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IIHF Women’s Worlds preview: Can USA, or anyone else, handle Canada’s depth?

IIHF Women’s Worlds preview: Can USA, or anyone else, handle Canada’s depth?

Canada has won back-to-back World Championship gold. They are the reigning Olympic champions, and Canada’s U18 team has also won back-to-back titles. With the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship ready to begin, and coming off a comeback victory in the Rivalry Series, Canada is entering as the tournament favorite on its quest for three-peat.

What are Canada’s strengths at the tournament?

Depth is Canada’s greatest weapon. That said, Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Fillier at the top of the lineup are two of the most potent scorers on the planet. From the 2022 tournament to this edition, Canada re-added veteran stars Natalie Spooner, Rebecca Johnston, and Claire Thompson to an already impressive lineup.

When one line leaves the ice, another platoon featuring players like Sarah Nurse, Brianne Jenner, and Blayre Turnbull is ready to attack. Beyond the depth of Canada’s forward and defensive rosters, Canada also brings back Ann-Renée Desbiens in net, who has proven herself as the most consistent netminder on the planet. Desbiens is calm under pressure, and often saves her best performance for gold medal games.

Brianne Jenner, Marie-Philip Poulin and the rest of Team Canada are riding high heading into this year's IIHF World Women's Championship. (Getty)

Brianne Jenner, Marie-Philip Poulin and the rest of Team Canada are riding high heading into this year’s IIHF World Women’s Championship. (Getty)

New to Team Canada

Welcoming back Thompson, Johnston, and Spooner is a tremendous boost. Perhaps the most interesting player to watch on Canada’s roster, however, is the only player making her senior national debut at an international competition. This season, Danielle Serdachny was named the ECAC Player of the Year and Patty Kazmaier runner-up, scoring an incredible 25 goals and 71 points in 40 games for Colgate University.

Her totals were tops in the NCAA, edging out Team USA star Taylor Heise in the scoring race. Serdachny instantly becomes the youngest player on Team Canada, taking the moniker from Sarah Fillier. How Canada utilizes Serdachny will be interesting to watch, as she’ll be central in Canada’s next generation.

USA makes major changes

Team USA was the final roster to be announced prior to the World Championship, but that announcement came with shock for many American fans. Cut from recent World Championship and Olympic teams were five players — Jincy Dunne, Grace Zumwinkle, Jesse Compher, Hannah Brandt, and Maddie Rooney. Perhaps it was a response to USA’s collapse against Canada in the Rivalry Series this season, where USA jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Canada won four straight to win the series.

USA is bringing back veterans Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight, Lee Stecklein, Alex Carpenter, and Abby Roque, but the real prospects of USA unseeding Canada rests with their new and young players. Taylor Heise, Hannah Bilka, Caroline Harvey, Lacey Eden, Rory Guilday, and Abbey Murphy comprise the core of USA’s returning youth.

Tessa Janecke, 18, the youngest player added to the team, is a game changer. She’s aggressive and creative, and can create scoring opportunities from anywhere.

On the blueline, it’s Haley Winn, 19, a mobile Clarkson defender who joins Team USA. The Americans have a lot to prove, and they’re betting on the fact that their future begins now.

Is Czechia, or anyone, ready to challenge?

It was a historic moment for Czechia, winning bronze at the 2022 World Championship. Especially given the fact they started the tournament in Group B. Czechia will enter with a very veteran group, with their lone hole coming in net, with Klara Peslarova not returning. Despite that loss, Czechia should have enough depth and talent to contend again for bronze.

Czechia will be paced by veterans Michaela Pejzlova, Natalie Mlynkova, Daniela Pejsova, and Tereza Pistekova, as well as rising stars Alena Mills, Klara Hymlarova, Adela Sapovalivova and newcomer Tereza Plosova. They also boast impressive depth including PHF champions from the Toronto Six, Tereza Vanisova and Dominika Laskova. The remainder of Group A — Switzerland and Japan — are facing an uphill battle.

Finland has traditionally been the third best nation, but are beginning the tournament in Group B. This means they’ll face lesser competition, albeit with an opportunity to regain their confidence. Finland is without their top forward, Elisa Holopainen, and veteran Susanna Tapani hung up her skates this year. Finland will rely on the likes of Nelli Laitinen, Petra Nieminen, Julia Liikala, and Sanni Vanhanen to get them out of Group B and back into medal contention.

France Joins The Mix

After regulation was frozen during the pandemic, there is finally movement occurring again between World Championship groups. New to the top tier this year is France, who could surprise competitors, although their main focus will be staying in the top division, which would likely come at the expense of either Hungary or Germany.

Veteran forwards Clara Rozier and Estelle Duvin, who each scored well over a point per game in Finland and Switzerland, respectively, will be counted on to carry the load alongside NCAA star Chloé Aurard. Aurard notched 54 points in 38 games for Northeastern, being named a Hockey East All-Star for the fourth consecutive season. She’s a rising star in the women’s game, and seeing Aurard at the top level of the women’s World Championship will be a point of interest for fans.

The 2023 IIHF women’s World Championship kicks off April 5 in Brampton, Ontario, with the gold medal game being played April 16.

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