Category: World Championships (Page 1 of 13)

Poulin scores golden goal

Team Canada celebrate after the 3-2 overtime win against Team USA for gold at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Marie-Philip Poulin scored the golden goal at 7:22 of the first overtime period to give Canada a 3-2 win over the United States. It was Canada’s first gold medal at the Women’s World Championship since 2012 and ended a run of five in a row for their adversaries.

The three-on-three unlimited OT featured end-to-end action and several great chances, but when Brianne Jenner got the puck at her blue line and saw Poulin fly up the middle, the end was near. Poulin drove into the U.S. end and fired a wicked shot over the glove of Nicole Hensley. Poulin celebrated, but the puck went in and out so qucikly that play continued. After a bit of time, though, the scorekeeper sounded the buzzer signalling the goal.

“I kind of knew that it was in, but when we heard that buzzer it was a great feeling,” said Poulin, who is now the only woman to have scored three gold-medal-winning goals in her career (two Olympic gold). “To do it at home, in Calgary, was very exciting.”

“Jocelyne [Larocque] made a heads-up play and rimmed it around the boards,” Jenner described. “Normally, five-on-five, you kind of chip that out, but it’s three-on-three, so I just got going. If you see number 29 open, you just have to put it on her stick, and she does the rest. It was a beautiful shot.”

It was a game as thrilling and exciting as any played between the nations in the 31-year history of women’s hockey at the IIHF. The Americans turned the table on Canada in the first, scoring the only two goals, but Canada stormed back to tie it in the second. The third was a wild affair that featured four penalties–three to Canada–but there was no fifth goal until the overtime.

“To be honest, we were pretty happy coming into the dressing room after the first period,” said Jenner. “You don’t want to be down 2-0, but we were playing our way. We were calm. At that point, we all believed that we could do this.”

“Every time we play them, it’s going to come down to a goal, to overtime. That’s why it’s the greatest rivalry in sports,” said a disconsolate Amanda Kessel of Team USA.

From the opening faceoff it was clear the Americans weren’t going to be caught on their heels and weren’t going to be second to any pucks as they were in the 5-1 loss during preliminary-round play. They got the puck deep and forced Canada to turn and chase, and they initiated the forecheck, causing a headache for the Canadian defence.

After a period of caution at the start, Canada had the better of play, but only briefly and without generating any great chances. And then, in the blink of an eye, the U.S. scored first. Alex Carpenter had one whack at a loose puck in front, and when Claire Thompson didn’t check her, Carpenter got another and made no mistake. 

The goal, at 9:55, marked the first time Canada had trailed since the opening period of the tournament, against Finland. Soon after, Canada took a penalty and the Americans struck again. This time Lee Stecklein took a point shot, and there was Carpenter once again to whack the puck in.

The 2-0 deficit sent a shock wave along the Canadian bench, and they had their best sequence of shifts right after. Poulin led a three-on-two into the U.S. end, giving Victoria Bach a superb chance from in close, but Hensley stood tall and made a great save on the shot.

Moments later, off the rush, Rebecca Johnston wired a shot that hit the post and bounced in behind the goalie, but Hensley covered up before it rolled over the goal line.

“We tried to focus a lot on ourselves, making little adjustments for each opponent, but with so much time off from international play, we thought the focus should be on what makes us successful,” said winning coach Troy Ryan. “We got a little bit of that in the first game against the U.S. and just tried to build off that for this gold-medal game.”

Canada came out in the second desperate and determined and managed to take control of the game until the final minute. The hosts got an early power play thanks to a faceoff violation by the U.S. and converted on the chance when Brianne Jenner got to Sarah Fillier’s shot and banged it in at 4:13. 

They continued to press, and two minutes later were rewarded again. Poulin came up with a critical faceoff win in the American end, and Larocque’s point shot was beautifully tipped by Jamie Lee Rattray, tying the game.

“I don’t think we were surprised by Canada’s pushback,” said U.S. coach Joel Johnson. “I felt like we just got behind it. They were clearly the better team in the second. We were pretty good in the first. You can look back at one or two faceoffs, or a missed shot on goal, or a tip, and that’s the way it is.”

It was all Canada much of the period, and only the fine play of Hensley kept it a tie game. She made great stops on point-blank chances from Daoust and Jenner, but just when it looked like Canada would go to the dressing room with some confidence, the Americans finished on a high note.

They swarmed Desbiens in the final minute, and although they couldn’t score they did draw a penalty to start the third with a power play. Canada killed that off to start the third, and teams exchanged power plays midway through the period without a goal. The Canadians had two great chances soon after, though, but the puck bounced over Jenner’s stick on one chance from the slot and Johnston wired a shot into the logo of Hensley’s sweater on the other.

Not to be outdone, Desbiens then came to Canada’s rescue. She stopped Hayley Scamurra, who blew by her cover and got a great shot on goal, only to be foiled by the goalie. Moments later, Abbey Murphy had a chance in close but Desbiens held her ground.

And then, with a minute to go, Poulin fed Rattray off the rush, and her shot hit the far post and stayed out. Overtime. And the rest is history.

Finns beat Switzerland for bronze

Finland celebrates after a 3-1 bronze-medal victory over Switzerland at the 2021 Women’s Worlds.

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

It was a happy ending for Finnish hockey fans from Helsinki to Hameenlinna. Finland beat a gutsy Swiss team 3-1 to win the bronze medal game at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.

Tanja Niskanen stepped up with a goal and an assist, and Ella Viitasuo and Petra Nieminen also scored for Finland.

Asked for her reaction, Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski said: “Really proud! Once again, [goalie Anni] Keisala played a really, really good game. Obviously we did a good job in our zone. It was really nice to see Tanja and Ella scoring today as well.”

Swiss captain Lara Stalder, who also on Tuesday was named the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation’s Woman of the Year, broke a drought with her first goal in Calgary.

“It’s obvious we wanted to win a medal today and I thought the effort was there,” Stalder said. “In the end it was a hard-fought game. We’ve got to score more to win. We obviously had some momentum in the game. Not much more to say when you lose.”

This is Finland’s all-time record 13th bronze medal at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. The Finns are also the defending Olympic bronze medalists from 2018.

Analyzing these Women’s Worlds as a whole, Finnish coach Pasi Mustonen said: “I’m extremely satisfied. With eight newcomers on the team, I was surprised with how well we actually played in the tournament. We had a rising trend all the way. We played four good games against the North Americans [including an exhibition game], and we lost basically all of them in the second period. That’s something we haven’t solved yet. We are not mature enough to do it yet. We will be later on.”

Switzerland owns just two medals in IIHF history: the 2012 Women’s Worlds bronze in Burlington, Vermont and the 2014 Olympic bronze in Sochi, Russia. This fourth-place finish is tied for Switzerland’s second-best result ever (2008).

“I thought we competed well,” Swiss coach Colin Muller said of the bronze medal game. “I thought we left it all out in the ice. Today we asked for them to to bring their spirit and the emotional level a bit higher. Compliments to the team, because they gave themselves a chance to win the game. That’s all we wanted.”

In the Finnish net, Keisala excelled in her third consecutive playoff start. For Switzerland, Saskia Maurer took over from Andrea Braendli, who logged a whopping 61 saves in the 4-0 semi-final loss to Canada. Shots on goal favoured Finland 32-19.

The Finns found a way to bounce back after losing 3-0 to the defending champion Americans in the semi-finals. Even though it was the second time they fell to the U.S. by that score in Calgary and they failed to take revenge for the heartbreaking 2-1 shootout loss in the 2019 final in Espoo, Mustonen’s players showed they weren’t willing to leave Calgary without medals hanging around their necks.

The Swiss had a disastrous run in Group A with just one goal – courtesy of sniper Alina Muller, who was injured against the ROC team and didn’t play again – in four losses. However, in the quarter-finals, they turned the tables on the Russians with an emotional 3-2 comeback win in overtime. The offence just wasn’t there for the rest of the playoffs.

“We missed out on goal-scoring in this tournament,” Swiss veteran Evelina Raselli said. “[Group A] is really tough, but then we also lost our best player. And then you just go out there and give everything you can, but of course we don’t have 10 Alina Mullers on the team.”

The Swiss had a gritty, determined effort against the Finns, even if it was undercut by untimely penalties.

The Finns came out hard. It took just 1:39 for Niskanen to notch her first goal of these Women’s Worlds. After Maurer stopped her in close, Niskanen got the puck back, circled off the wall to the high slot, and zinged one over Maurer’s glove.

The Swiss, although struggling to generate pressure of their own, did pick it up. Yet Karvinen had the best chance for another goal on a breakaway with under a minute left in the first. Maurer was alert with the blocker to foil the Finnish ace, who went goalless in Calgary, despite vying for the tournament lead with six assists.

Just 54 seconds into the middle frame, Viitasuo sent a floater from the left point that caught the inside of Maurer’s far post for a 2-0 lead. The 25-year-old Kiekko-Espoo blueliner, whose first Women’s Worlds was 2016 in Kamloops, celebrated her second career goal at this tournament.

“I just got the puck on the blue line, and I know we have to put the puck in front of the net,” Viitasuo said. “I saw there was a good screen, so I just took a shot and it paid off.”

A minute later, Sanni Hakala got loose to ring one off the other post. Maurer also had to concentrate to deny Ronja Savolainen and Nieminen, the Finnish scoring leader, from close range.

Stalder cut the deficit to 2-1 at 3:35, taking a cross-ice feed from Phoebe Staenz on a 2-on-2 rush and whipping a tremendous shot over Hiirikoski’s outstretched leg and Keisala’s glove.

“It was a nice pass from Phoebe and I saw an opening there, so I shot,” said Stalder. “I felt, when it was 2-1, as though we were back in the game.”

Colin Muller reflected on Stalder’s overall scoring struggles in Calgary after she recorded three or more goals in her last three IIHF tournaments: “Lara is really a goal-scorer, and I think she missed having Alina Muller beside her. She tried to adjust and she gave every game the best effort she had. I think we just didn’t create enough scoring chances for her to capitalize on.”

Past the midway point, the Finnish power play applied all kinds of pressure after Switzerland got caught with too many players on the ice. But the Swiss killed it off and continued to push back. Things got rougher as Stalder pivoted and caught Savolainen on the shoulder with her stick in front of the Finnish goal, but got off scot-free.

The Swiss tempted fate with a second too-many-players minor late in the period. It took just four seconds for Finland’s top line to make them pay. Susanna Tapani won the faceoff, Karvinen fired from the point, and Nieminen was in front to tip it home and make it 3-1 Finland at 18:13. Nieminen’s goal, her sixth of these Women’s Worlds, tied her with Canada’s Melodie Daoust for the tournament lead.

In the third period, Switzerland’s penalty woes continued as Stefanie Wetli was sent off early for high-sticking Tapani. But they killed it off and kept coming, forcing Keisala to make great saves off Staenz’s and Sinja Leemann’s high shots near the midway mark of the period.

Swiss hopes, though, faded when Laura Zimmermann, who scored the overtime winner against the Russians, was sent to the sin bin for an illegal hit with under four minutes to go. The Finns couldn’t capitalize, but it enabled them to eat up time and secure the victory.

Both these nations are excited about seeking a medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February next. The chance to make new history looms large.

“Our younger players will be better off, even our more experienced players will get better,” said Mustonen. “Possibly even the opponents will be better. We’ll see what happens. But we will be better in Beijing.”

2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship Preview

It’s August, so let’s get these tourneys GOING! August is ending with a bang as the Women’s World Championship event is playing out in Calgary from the 20th to September 1st. There have been a few changes – including the location and team size – but otherwise? It’s all the same job, and 250 athletes are here to do it.

Women’s World Championship Preview

The biggest change for the teams this time out is an increase in size. With no one allowed to add players in case of injury or availability, the roster size is now at 25. That’s a good excuse to get younger players a look at what’s going to be expected of them when their turn comes. If you watched any of the “Bubble Cup” from 2020, you get the idea. Your subs still have to be able to play, but you’re hoping not to use them.

PANIC! At The Truro

The world rankings aren’t quite in line with who has the invites. That’s because France (ranked 10th in the world) and Sweden (ninth) were relegated at the last tournament in 2019. Denmark (11th) and Hungary (12th) won promotions in 2019, and without any tournament play in 2020, the IIHF kept everyone in place. Division II B and Division III got their tournaments done, but those had no effect on the top ranks.

As a result, the 2020 tournament that would have been at Truro and Halifax was cancelled along with every other international match. This might mean the selections are going to be frozen for the 2022 Olympics. But if their final decision is to go by international ranking, that means Sweden and France will have no opportunity to gain points while Denmark and Hungary will. But that doesn’t mean there are no stakes.

With the top six teams automatically going through, one of Czechia, Germany, Denmark, or Hungary is going to lose their place to host China. A good showing at the Olympics in any of those countries would provide a real boost. Just like with the men’s, the international tournaments are for people who are already fans. The Olympics, on the other hand, gets the attention of EVERYONE.

It’s Just Like Starting Over

If you aren’t familiar with the Women’s tournament format, here’s a quick rundown. (If you are, let the newbies catch up here and we’ll meet you next segment.)

Of the ten teams in Calgary, the top five in Group A will play against each other for position. The next five in Group B aren’t just playing for position, but to avoid relegation. So the winner of Group B will face whoever finishes third in Group A. Second in Group B plays against second in Group A, third in Group B is up against Group A’s winner, and third and fourth in Group A face off against each other.

And the bottom two are out. That’s not as dramatic as it sounds this year because the federation has decided this year is a mulligan. Everyone lives, no one relegated. Which you can be sure annoys Sweden and France no end, but without each division playing it’s fair. Or as fair as they can manage after two ridiculous years.

Honey, We’re Home!

Calgary is going to have a lot of COVID-19 protocols in place because this is the Women’s World Championship. Do it right or don’t bother coming. All the teams have been in town at least ten days ahead of time to quarantine to match seven days in their home countries, with international teams taking chartered flights in. Again, they’re here to do a job. If they happen to bring a medal back with them, so much the better.

Let’s meet the teams.

Canada – Host, Rank: 2

You have to know that number burns. But if there’s any country here that has to remember the maxim: “Thank your enemies, for they make you strong” it’s Canada. They may share the world’s longest unprotected border, but they and the United States have been fighting over this ground for decades.

Player to Look For

Going to go a little – very little – off the board for this one. Keep an eye out for Sarah Fillier – the first 2000-born player to score a goal for Team Canada. And she did it in 2018. To be blunt, this is NOT a team you can just walk onto as an 18-year old! Between her national turns, she was named captain of Princeton, leading them to their first ECAC crown.

Thing is, she’s got a lot more going on than a highlight reel. She is a smart player and has a good eye for intercepting plays, either catching pucks mid-pass or disrupting an opponent’s line. Take your eye off the puck when she’s on the ice and she’ll teach you a thing or two.

USA – Rank: 1

They won the gold in Pyongchang in 2018, and they have no interest in going to Beijing as an underdog. They’ve won five straight Women’s World Championship tournaments and not one was a fluke. The team with the target on their back, and they welcome all comers.

Player to Look For

Yes, obvious pick is obvious with Kendall Coyne-Schofield. But for good reason: how many players have a youth program named after them? Okay, a fair number, but how many named quite so perfectly as the Golden Coynes? C’mon! Her impact is huge and didn’t go down with her appearance at the 2019 NHL All-Star game.

But she’s also the captain of the US squad after first being named to the team in 2011. Her phenomenal speed gets her into position before most of the defence can turn around. That first tournament saw her score four times in five games. In her last tournament in 2019, she scored another five goals in five games and added four assists. It’s not just that she scores but what she does to do so that makes her worth watching.

Finland – Rank: 3

Perpetually knocking on the door, Finland kicked it down at the Women’s World Championship in 2019. They beat out Canada in the semi-finals and thought they had won the gold in overtime against the US only to have the play reversed after a ten-minute review. The US then won in the shootout on Finland’s home ice. Revenge is a great motivator.

Player to Watch

Normally, this would be an easy pick: Noora Räty. The star goaltender made 93 saves in those two games against the US and Canada, and her not being in Calgary hurts. But one player they’ve relied on for years is returning, captain Jenni Hiirikoski. She is a fast, smart defender who can whip outlet passes forward from anywhere in her end. She’s not just the national captain for Finland, but the captain of the champion Lulea HF of the Swedish Women’s League.

Hiirikoski has won the Women’s World Championship Best Defender seven times between 2007 and 2019. Watch her and you’ll see why.

(Not) Russia – Rank: 4

A court ruling has them competing as the Russian Olympic Committee, but the players remain the same. And in this case, they are coming from the Russian teams in the Zhenskaya Hockey League (ZhHL). The professional league has only been around since 2015, and it incorporates the KHL into the previous Russian League. They’re counting on that influx of skill – and money – to make the women’s side more competitive on the international stage.

Player to Watch

It’s a three-headed monster in the net – the Russians have never had great luck with their goaltenders internationally. But this time out could be different if the team decides to hand the reins to the young Valeria Merkusheva. Their usual workhorse duo of Anna Prugova and Nadezhda Morozova have earned their spots on the international squad with their play in the ZhHL. But the best in Russia was the 21-year old with SKIF Nizhny Novogorod. After 22 regular-season games with a 1.45 goals-against average, she followed that up with a .957 save percentage in the playoffs.

It’s more a case of watching to see if the (Not) Russians give Merkusheva her chance right away or after a game or two – but we expect her to make her presence felt this year.

Switzerland – Rank: 5

The Swiss cracked the Medal Barrier at the Olympic Games in 2014, winning bronze against Sweden. They were the first team outside what was then the Big Four (Canada, US, Sweden, Finland) to do so. It wasn’t a complete surprise, though, as they had won the IIHF bronze just two years earlier against Finland. While most of the women are coming from the Swiss league, this year they are drawing talent from the American college ranks and Swedish leagues as well.

Player to Watch

The bronze medal-winning goal scored against Sweden was by Alina Müller. She was 15 at the time. But hey! Anyone can get lucky once, right? Well, she followed that up with a four-goal game in the 2018 Olympic Games, tying an Olympic record. She’s going into her fourth season with the Northeastern University Huskies, where she’s scored a ridiculous 60 goals and 155 points in 100 games over three seasons. And yes, it’s another woman with a professional brother she’s outshining…

She’s led the team in scoring in all three years she’s played there, and she’ll bring that to the Women’s World Championship.

Japan – Rank: 6

After five straight second-place finishes to either China or Kazakhstan, Japan finally took gold at the Asian Games in 2017. That same year they won promotion to the top division in hockey, pushing them solidly into the top-six and getting a guaranteed berth to this year’s Women’s World Championship. Japan was the first Asian nation to join the IIHF, and they’ve earned their spot.

There’s a push for more, too. Their women’s team won the Youth Olympics gold medal in 2020. By the time relegation returns to international play, they’ll be dug into the top-level hard.

Player to Watch

Captain Chiho Osawa “joined the enemy” by moving to Luela after she helped knock Sweden out of medal contention at the 2018 Olympic Games. Then, for good measure, her team pushed Sweden out of the top level of the World’s later the next year. Imagine living with that pressure, and still getting eight goals and 18 points in 36 games on a Swedish team. She followed that up with six assists in their 11 playoff games as Luela won the league championship that year.

If you need someone who can shut out the noise and get the job done, you can do worse than Osawa.

Czech Republic – Rank: 7

This is as high as Czechia has ever ranked in women’s hockey, but they likely won’t be stopping here. They have yet to qualify for the Winter Games, so this tournament has a lot at stake for the young team. Yes, young: they have all of four players over the age of 25, and one of those – Denisa Krížová – is only 26. Speaking of which…

Player to Watch

Krížová honed her skills at Northeastern, playing four years and finishing as their sixth-highest scorer in team history. For those keeping track, that’s 62 goals and 169 points in 143 games, which isn’t too shabby. She played one season with the Boston Pride – 14 points in 16 games – before moving closer to home. She went to Byrnas with another Czech star, Katerina Mrázová, to terrorize that league for a while. Amusingly, the two followed an identical pattern: US college, one year of NWHL, then off to Byrnas.

Mrázová is a little older, but they can be well described as twin terrors. Krížová scored six goals in eight playoff games when they mattered most; Mrázová only four, but added seven assists in those same eight games. Consider this a two-for-one to watch.

Germany – Rank: 8

Germany has lagged behind the Men’s team of late, but with the Men’s success, hopefully that will inspire a wash over effect. At the Women’s World Championship in 2017, the Germans managed fourth place, their best-ever showing. Unfortunately, any sense of accomplishment there was dampened by 11-0 and 8-0 losses to the United States and Finland in their last games. They survived relegation in 2019, but it was a close call. Most of the national team players are from their domestic league.

Player to Watch

Nicola Eisenschmid decided not to take her older sister’s route through US college ranks, staying closer to home to hone her craft. When Tanja Eisenschmid returned from her turn at the University of North Dakota, though, Nicola jumped at the chance to play with her in Ingolstadt. That’s worked out well for both of them, with defenceman Tanja racking up six goals and 30 points last season, and forward Nicola? Just a league-leading 19 goals and 42 points in 24 games.

Germany’s going to need those goals if she can provide them. They are always light on finishing, putting far too much pressure on their goaltending. They were the second-lowest scoring team in 2019, and need that number to creep up to avoid being replaced by China in Beijing.

Denmark – Rank:11

This is Denmark’s breakthrough tournament – the first time playing at the top level of international hockey. They spent the first decade of the 2000s bouncing back and forth between Divisions I and II. Ironically, the IIHF changed the divisions, creating IA and IB pools just in time for Denmark to leave that third tier for good. After years in the fourth spot in what is now IA, they finally cracked the ceiling. Now the challenge is to stay.

Player to Watch

Fortunately, they have a legend on their side. The 30-year old Josephine Jakobsen has been waiting for this moment her entire professional life. She moved to Sweden at 17 to join Segeltorp IF and finished the season as the league’s fifth-highest scorer. Jakobsen was fifth again the next year and took the league lead the year after that. She eventually took her talents to the University of North Dakota for four years before digging right back into the Swedish Women’s League.

Her scoring isn’t at the heights it once was, honing an excellent all-around game in the WCHA. It’s not like she’s given it up entirely, though, with 73 goals and 165 points in 182 regular-season games since her return. She is the unquestioned captain of this team, and they’ll go as far as she can take them.

Hungary – Rank: 12

Possibly the most important game of the tournament in Group B will be the first match of Day Two. Hungary meets Germany then, and both teams know they have razor-thin margins to work with. Hungary was the host for the 2019 tournament that boosted them into the top division. Unlike the Germans, Hungary has yet to play in the Olympics. They are a core nation in the EWHL – European Women’s Hockey League. The current version has nine teams from six different nations, giving smaller countries where women’s hockey might be less popular a chance to play against good competition.

Player to Watch

Going to cheat a little here for the last selection and go with Alex Gowie. Not the most stereotypically Hungarian name because she was born in South Africa. So how did she get into hockey? By being raised in Port Coquitlam, BC, naturally. She went from there to the Okanagan Hockey Academy then to Alberta, joining the University of Calgary Dinos. She won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (now U Sports) championship there and got invited by a teammate to play in Hungary.

Then it got wild.

Gowie played in Hungary with KMH Budapest for a couple of years, gaining citizenship and joining their Olympic Qualifying team in 2017. She also played in Slovakia for HC Spisska Nová Ves; then off to Italy (and switching to defence) with EV Bozen Eagles. Continuing to play international matches for Hungary, she went back to Alberta – UofA this time – to finish her degree. Oh, and play two seasons there before going back to Hungary to join the OTHER European Women’s Hockey League team, MAC Budapest.

And now she’s back in Calgary, playing for Hungary once more. And after a story like that, how can you NOT watch?

Japan aiming high

Sena Suzuki and her Japanese teammates want to improve from their 8th-place finish at the last Women’s Worlds after a quarter-final loss against the United States

By Jim Armstrong – IIHF.com

Japan’s women’s ice hockey team is setting the bar high as they prepare for a busy schedule ahead that includes the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship later this month and the Beijing Olympics half a year later in February 2022.

Women’s ice hockey in Japan has made several big strides in recent years and the goal is to keep the momentum going heading into an Olympic year.

Japan made history last January when their women’s team beat defending champion Sweden 4-1 in the final of the 2020 Youth Olympic Games to become the first team from Asia to win a gold medal in an Olympic ice hockey competition.

Just over a year ago, Japan’s women’s team qualified automatically for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games not far from home in neighbouring China by virtue of being ranked sixth in the world.

Now, they’re moving on to the next challenge with the ambitious goal of a top-four finish at the Women’s Worlds in Calgary, Canada.

“In order to contend for a medal in Beijing our goal is to finish in the top four,” Japan coach and former Oji Eagles forward Yuji Iizuka said.

To help them with that goal, the team held three camps in summer in Hachinohe and Tomakomai and a fourth one started on Sunday in Kushiro. In spring among other things, they also played against a male high school team.

“The team wanted an atmosphere that resembles an actual game,” said defender Aoi Shiga, who played for Japan at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. “If you are going to compete on the international level you need that intensity to win the one-on-one battles.”

The Beijing women’s tournament has been expanded from eight to ten teams with the world’s top-six teams and host China all earning automatic berths. The remaining three teams will be decided through qualifiers in the upcoming months.

Japan earned berths in the last two Olympics through the qualification tournaments.

They finished last in Group B in Sochi after preliminary-round losses to Sweden, Russia and Germany.

Four years later in PyeongChang, Japan beat host Korea 4-1 after losses to Sweden and Switzerland and then beat Sweden in the placement games to reach sixth place.

Following the wins over Sweden in PyeongChang 2018 and at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne 2020 there is a greater sense of optimism that all the hard work is starting to pay off.

While Japan is far from being an ice hockey powerhouse, there is renewed interest in the game with some of their players making strides overseas.

The women’s team has been steadily improving over the years. The Japan Ice Hockey Federation brought in two-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Carla MacLeod as an assistant coach in 2012 and the team qualified for the Sochi Olympics one year later.

MacLeod is no longer with the team but keeps close tabs on Japan’s women’s hockey and sent a congratulatory note via Twitter when the team won the 2020 Youth Olympics gold.

Japan will go with a largely veteran squad at the upcoming Women’s World Championship. One player they will be counting highly on to help them achieve their goals in Canada is veteran Hanae Kubo.

The 38-year-old forward has played for the national team since 2000 while scoring a total of 37 goals. “I’m looking forward to taking a pass from one of our younger players and scoring,” Kubo said after the recent training camp.

Another veteran to make the squad is goaltender Nana Fujimoto, who won the best goaltender award at the 2015 Women’s Worlds and later that year played in the inaugural season of the National Women’s Hockey League.

The 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship is set for 20-31 August in Calgary, Canada. The tournament was rescheduled and relocated after the government of Nova Scotia had cancelled the Women’s Worlds originally planned for spring in Halifax and Truro at short notice with the Japanese team already on the way to the airport.

Japan is in Group B with the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark and Hungary.
They open the tournament on 21 August against Denmark, then play the Czechs on 23 August followed by Hungary on 24 August and Germany on 26 August.

Japan’s best finish at a Women’s World Championship so far is seventh place (2015, 2008).

Iizuka says the expectations will be higher now that Japan has qualified for the Olympics due to its place in the world ranking.

“Compared to Sochi and PyeongChang, the bar has been set higher,” Iizuka said. “The team qualified (for Beijing) not through qualifying but due to our place in the world rankings. We want to raise the level of our game to meet the challenges.”

Canada wins “little miracle” gold

The Canadian players celebrate the gold medal

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Nick Paul scored at 6:26 of the three-on-three unlimited overtime to give Canada gold.

Only three teams have ever won World Championship gold after losing three games. The Czechs lost three in 1999 but two of those losses came in the playoff round when the format was best-of-two. Canada lost three in 1997, including one of the best-of-three finals, and Sweden lost three in 1987 when there were two tiers of round robin games.

No team has ever lost four games and won gold.

There were only two returning Canadians from the 2019 finals, captain Adam Henrique and defenceman Troy Stecher.

For the Finns, they had eight who won gold two years ago: goalie Jussi Olkinuora, captain Marko Anttila, as well as Miikka Koivisto, Oliwer Kaski, Niko Ojamaki, Atte Ohtamaa, Petteri Lindbohm, and Jere Sallinen.

Canada had a tough start, incurring 16 minutes of penalties in the opening period to none for Finland. Ten of those came on a 2 + 10 call to Justin Danforth in the early going. Although the Finns didn’t capitalize on that man advantage, they did on the second one to Nick Paul for high sticking.

Kaski took a point shot with Mikael Ruohomaa in front. Rather than tip the puck, Ruohomaa stopped it, spun and put the puck onto his forehand, and lifted the puck in the open side as he was falling. The penalty to Paul had expired one second earlier, but he wasn’t able to get back in play in time.

The Canadians took a third penalty but managed to kill that as well. But the toll wasn’t so much on the Finnish side of the scoreboard as it was that Canada wasn’t able to get any flow to its game, and the big line of Henrique-Brown-Andrew Mangiapane managed only a few shifts without testing Olkinuora from in close.

Maxime Comtois tied the game for Canada early in the second after the Finns took two consecutive penalties that gave Canada 12 seconds on five-on-three in the process. Comtois hit the post on the first man advantage, swiping quickly at a loose puck, only to see it miss the empty net and dribble off the iron.

Next shift, though, Comtois converted. Brown took a long shot that drifted off the crossbar, and this time Comtois didn’t miss on the rebound opportunity.

The Finns had another power play later in the period, but Kuemper made his best save of the game when he stoned Kontiola from point-blank range.

With four minutes left in the period, Canada scored again when Adam Henrique knocked in a rebound, but as has become the norm in the tournament the defending team immediately went to its iPad to check for an offside. Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen challenged the play, and sure enough the goal was called back because the entry into the zone was offside.

Canada almost went ahead early in the third on a flukey play. Olkinuora misplayed a shoot-in and the puck bounced off the back of the net and rolled to the side, but Brandon Pirri couldn’t poke the puck in before he was checked.

That miss proved costly. Seconds later, Petteri Lindbohm fired a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle through traffic that beat Kuemper over the glove at 5:27, giving the Finns their second lead of the game.

But Canada pressed and drew a power play of their own. And they converted. Brown got the puck to the goal where Comtois put the puck between his legs and Henrique poked the rebound in at 12:37, tying the game, 2-2. The rest of the period felt like overtime, but neither team could score before 60 minutes. That set the stage for Nick Paul’s heroics.

U.S. defeats Germany for bronze

Team USA celebrates with the medals after a 6-1 bronze medal victory over Germany at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Riga, Latvia

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Conor Garland led the way with a goal and two assists as the U.S. defeated Germany 6-1 in the bronze medal game of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on Sunday.

Garland, a 25-year-old winger from the Arizona Coyotes, tied Canada’s Connor Brown for the tournament points lead (13) prior to the gold medal game. Jason Robertson and Christian Wolanin added a goal and an assist apiece. Trevor Moore, Jack Drury, and Ryan Donato also scored, while Tage Thompson recorded three assists.

“It just proves how much character guys they really are,” said U.S. head coach Jack Capuano. “It was disappointing the other night to lose [to Canada], but we played a great team again here today. You saw the penalty-killing, the special teams today, that’s just who we are. Whatever it takes, the sacrifices, the brotherhood we talked about, coming together in this tournament and growing together as a group.”

The U.S. succeeded in winning its fourth bronze medal in the last eight World Championships (2013, 2015, 2018). The only two losses for coach Jack Capuano’s team in Riga were to the 2021 finalists. The U.S. fell 2-1 to Finland in its opener and 4-2 to Canada in the semi-finals.

“It was tough, but it was worth it,” said 36-year-old captain Brian Boyle, who represented his country for the first time at these Worlds. “Being a part of this team is going to be one of my fondest memories of playing. I’m really thankful that they let me come on and I’m really proud to be part of that group.”

German coach Toni Soderholm mixed things up in net by starting Felix Bruckmann over Matthias Niederberger, who carried the load at this tournament. Bruckmann’s two previous Riga appearances were in the 2-0 group-stage loss to the Americans and the opening 9-4 romp over Italy. Unfortunately, his teammates weren’t able to generate enough goals on Sunday.

“We’re all incredibly sad,” said German captain Moritz Muller. “In the dressing room, no eye stayed dry. We would have deserved it. We felt that our team was very special. The fans watching on TV felt how unique this group is. We’re thankful we could have experienced this and sad we have not been rewarded.”

For the U.S., starter Cal Petersen returned the day after taking the loss versus Canada in the semi-final. Shots favoured Germany 34-30.

Petersen hailed the leadership of Justin Abdelkader, who was limited to six games as captain due to a lower-body injury, and Boyle, who wore the “C” the rest of the way. Neither veteran played in the NHL this season, although Abdelkader enjoyed a championship run with Switzerland’s Zug, and helped out Capuano on the bench after being sidelined.

“These are two guys that have already proven a lot in their own careers,” Petersen said. “And they made the choice to come over here and leave their families and sit in a bubble with 20 other young kids that maybe didn’t fully realize or have the kind of experience that they did. For them to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and put everything into this tournament, showing us what it means to be a leader and a winner, I think, is awesome.”

It was a rough conclusion for the Germans. Although they struggled to score goals as these Worlds progressed, they showcased their character and skill in key wins over Canada (3-1) and Latvia (2-1). They shocked Switzerland with a 3-2 quarter-final shootout win, and delivered a gritty effort in two losses to defending champion Finland (both 2-1), including the semi-finals.

“It’s been an experience for my lifetime,” said Soderholm. “Ever since we came together for camp and landed here, we felt that something is possible. We had good character here and it was an honour to work with them.”

Under Soderholm, the Germans have improved from sixth place in 2019 to fourth place this year.

Germany’s last IIHF World Championship medal was silver, back in 1953. The Germans stunned the hockey world at the 2018 Olympics in Korea by capturing the silver medal with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Thank you Riga, Hello Helsinki and Tampere

Kazakhstan beat host Latvia 3-2 following a seven-round penalty shootout on May 22

By Ilyas Omarov – Astana Times

The preliminary games of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship has become one of the most sensational in the modern history of hockey. It was pleasant  that the national team of Kazakhstan became one of the success stories of the championships.

The Kazakhstan national ice hockey team finished the world championship in fifth place in Group B, one step away from the quarter finals. In seven games of the group stage, the national team of Kazakhstan won 4 games, of which two – in regular time and two more – in a shoot-out.

Kazakh players  set a record In the sixth game of the Ice Hockey World Championship, the national team of Kazakhstan defeated the Italian team with a crushing score of 11-3. This result was the largest victory at the world championship. The team scored recorded  the most points at this tournament than during the entire time of participation in the world elite championships since it’s Independence.

The Organizing Committee of the World Championship in Riga named forward Nikita Mikhailis, goalkeeper Nikita Boyarkin and defender Darren Dietz the best players in the national team of Kazakhstan

Previously, at the world championships, Kazakhstan won a maximum of one game. For the first time in its history, the team managed to record 10 tournament points (before, the group scored no more than two). For the first time, Kazakh team managed to beat the reigning world champions (Finland 2-1SO). For the first time, Kazakhstan won 11:3 This result is the biggest win in tournament history.

The list of records also includes the most  goals 22. Kazakhstan have never finish in fifth place in the modern format of the group stage.

This achievement can even be slightly compared when Kazakhstan national team went to the quarterfinals at the White Olympics in Nagano in 1998.

At the World Championships 2021, the national team of Kazakhstan for the first time in many years ceased to be a team, which continuously runs between the hockey elite and the first division.

In this regard, it is necessary to pay attention to the opinion of the legend of Finnish hockey player, and former professional ice hockey winger and a five-time Stanley Cup champion, who was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history, Jari Kurri, who noted before the World Championship that Kazakhstan is able to surprise at the World Championships.

Later some foreign experts noted that the team of Kazakhstan played over its head and played beyond its capabilities.

A pleasant discovery was the play of the national team goalkeeper Nikita Boyarkin, defender Ivan Stepanenko, Darren Dietz and Jesse Blacker played reliably in defense. Veteran Alexander Shin helped the team a lot. Nikita Mikhailis showed his finesse  and fast skating hockey. Team captain Roman Starchenko confirmed his reputation. Artem Likhotnikov’s goal became one of the top 10 in the championship.

Of course, it is necessary to note the great contribution of the coaching staff headed by Yuri Mikhailis.

Next year, the national team of Kazakhstan will again go to the World Ice Hockey Championship, which is planned to be held in Helsinki and Tampere.

Hopefully, the performance of Kazakh hockey players on the Finnish ice will become even more successful in 2022.

Women’s Worlds in Calgary

WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park will host the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship

By IIHF / Hockey Canada

Following the cancellation of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, Hockey Canada has announced that Alberta will host the event for the first time, with Calgary confirmed as the new host city.

The 31-game schedule will be played at WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park from 20 to 31 August 2021, with 10 teams from around the world competing for gold. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced the new dates for the Women’s Worlds on 30 April, and the 2021 edition of tournament will mark the eighth time Canada has hosted the event.

“Despite the unfortunate cancellation of the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in April, Hockey Canada’s ongoing priority has been to host the event this year, and we have remained committed to running a world-class event in Canada,” said Scott Smith, president and chief operating officer with Hockey Canada. “A tremendous amount of work and collaboration with Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services has taken place to ensure the event will be held in a safe and secure manner. We are grateful to the Province of Alberta, the City of Calgary, Tourism Calgary, WinSport and all our event partners for working together to provide the best women’s hockey players in the world an opportunity to compete for a gold medal.” 

It has been and will continue to be a priority to make sure the women’s game is represented and played, therefore the IIHF has worked since the day of the cancellation by the government of Nova Scotia with Hockey Canada as host country and with the other participating nations to find new dates and a new venue for the event.

To maintain the safety of all participants and the greater community at large, all health and safety protocols and measures will be adhered to leading up to and for the duration of the tournament.

Teams are expected to arrive in Calgary on 10 August and will immediately enter quarantine before resuming practices and possible pre-tournament games before the puck drops on 20 August. A full tournament schedule will be announced at a later date.

Visit womensworlds.hockey for the newest developments on the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.

Anger and bewilderment over Swedish ‘fiasco’

Lights off for Sweden: Tre Kronor didn’t reach the quarter-final at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship

By  Andy Potts – IIHF.com

In Sweden, the natives are restless. On national TV channel SVT, former international player Jonas Andersson described the country’s World Championship campaign as “the biggest failure in modern times”.

Online, Sportexpressen said Sweden’s early elimination in Riga was a “fiasco”.

The anger comes after a historical failure from the Tre Kronor. Since 1992, when the IIHF introduced a knock-out round to the World Championship, Sweden has always been a part of it. History shows that we have to go way back to 1937 for the last time the country failed to crack the top eight at the Worlds. 

Typically, Sweden is expected to be among the medals. Back in 1928 there was Olympic silver, and a first stand-alone World Championship medal came in 1947 with another silver in Czechoslovakia. The 1953 tournament brought Sweden the first of 11 golds. With 17 silver and 16 bronze, the Swedes arrived in Riga with 47 medals from 69 previous appearances at the Worlds.

What went wrong?

There was little apparent cause for concern when the roster was announced. Sure, there were only five NHLers, but in a year when all nations were restricted in their choices due to the pandemic Sweden was not alone in looking beyond its biggest names. OK, injury robbed the team of Carl Klingberg after just two games and defenceman Nils Lundqvist also had to drop out of the team after an encouraging start to the championship, but this was a roster that left a vacant spot among the forwards until the bitter end, which hardly suggests an urgent desire to replace those absentees.

The campaign unravelled on the first weekend. If a 4-3 loss to Denmark – the first time Sweden had lost to its rival across the Oresund in World Championship play – was an unwelcome surprise, the follow-up 1-0 reverse against newly-promoted Belarus hinted at a bigger problem. Several teams were struggling for results – the Czech Republic, a Group A rival, also went 0-for-2 – but dropping two games to rank outsiders left Johan Garpenlov and his team with little room to manoeuvre.

Briefly, all seemed well when a 7-0 thrashing destroyed Switzerland’s unbeaten start to proceedings, but a third-period implosion against the Czechs saw a 2-0 lead melt into a 4-2 loss and Sweden needed snookers. Playing catch-up, the Tre Kronor defeated Britain and Slovakia but the ROC proved one game too far and a shootout loss eliminated the team.

There were problems at both ends of the ice. The offence packed an intermittent punch – see that seven-goal show against the Swiss – but too often struggled to put pucks in the net. The team ranked just 10th for scoring efficiency, placed between Britain and Latvia. That isn’t always a disaster – Finland is currently ranked even lower and could top Group B – but the Swedish defence developed a habit of coming unstuck at key moments. The PK failed against the Czechs, opening a road back into both the game and the tournament for Filip Pesan’s team. Then, in the key battle with the Russians, two goals in 12 seconds flipped the game upside down and what could have been a vital victory turned into a crushing loss.

What they said

Head coach Garpenlov, in his first World Championship campaign, took it on the chin. “It’s a big failure for me as a coach and a big failure for us as a hockey nation,” he said after the loss on Monday. “We’re not happy with the result, but it is what it is.”

Now he is braced for a backlash as the team returns home sooner than planned. “That’s the way it works in this business,” he added. “If you don’t have the results they are gonna go after you and after the federation. For me it’s been a tough World Championship but I learned a lot. It’s been a tough year with corona, that’s been challenging not just for our team but for every team here. It’s been a different year. But then again I know people back in Sweden are not very happy.”

Garpenlov added that he felt bad for his players, and they were feeling sorry for themselves after the game as well. Victor Olofsson, whose tying goal in the third period against ROC provided a glimmer of hope – or prolonged the agony, depending on your point of view – summed it up.

“We didn’t make it to the quarter-final,” he said. “Coming into this tournament we had a goal to go all the way and win it and I think we had a team that could definitely do it. But we’re sitting here now and didn’t even make the playoffs, so it’s a huge failure for us.”

Garpenlov and Olofsson both blamed Sweden’s problems on its poor start to the competition, and team captain Henrik Tommernes agreed, dismissing suggestions that this year’s unusual circumstances played a part.

“It’s the same for every team in this bubble,” he said. “It’s definitely different but on the other hand we had 20 guys playing their first championship, so we didn’t know what to expect. 

“In the end its just hockey on the ice and those first two games kinda destroyed the whole tournament for us.”

The reaction

The Swedish media has not taken kindly to the team’s performance, with journalists quick to call for Garpenlov’s resignation.

Anger and disappointment are clear in comments from Swedish hockey legends.

“I have no comment on whether this is a fiasco or not,” said Hall-of-Famer Kent Nilsson. “They didn’t play well in the first two games.

“But it’s clear that Sweden should progress in a tournament when there are eight teams in the group. Of course they should.”

Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, who coached Sweden to its unique World and Olympic double gold in 2006 by winning the Worlds here in Riga, warned that the team could expect a rough reception when it returns home.

“They are going to have to bite on a sour apple,” he told Sportexpressen. “There will be pressure from media, and even from family and friends. People wonder what on Earth they were doing, how they got beaten by Denmark when it never happened before. Of course it will be a difficult situation.”

And he was unequivocal when asked what needed to change for next year.

“Everything,” Gustafsson added. “We really need to get to grips with this and move forward again.”

However, other voices – such as Aftonbladet’s Mats Wennerholm – called for a more cautious response. Wennerholm argued that Sweden’s World Championship successes owed more to the availability of NHL players – the Sedins in 2013, Hedman, Backstrom and Nylander in Cologne, or the Zibanejad-Rackell-Janmark line a year later in Copenhagen – than to the head coach. And he credited Garpenlov, during his time as assistant to Rikard Gronberg, with helping to rebuild the relationship between Tre Kronor and its Trans-Atlantic talent. 

The 1937 edition

Hockey in the pre-war era was a different game. The 1937 championship was played in London, England, home of a GB team that was defending Olympic and World champion. The USSR had yet to take up the game. Canada picked up its ninth World Championship, going unbeaten through the tournament. Britain was second, losing 3-0 to Canada in the final group stage. Switzerland won bronze, pushing Germany out of the medals.

Sweden played three games in the initial group stage, losing all of them and scoring just one goal. After an opening 3-0 loss to Poland, the Swedes took a first-period lead against France but lost 2-1. The final game was a 9-0 thrashing from Canada, condemning Sweden to last place in Group B and immediate elimination, without even a place in the classification round. The Swedes joined Norway and Romania in a tie for ninth place and has never since dropped so low – until now.

Finland hungry to repeat

Towering forward Marko Anttila scored huge playoff goals in Finland’s 2019 gold-medal run, and he’s one of eight returnees from that team

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Finland’s 2021 IIHF World Championship roster features a whopping 14 rookies. For some countries, that amount of inexperience would spell doom. Yet for the defending champions under head coach Jukka Jalonen, this is not necessarily a problem.

The Finns, who have won this tournament three times (1995, 2011, 2019), famously tend to overachieve when they don’t bring a roster laden with NHL talent. In 2019 in Slovakia, their commitment to team defence, coupled with a marvellous transition game, yielded three monster playoff upsets over stacked opponents, even they only had two active NHLers in forward Juho Lammikko and defenceman Henri Jokiharju. Finland topped Sweden 5-4 in overtime in the quarter-final, Russia 1-0 in the semi-final, and Canada 3-1 in the final.

After an extended two-year wait due to the global pandemic, the road to gold begins anew for the Finns in Group B in Riga. In 2006, the previous time the tournament took place in the Latvian capital, Suomi earned the bronze medal by beating Canada 5-0. Let’s take a closer look at the weapons Jalonen has in his 2021 arsenal – including eight returnees from Slovakia.

Goal

In 2019, a 25-year-old Kevin Lankinen – fresh off paying his dues as an AHL rookie with the Rockford IceHogs – outplayed Henrik Lundqvist, Andrei Vasilevski, and Matt Murray in the medal round. That sets the bar high for the two experienced KHL netminders vying for crease time in 2021.

Harri Sateri has the edge in terms of experience. The 31-year-old former San Jose Sharks prospect was Finland’s starter in both 2017 and 2018, totalling an impressive 1.85 GAA and 92.6 win percentage in 11 World Championship games. However, Sateri also came home emptyhanded both times. This season, the Sibir Novosibirsk starter amassed a 2.27 GAA and 92.2 save percentage in 47 games, but that didn’t stop his club from missing the KHL playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

If Jalonen wants to ride the hot hand, Juho Olkinuora, 30, may be his best bet. In 2019, the 190-cm, 91-kg Olkinuora made 12 saves for a 5-0 shutout versus Great Britain in his lone Worlds appearance, but you can’t read too much into that. More importantly, the 2018 CHL champion with JYP put up some of the KHL’s best regular-season numbers this season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk (1.90 GAA, 93.5 save percentage). Olkinuora led his team into the second round of the playoffs before falling to eventual champion Avangard Omsk in a six-game series.

Should third goalie Janne Juvonen (Leksands IF) get to play, it’ll be the 26-year-old’s first IIHF game since an 8-0 relegation-round win over Germany at the 2013 World Juniors.

Defence

Olli Maatta, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017), is hoping to recapture some of that winning feeling. The 26-year-old defenceman had a difficult season with the Los Angeles Kings. Maatta hit a career-low in average time on ice (16:38) on the third pairing and missed nine games after suffering an upper-body injury against Vegas on 21 March. Nonetheless, this Jyvaskyla native knows all about performing in big games.

Oliwer Kaski and Ville Pokka bring plenty of good vibes after helping Avangard Omsk take its first KHL title ever in April. Kaski, who spent 2019-20 with Detroit and Carolina’s AHL affiliates, is well-known for his hard shot, but the biggest of his 10 playoff points came when he fed Sergei Tolchinski for the 1-0 winner versus CSKA Moscow in Game Six of the final. Another freshly minted champion is 30-year-old veteran Miika Koivisto, who helped Vaxjo Lakers capture their third SHL title. Koivisto joins Kaski, Atte Ohtamaa (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl), and Petteri Lindbohm (ECH Biel) among 2019 blueline returnees.

Overall, don’t expect a ton of scoring from this group, but Jalonen should spread the minutes out smartly to maximize its potential.

Forward

Despite the unavailability of most Finnish NHL forwards and the top Salavat Yulaev Ufa trio of Teemu Hartikainen, Markus Granlund, and Sakari Manninen, the Finns will likely find ways to score by putting lots of pucks on net.

Among the nine newcomers at forward, the most eagerly anticipated debut surely belongs to Anton Lundell. The 2020 first-round pick of the Florida Panthers captained Finland to bronze at this year’s World Juniors in Edmonton with 10 points (6+4=10) in seven games. Lundell, a heady 19-year-old centre who also owns a 2019 World Junior gold medal and wore an “A” with HIFK, could be an impact player under Jalonen, whether or not he contributes offensively the way, say, an 18-year-old Sebastian Aho did in his 2016 Worlds debut (3+4=7 in 10 games).

Notching six points (1+5=6) in 17 games with the Buffalo Sabres, 23-year-old NHL rookie Arttu Ruotsalainen made a positive impression amid tough circumstances with the last-place club. The Oulu-born forward, who also racked up 27 points in just 19 games with Ilves this year, will look to fit in with a solid two-way game in his first Worlds. And winger Jere Karjalainen (HK Sochi), making his Worlds debut at age 28, led the Finns with four points at the just-concluded Czech Hockey Games. Shining in Riga would be a nice bonus for Karjalainen, since he’ll join Dinamo Riga in 2021-22.

Meanwhile, Petri Kontiola’s return to the Worlds after a six-year absence will be keenly scrutinized. The playmaking centre owns two Worlds silver medals (2007, 2014) and an Olympic bronze medal (2014) and last faced IIHF competition at the 2018 Olympics. The 36-year-old Kontiola led Liiga with 55 points (14+41=55) for HPK this season, and 29 of those points came on the power play, which is encouraging. Still, it’s hard to expect Kontiola to live up to his 2013 peak when he led the Worlds in scoring (8+8=16).

But never mind that: what can Marko “Morko” Anttila possibly do for an encore after his 2019 playoff run? Scoring the late equalizer against Sweden and the winners against Russia and Canada is an act that’ll be tough to follow for the 203-cm, 104-kg folk hero, who captained Jokerit this year. All we can say for sure is that anything is possible.

Coaching

Over the last 10 years, Jukka Jalonen’s two gold medals (2011, 2019) as a head coach have only been matched by Sweden’s Rikard Gronborg (2017, 2018). The 58-year-old, whose resume also includes 2016 World Junior gold and KHL stints with SKA St. Petersburg and Jokerit, has long been touted as a potential NHL coaching candidate, and winning another championship could springboard him across the Atlantic.

After 2019’s triumph, Jalonen told The Coaches Site that creating a positive atmosphere where the players feel respected is essential for team spirit. That’s certainly reflected in the on-ice compete level of his teams. Karpat head coach Mikko Manner returns for the fourth straight time as a Worlds assistant coach, while Assat’s Ari-Pekka Selin, who served as Kazakhstan’s bench boss at his last Worlds in 2014, is a new assistant for Jalonen.

Projected Results

With recent success not just at the Olympics and Worlds, but also at the U18 and U20 levels, the Finns now expect to medal – if not win – at every tournament. Despite a lack of big names, they could certainly top Group B, especially if Canada and the U.S. struggle to come together.

Both goaltending and defence should be solid, so medal round success will likely hinge on Finland’s ability to generate sufficient and timely scoring. Sometimes that’s a problem. Veterans like Anttila and Koivisto were there in 2018 when the Finns fell 1-0 to Canada in the Olympic quarter-final and 3-2 to Switzerland in the World Championship quarter-final. However, if they can avoid those kinds of pitfalls, repeating as champions isn’t out of the question.

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