Team Canada relying on veterans as it looks to regain women’s hockey world championship

When the final buzzer sounded at Brampton’s CAA Centre last April, Team Canada had to watch the Americans celebrating on Canadian home ice.

A hat trick from Hilary Knight propelled the U.S. to a 6-3 win in the final, ending a Canadian bid for three straight world championship titles.

A year later, the Canadians have the opportunity to return the favour as their quest for redemption begins in Utica, N.Y., on Thursday when they face Finland in the first preliminary round game of the women’s world championship.

Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the United States round out group A, while Japan, China, Germany, Sweden and Denmark will compete in group B.

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Going into this year’s tournament, Canadian GM Gina Kingsbury didn’t see a need for major changes. She thinks the team had a strong performance in 2023, even if it didn’t result in a championship.

“I know we probably didn’t score as many goals as we’re maybe used to from an Olympic perspective and that performance,” Kingsbury said. “But I thought we played a really great collective game all the way through. That gold medal game as well, I felt that we had control of that game for the majority of the game.”

The Americans held an evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., last week to select its roster.

Canada took a different approach, naming its roster in early March. Instead of a selection camp, the team gathered in Kingston, Ont., last week to start building chemistry and fine-tuning special teams.

A veteran roster

There will be plenty of familiar faces on Canada’s roster, with 20 players returning from last year’s team. Cousins Julia and Nicole Gosling will make their world championship debut while Olympic gold medallist Ashton Bell returns to the blue line.

While the Americans will field a roster filled with lots of young, NCAA talent, Canada is bringing a roster filled with a bit more veteran talent, from captain Marie-Philip Poulin to Brianne Jenner, Jocelyne Larocque and Natalie Spooner.

“Some people may think we’re too cautious in a sense and would love to see a lot more young players on our roster,” Kingsbury said. “But we’ve got an incredible group of core athletes that have been with us for quite some time that have experience, that know how to win. They understand culture. They’ve established an incredible culture with our program.

“So for us, it’s making sure we bring up athletes that we feel are truly ready to compete at that level, and that will be successful at that level.”

Will the tweaks be enough to get past the Americans? Is this the year a Czech Republic team on the rise will break through to the gold medal game?

Here are eight players to watch during this year’s tournament: 

Sarah Fillier, F (Princeton University, NCAA)

Fillier is only 23 but is entering her fourth world championship. She was Canada’s best player and tournament MVP last year, posting 11 points in seven games.

Projected to be the top pick in the 2024 PWHL draft, Fillier is one of Canada’s best offensive threats, but she’s also responsible defensively.

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The 23-year-old forward from Georgetown, Ont., says she’s watched almost every game and is excited to join the league next season.

“She’s extremely smart,” Kingsbury said. 

Usually a centre, Fillier has spent the last few months playing on the wing at Princeton. It gives Canada’s coaching staff more options to deploy one of the best players.

Grace Zumwinkle, F (PWHL Minnesota)
United States

Zumwinkle returns to the American world championship roster after being left off the squad that won gold last year.

It comes on the heels of a monster first professional season in the PWHL, where the Minnesota forward sits second behind Natalie Spooner for the league lead in goals (nine). Zumwinkle keeps finding ways to create chances for herself and her teammates, and her size and speed make her difficult to stop when she’s driving hard to the net.

A female hockey player wearing purple uniform is seen celebrating a goal.
Grace Zumwinkle could be a difference-maker on Team USA in the right role. (David Berding/Getty Images))

With the right opportunity, she should be a difference-maker for Team USA.

Noora Tulus, F (Luleå HF, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)

Finland returns to the more difficult group A this year, but boasts a ton of skill up front including Petra Nieminen, who has been one of the goal scorers in the world for a while now, and Viivi Vainikka.

But it’s worth keeping an eye on Noora Tulus, who led the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL) in scoring with 61 points in 36 games this year en route to another championship for Luleå. Tulus is expected to declare for the 2024 PWHL draft, where she’s likely to be a high pick.

Natalie Spooner, F (PWHL Toronto)

Spooner has been playing the best hockey of her career this season with PWHL Toronto, where she’s scored a league-leading 15 goals, and with Team Canada, where she had six points in three Rivalry Series games.

She’s a quintessential power forward who uses her speed and skill to get to the net. She’s difficult to move once she puts herself there.

Women's hockey player greets fans before playing a hockey game.
Natalie Spooner has been playing the best hockey of her career this season with PWHL Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

“In and around the net, I don’t know if there’s very many that can compete with her in that area,” said Kingsbury, who’s also PWHL Toronto’s GM. “She’s big, she’s strong, she creates space.”

Canada’s coaching staff could reunite Spooner with Fillier, knowing the two have chemistry. Or they could bring back an all-PWHL-Toronto line of Emma Maltais, Sarah Nurse and Spooner that looked dominant at the Rivalry Series.

Adéla Šapovalivová, F (MoDo Hockey, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)
Czech Republic

Šapovalivová captained the Czech Republic’s under-18 team to history in January by beating Canada to get to the gold medal game for the first time.

Still only 17, Šapovalivová put up 29 points in 32 games with MoDo in the SDHL, where she played against players much older than her.

“She makes plays out of almost nothing,” Jared Cipparone, her coach with MoDo Hockey, told CBC Sports. “She’s got a really good eye for goal scoring.” 

Šapovalivová has another year of play in the SDHL before she joins one of the best NCAA programs, Wisconsin, in 2025. 

“I think within five years, she’ll be one of the best players in the world,” Cipparone said.

Kateřina Mrázová, F (PWHL Ottawa)
Czech Republic

Mrázová has been a big part of the Czech Republic’s hard-to-play against identity over the last two world championships, earning back-to-back bronze medals.

A hockey player stickhandles the puck away from a falling opponent during a game.
Kateřina Mrázová has been part of one of the best lines in the PWHL lately in Ottawa, forming a trio with Brianne Jenner and Daryl Watts. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Mrázová centres one of the best lines in the PWHL right now in Ottawa, where she leads the team in points. 

“It was really apparent how smart she is as a player,” Ottawa linemate Daryl Watts said of getting to know Mrázová. “She’s got an edge to her, which is really fun.”

That edge and skill, from Mrázová and other Czech players like Tereza Vanišová, could be the X factor in helping the team make its first gold-medal game.

Lina Ljungblom, F (MoDo Hockey, Swedish Women’s Hockey League)

Ljungblom, 22, was Sweden’s top goal-scorer at worlds last year. She followed it up with a campaign with MoDo in Sweden that saw her finish third in points across the league, helping MoDo to the league final.

A natural goal scorer, she’ll be Sweden’s best offensive threat. But she’s also improved without the puck, according to Cipparone, her coach with MoDo.

“She was the leader of our team in terms of setting the tempo and how to play,” he said.

A hockey player in a Sweden jersey carries the puck in front of a German goaltender.
Forward Lina Ljungblom will be a threat to score for Sweden. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Pres)

A 15th-round pick by Montreal in last year’s PWHL draft, she could find her way to North America in the near future.

Caroline Harvey, D (University of Wisconsin, NCAA)
United States

Arguably the Americans’ best player in last year’s tournament, 21-year-old Harvey is entering her fourth world championship.

She’s fresh off helping Wisconsin to an NCAA final, in a season where she was named defender of the year in her conference.

The offensive defender led the U.S. in scoring with 14 points in seven games at last year’s tournament, and should be a big part of this team for years to come.

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