March is the most exciting month for women’s hockey. First, the CWHL had its Clarkson Cup Tournament in Markham, Ontario, followed just a few weeks later by the women’s NCAA Frozen Four, this time in Minneapolis, Minnesota (with the Minnesota Golden Gophers coming out on top).
With both the CWHL and NCAA seasons over, all of the best female players in the world are now free for the IIHF Women’s World Championships, opening in Malmö, Sweden on March 28. Outside of the Olympics, it’s the largest and most diverse high-level tournament for women’s hockey, and it happens with much more frequency.
Read past the jump for a preview of the upcoming event!
Meaning no disrespect to the other countries in the tournament, the WWC has never had a final between anyone other than Canada and the United States since its inception in 1990, and it is expected to be the same this year. I’m only going to preview individual players from the greatest international rivalry in all of hockey. But check the bottom of this post for assorted notes on the other competing nations.
GOALTENDERS TO WATCH
Canada: Emerance Maschmeyer is fresh off a runner-up performance in the NCAA championship, and Genevieve Lacasse just won the Clarkson Cup and managed to get red hot towards the end of the CWHL season.
Lacasse posted a 0.920 save percentage during the regular season and a 0.950 during the playoffs. Maschmeyer and Lacasse played in the 4 Nations Cup together, splitting duties. Maschmeyer had the lighter duty versus Finland and Sweden, and saw fewer shots. Lacasse is the likely #1 for the WWC, with Ann-Renee Desbiens serving as the third string.
USA: Molly Schaus and Jessie Vetter are both Olympic veterans, but they haven’t recently been part of any pro teams. Schaus and Alex Rigsby split duties during the 2014 4 Nations Cup, but Schaus was the go-to with a 0.950 save percentage and 0.86 goals against average, and backstopped Team USA in a tight Final against Canada. Vetter hasn’t played at all since the 2014 Olympics, but she was spectacular in those. The Americans are deeper in goal; seeing who starts each game should be fun.
FORWARDS TO WATCH
Canada: It’s a bit of a Calgary Inferno reunion up front for Team Canada, as Bailey Bram, Jessica Campbell, Sarah Davis, and Rebecca Johnston are all on the WWC roster. Johnston led the CWHL in scoring with 37 points (17G, 20A in 24 games), while Campbell is a pure finisher, scoring 12 goals in 21 games. Haley Irwin, the playmaker behind some of the best Inferno offense this season, has been replaced by Caroline Ouellette, but she’s still a fantastic addition who can fill Irwin’s set-up role and is one of the best defensive forwards in the CWHL.
Canada will also have the services of Marie-Philip Poulin, of the two Olympic gold-medal-winning goals. Poulin is a senior at Boston University who has 27G/27A in 32 games. Jennifer Wakefield is a player who might fly under the radar–she’s been playing in a men’s league in Sweden, but she was a top scorer for Canada in the 4 Nations Cup and was on the medal-winning team in Sochi as well.
USA: Team USA has its pick of the best college hockey forwards, and it shows. Alex Carpenter from Boston College led the entire NCAA in scoring as a junior, with a whopping 81 points (37G, 44A). The next four leading scorers in Division I hockey are Hannah Brandt, Haley Skapura, and Dani Cameranesi–all also joining Team USA. Add Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, and Joceylne Lamoureux to the mix, and Team USA is easily the most offensively stacked group in the tournament. Decker, in case you forgot, had 32 points in 12 games for the Boston Blades this season. While Canada has the two-way factor going for them, it will be hard to match Team USA in terms of pure goal-scoring ability.
DEFENDERS TO WATCH
Canada: Laura Fortino and Tara Watchorn, who played for Brampton and Boston respectively in the CWHL this season, are probably the two most formidable offensive threats, as both were among the best in scoring from the blueline in the CWHL this season.
Watchorn is also a physical player who will be able to take the opposition out of the play with ease. Halli Krzyzaniak and Brigette Lacquette are the two college players on the roster; both are coming off of strong seasons in the WCHA and should be good for some timely playmaking.
USA: Lee Stecklein, Michelle Picard, Anne Schleper, Monique Lamoureux, and Kacey Bellamy all return from the 2014 Olympic roster. Stecklein and Picard are both young, but still bring experience, on top of their strong seasons. Stecklein has doubled her production from her last season with Minnesota (prior to the Olympics) while Picard remains defensively responsible beyond her years on the backend.
Keller is a freshman at Boston College, and her 20 assists (plus 4 goals) on the year are impressive, even on the high-flying Eagles offense. Pfalzer, also a BC Eagle, is a veteran senior who has already played in several U18 championships. Her 42 regular season points are best among defensewomen in the NCAA this year.
KEEP AN EYE ON…
They’ve been a perennial contender for the bronze medal in this tournament every year it has been played, and they have pretty good goaltending this year. Vilma Vaattovaara has carried the majority of the workload for the University of New Hampshire this season, keeping her head above water on a team that struggled to find offense and win games. However, their likely starter is Meeri Raisanen, who recently played in the European Women’s Champions Cup and won Best Goaltender of the tourney on the strength of her 0.950 save percentage and two shutouts.
Team Sweden, the home team.
The Tre Kronor bring quite a few players from the American college system and Swedish league players with good offensive skills, and will be eager to win in front of their home crowd.
Team Japan, rejoining the top-level tournament for the first time since 2009.
TSN will be showing all of Canada’s games and the medal games, but there will be no dedicated streaming for all of USA’s games. Watch This Hockey has a rundown of the schedule and viewing options, including live stats.