The 2021 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Hockey Championship gets underway on Friday Aug. 20 in Calgary, Alberta. Ten teams will compete, including host country Canada, their rivals and defending champions the United States of America and the continually impressive Finland. The rest of the field includes the Russian Olympic Committee, Switzerland, Japan, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, and Hungary. Six teams get going on Day 1 with the Czech Republic facing Denmark to start, followed by Finland against Canada, and Switzerland against the United States. With the tournament finally set to get going after cancellation and relocation, here’s three things to watch for as the puck drops.
Will Finland Finally Take Gold?
The 2019 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship was held in Espoo, Finland, and it looked as if the host team won their first title at the tournament in dramatic fashion in overtime. However, the video goal judge deemed there was goaltender interference, overturning the ruling on the ice. An explanation was later released by the IIHF, but I doubt that the Finnish team and fans were satisfied.
Their first matchup is against Canada, who is also hungry for gold after taking a bronze in 2019 and finishing as the runner-up in 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2013. Expect it to be the toughest opening match for two of the top three teams in the tournament and, potentially, the difference between a higher seed later in the knockout rounds. Jenni Hiirikoski is captain of this team once again and is recognized as one of the best defenders in the world. If she can help lead Finland through their first two opponents — they play the United States in their second game — with at least one win, they should be able to set themselves up to challenge for a medal. Finland’s goal is undoubtedly to reach the final and take the gold, but with redemption fueling them, their biggest challenge might just be staying focused and not looking too far ahead too early.
Eight New Names for Canada
Team Canada has a solid group of veterans leading them through the tournament, including recently named captain Marie-Philip Poulin, alternate captain Jocelyne Larocque, and Sarah Nurse. There are eight new names making their debut at the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship including Victoria Bach, Ashton Bell, Kristen Campbell, Sarah Fillier, Emma Maltais, Kristin O’Neill, Ella Shelton, and Claire Thompson. This group comes from different leagues including the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and the NCAA Division I.
This injection of youth is likely a move to try to push the pace on the ice and emphasize possession, a similar shift in the game that we’ve seen in the PHWPA showcases and the NHL. Despite their youth, this isn’t simply a passing of the torch tournament for the Canadians. It’s an unstated reality (perhaps unfairly sometimes), but they are pushing for gold, and hoping to achieve the feat that hasn’t been accomplished by the Canadian women’s team at this tournament since 2012. The hope is that the balance of a veteran presence supported by these skilled and eager new teammates will help Canada push through the tough challenges in Group A. There will be no fans in the stands, but the home-ice factor always adds a bit of pressure to mix.
Familiar Face at the Helm for Hungary
Hungary might not be challenging for a medal this time, but they will be an exciting team to watch. It’s the nation’s first time in the top tier of the tournament and they are coached by Westville, Nova Scotia-born Lisa Haley. She is currently the Senior Vice President of hockey operations for the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) and a former Team Canada assistant coach.
To be clear, playing in this tournament is a massive moment for the Hungarian hockey program. In order to grow the game in countries other than Canada, the United States, Russia, and the Scandinavian nations, it’s important to celebrate these moments for countries where hockey isn’t as popular. It will be exciting to see more Hungarian women and men play at higher levels as the sport gains more attention in the country. At the same time, it’s nice to know and acknowledge the role that talented women such as Haley are playing in developing the game around the world.
As you watch the teams from Group A battle each other for seeding before the elimination round and medal games, be sure to tune into the games featuring Group B teams where the competition is just as fierce. I gave you three of the most intriguing, but there are plenty of storylines to catch your eye throughout the tournament. Comment below with any you’d like to add as the games get going Friday!
Sports and music writer, covering the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Lecturer at King’s University College. Loves a good day at the outdoor rink.