia at 3:00 PM Eastern and USA vs. Switzerland at 7:00 PM Eastern.