Pauliina Salonen and Emilia Kyrkko were among the young players joining the Finnish women’s senior national team.

By  Erin Brown –

Nineteen women’s national teams were in action across Europe between 7 to 12 February in preparation for upcoming 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championships in April.

The four multi-nation tournaments took place in Germany, Hungary, Poland and Estonia and featured the senior team debuts of a few U18 standouts — including Finnish goalkeeper Emilia Kyrkko, Czechia’s Tereza Plosova and Slovakia’s Nela Lopusanova.

Ukraine’s women’s team also returned to competition for the first time since December 2021.

Finland dominates in Fussen

Finland went unbeaten and outscored its opponents 16-3 in four games in Fussen, Germany.

The Finns opened with an 8-2 win against Switzerland, then posted 3-0 and 1-0 shutouts against Germany and Czechia, respectively. They closed with a 4-1 win over rival Sweden.

“We have grown a lot as a team during the season and we have welded together well,” Finland coach Saara Niemi said. “Our active defence in every area of the ice has paid off. In addition, we have developed our attacking game.”

Kyrkko and Anni Keisala held opponents without a goal for a stretch of 163:33 before Swedish defender Anna Kjellbin struck in the final contest.

Kyrkko led the tournament with a 0.5 goals-against average and 96.3 save percentage in her senior debut. The Best Goalkeeper at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, Kyrkko finished with two wins and earned a shutout with 15 saves against Czechia.

Jenni Hiirikoski, who shared the tournament lead in goals with teammate Petra Nieminen with four apiece, provided the game-winner against the Czechs just under seven minutes into the defence-heavy contest.

Nieminen finished atop the scoring leaders with seven points (four goals, three assists). Defender Sanni Rantala ranked second with six, all assists.

Czechia, which captured bronze at the 2022 Women’s Worlds, finished second. Plosova, 16, led her team with three goals and two assists in her first appearance with Czechia’s senior squad.

Sweden (2-2-0-0) placed third.

The teams will face off again from 5 to 16 April at the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

Japan, Hungary stand out in Budapest

Haruka Toko provided the game-deciding goal a 4-3 shootout win over host Hungary, lifting Japan to a first-place finish at the Five Nations Tournament in Budapest.

The forward finished the tournament with two goals and nine assists, while Rui Ukita notched six goals and three assists. Riko Kawaguchi and Kiku Kobayashi each recorded shutouts. The Japanese, who went unbeaten in three games, outscored opponents 21-3 and outshot them 138-56.

In the most closely contested tournament of the week, the mix of top-level and Division IA teams required shootouts in four of the nine games.

Hungary, which appeared in one more match than Japan, finished with eight points. France (1-0-1-1) placed third.

All three teams will compete at the top-level Women’s World Championship in Brampton. Norway and Slovakia aim to join them with a promotion from the Division IA in Shenzen, China.

The tournament schedule favoured the Japanese, who only played their first game after all teams except France had skated twice. Slovakia was competing in its fourth game in as many days when it fell to Japan, 10-0.

“The Japanese women have a very strong team and they entered the match relaxed,” Slovakia coach Arto Sieppi said. “After four games, we ran out of energy, but that is logical. We saw what our female players are capable of. It was another important step for us on the way forward.”

Slovakia’s Nela Lopusanova had five points in her senior debut. The 14-year-old phenom scored a hat trick in the opener, a 7-6 shootout loss to Hungary. She added two primary assists and a shootout goal in Slovakia’s 3-2 win over Norway the next day.

Lopusanova became the first women’s player to score a lacrosse-style goal in international competition and earned MVP honours with 12 points at 2023 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship.

Making their Budapest homecoming, Fanni Garat-Gasparics and Reka Dabasi powered Hungary’s second-place finish. Garat-Gasparics, formerly of MAC Budapest, had four goals and an assist. Dabasi, a long-time KMH Budapest star, finished with a goal and four assists. Both are playing this season with PHF’s Metropolitan Riveters in New York.

Danes go unbeaten in Katowice

Julie Oksbjerg (three goals, one assist) and Silke Glud (two goals, two assists) led Denmark to a sweep in Poland. Netminder Caroline Bjergstad, who shouldered the workload for the Danes, finished with three wins and a 93.7 save percentage.

Oksberg provided the game-winner with 54 seconds remaining in a 2-1 win over second-place Italy.

The Italians secured their finish with a comeback victory over Poland. Trailing 1-0 on a goal by Poland’s Wiktoria Dziwok, Italy’s Greta Niccolai  struck twice in the final three minutes. Niccolai delivered the game-winner with nine seconds left in regulation.

Italy finished also with a 4-2 win over Great Britain.

Denmark will compete at the Division I-A tournament in China, while Italy, Poland and Great Britain will take part in the Division I-B competition in Suwon, Korea.

Ukraine returns, Lithuania shines at Baltic Cup

The Ukrainian women’s national team returned to action for the first time in 14 months and finished second in the 2023 Baltic Cup in Kohtla-Jarve, Estonia.

Ukraine defeated Estonia, 3-2, with captain Daria Tsymyrenko delivering the game-deciding goal in an eight-round shootout. The Ukrainians fell 7-4 to Lithuania the next day.

Lithuania’s Klara Mueller recorded 10 points in the event’s final two matches to earn Best Player honours. The 19-year-old scored four goals and added an assist the triumph over Ukraine and followed with a hat trick and two assists in a 6-0 win against Estonia.

“The women’s team gained much-needed game experience in this tournament, and we know what we have to work on,” Estonian captain Kirke Kulla said. “I would like to thank the team manager Juri Rooba, who organized the whole tournament so well.”

The teams will all meet again alongside Bulgaria, Hong Kong and Romania at the Division IIIA tournament from 3 to 9 April in Brasov, Romania.

In other action, the Netherlands and Austria split a two-game exhibition series in preparation for the Women’s World Championship Division IA. The orange team won 3-1 in the first match before falling 5-3 in the second. The games drew about 1,800 spectators across both days.

Canada and the United States will face off in the final two contests their Rivalry Series 20-22 Feb. in Trois-Rivieres and Laval, Quebec, Canada. The U.S. leads the series, 3-2.