With the Beijing 2022 Olympics about to begin, and not long after the Women’s U-18 Worlds was cancelled, fans are itching for some women’s hockey. The buzz isn’t settling down around Canada’s National Women’s Team. With well-known favourites gracing the roster, like Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Nurse, and Natalie Spooner, it’s looking like it’s going to be an exciting tournament.
But there are some new, and young, women on the Olympic team for the first time, and these players are going to be turning heads and forcing fans to google their names while they ask themselves,
“Who is that?!”
For the young players, the experience they are about to have in Beijing is one they haven’t been privy to yet, and the pressure is on as people from around the world tune in to watch the games. While they have the privilege of playing alongside veterans, these women are sure to make their own history. Below are the players to watch from Team Canada.
If there’s a name that has created a stir ahead of the Beijing 2022 Olympics, it’s Emma Maltais. Before being selected for the Canadian National Women’s Team, the forward was already giving it all she had on her collegiate team — she put up four impressive seasons with the Ohio State Buckeyes as their active career leader in points, and has been referred to by her coach Nadine Muzerall as a “player who can do it all”.
“Any coach would be lucky to have her because she’s going to give you everything she has. She’s a 200-foot hockey player who can do it all. She will go through walls. She is someone that makes any team she is on instantly better.”– Buckeyes head coach Nadine Muzerall
Her high point roundup with the Buckeyes isn’t the only impressive stat in her repertoire, though, because the Olympic rookie has an incredible resume. She was a Top-10 Finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award in both 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, with 16 points in the latter season (she also served as team captain during that season). She is also the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s (WCHA) active career leading scorer with 158 points (55 goals, 103 assists), and is the second player in the program’s history to reach over 100 assists. She was also the 2018 WCHA Rookie of the Year, and as a junior set the team record with 59 points.
Maltais has proven in her player history that she is more than capable of putting on a show on the Olympic team. In 2018, she skated with the U-22 national development team and competed in the Nations Cup. She debuted with the National Women’s Team in 2019 against the United States and in 2021, she played at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in five games, with Canada winning its first gold in nearly a decade.
While still young, the Burlington, Ont. native has abilities that rival her Olympic teammates. Forward Renata Fast referred to her as the “Energizer Bunny”, and a player who has just scratched the surface of her skills.
“She brings so much energy, and plays with so much grit. She’s such a skilled player and she’s just getting started. She has such a bright future.”– Team Canada defenseman Renata Fast
Despite her abilities, the 22-year-old still has to pinch herself amongst some of women’s hockey’s greats, which include fellow Buckeyes alumni Spooner.
“At first, you see (Marie-Philip) Poulin and (Mélodie) Daoust when you walk in the dressing room and you think ‘I can’t believe I’m here,” Maltais said. “And then you get to talk to Natalie Spooner. These are players I looked up to so much and you realize they’re real people, amazing people and you want to model yourself after them.”
Maltais is sure to do just that at her first Olympic tournament. The forward even has plans beyond Beijing — when the tournament wraps up, she plans to return to Ohio State for the 2022-23 season with the Buckeyes and finish her final season of eligibility.
Another Olympic rookie who has landed herself a coveted spot on the National Team is Sarah Fillier, and there are plenty of reasons she was one of 28 players invited to Hockey Canada’s Centralization Camp and chosen to represent her country.
Hailing from Georgetown, Ont., the 21-year-old is the youngest player to make Canada’s Women’s Olympic Team, and rightfully so. The forward currently plays for the Princeton University Tigers, starting her season with them in 2018. She was coming into the program as an already decorated player, as she was named the most valuable player at the 2017 Canadian National U-18 Championships, and National Rookie of the Year in 2019. With the Tigers, she was also named Ivy League Rookie and Player of the Year in 2018-19.
This is also not the first time she has seen a high stakes stage. She debuted for the Canada Women’s National Team at the 2018 4 Nations Cup, taking home a silver medal. Then in 2021, she helped take the team to gold at the Women’s World Championships. She impressed with her play-making skills and in-depth scoring ability, landing three goals and three assists in the final game against the United States, winning 7-0. The Tiger’s women’s hockey coach Cara Morey praised her mature abilities.
“I think she’s going to be the best player in the world,” Morey said. “I think she’s very close to it already.” (“Sarah Fillier, Caroline Harvey among women’s hockey’s next generation”, The Denver Post, January 31, 2022.)
The versatile forward also played in the Rivalry Series against the American rivals, leading Team Canada in goals with five in six games. And there is no doubt that she will shine in the Olympic tournament as well. Playing alongside veterans Melodie Daoust and Spooner on the second line, the youngster’s ability to finish plays will come to fruition.
“From that first time getting to play with her, I knew she was going to be a great player. And once she gets used to playing at this level even more, it’s going to be crazy.”– Team Canada forward Natalie Spooner
Poulin, Team Canada’s captain, also praised Fillier for her level of commitment. Troy Ryan, the Olympic team head coach, who also coached her on the U-18 team, said she’s gained some confidence, which will only improve her skills during the tournament.
“It’s exciting to compete with and against your idols and people you’ve looked up to for years, and know you’re on the same level as people you aspire to be is definitely cool,” she said. “They want us to be a piece of the puzzle and to make a difference.”
While the forward has received much support from everyone around her, it is not to fill her head with air. She’s humble and ready to work when the Olympics begin and despite her age, fans should keep their eyes on her jersey all throughout the tournament.
Yet another young face that is soon to grace the Olympic stage in Beijing — defenseman Claire Thompson. The 24-year-old has become something of a top defender among Team Canada’s roster.
Like her teammate Fillier, she played for the Princeton Tigers and wore the “C” on her chest during her senior season with them in 2019-20. She led the team’s defense in scoring, with 23 points of seven goals and 16 assists in 31 games. She also led the defense in scoring in both her sophomore and junior seasons with the Tigers, and was second in scoring during her freshman year. In her junior year, she was also named as a finalist for ECAC Best Defenseman.
Similarly to Fillier, Morey was also her coach, and said the defenseman is great at keeping her play both serious and light — the perfect attitude to have during the Olympics.
“Claire has the most exceptional way of balancing competitive energy with positive fun,” Morey said. “When you watch her play, she has so much joy.”
Last season, Thompson joined the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association’s (PWHPA) Toronto team. Then, like her two teammates Maltais and Fillier, she was also on the roster that took Team Canada to gold at the 2021 Women’s World Championship.
The defenseman has good hockey sense, with an ability to get pucks moving and read plays. She’s offensive too, unafraid to attack any gaps. She’s ready to take her ever-growing confidence to Beijing with her team.
“I’m really just excited to be in the village, to meet other athletes, to be a part of Team Canada at the Olympics,” Thompson said. “I think it’s all going to be incredible.”
Can Canada Get the Gold?
It might be a tight race between the Canadian team and their usual American rivals. But the Canadian roster has lots of young talent and with these ones-to-watch alongside some star veterans, the games are going to be entertaining on every level. The grit and perseverance that the Women’s Team Canada has shown in the past is sure to come to light once again in Beijing.
Raylene Lung is a journalist based in Ottawa and has a Masters of Journalism from Carleton University. She has previously written for The Victory Press, The Hockey News, Canadian Geographic and most recently worked at CBC Edmonton. She still reads magazines religiously and loves women’s hockey. When she isn’t writing, she is riding her horse. She currently covers the Dallas Stars for The Hockey Writers.