There aren’t too many teams that would consider a silver medal disappointing.
For the first time in 20 years, though, that’s the position Canada finds itself in. It hasn’t even been four years since the crushing shootout defeat to USA in the gold medal game, and the entire landscape of Canadian women’s hockey has changed.
Players haven’t been able to play together as often with the sudden 2019 folding of the CWHL. In its ashes rose the PWHPA, but with inconsistent scheduling and not a ton of game information, it's tough to use that data to get a true gauge.
Then there’s the positive side, with the emergence of college and young stars like Loren Gabel, Micah Zandee-Hart and others, ready to carry the torch for the next generation.
There’s no reality where Team Canada isn’t going to be really, really good. This edition is going to be quite different, though, even while carrying over some of the talent that made the gold medal appearance possible.
LW: Jamie Lee Rattray, Loren Gabel, Sarah Nurse, Jill Saulnier, Laura Stacey
C: Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Fillier, Brianne Jenner, Blayre Turnbull
RW: Melodie Daoust, Victoria Bach, Natalie Spooner, Emily Clark
LD: Jocelyne Larocque, Micah Zandee-Hart, Lauriane Rougeau, Claire Thompson
RD: Renata Fast, Jamie Bourbonnais, Brigette Lacquette
G: Ann-Renee Desbiens, Genevieve Lacasse, Emerance Maschmeyer
Honourable mentions: Rebecca Johnston, Laura Fortino, Erin Ambrose, Meaghan Mikkelson, Meghan Agosta, Daryl Watts, Elizabeth Giguere, Mikyla Grant-Mentis
Some of the names here are obvious: Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Nurse, Jocelyne Larocque.
Since there hasn’t been much in international women’s hockey in the past year, the rest of this projection has to get a bit creative. Despite not playing the women’s Worlds last year, Canada still named a 23-player roster, so we can get a bit of an idea who the program is anticipating bringing to Beijing in 2022.
Hockey Canada had a 47-player training camp in Calgary early this year as well, where they got an extra look at who could make the final cut.
Almost everyone expected to make the Olympic roster was named to the 2020 Worlds roster. So, that makes it a little bit simple.
Lacquette wasn’t there, but she feels like a shoo-in now. There’s so much young talent knocking on the door to make the roster, and perhaps there will be some surprises, but losing essentially a year of competition doesn’t make it easier for cusp players to knock off established vets.
That said, there are some players who almost definitely will step aside this time around, and that could create some room.
Long-time goalie Shannon Szabados hasn’t played since having her first child last year, so it’s a strong assumption she won’t be back this time around. Desbiens seems like the logical choice to earn a role in net, following Szabados’ footsteps. Desbiens was a star at Wisconsin and is just 26 years old still.
After that, some of the cuts get more difficult. Fortino and Johnston just missed the cut for 2020 Worlds, and they both could easily contend for a spot and beat out a younger player.
Mikkelson is making a second comeback attempt, but hasn’t played since 2017-18, despite all her accomplishments as a three-time Olympian. She could push, but that seems doubtful.
Agosta falls into a similar category where she hasn’t played since 2018, working full-time as a police officer in Vancouver, but she has a plethora of experience with Canada so it would be silly to count her out.
Of course, then you have the no-doubters: Daoust led Canada in scoring last time around, Jenner and Spooner have been a part of Canada’s plans for a decade, while Clark and Fast were impactful in their 2018 Olympic debut.
The 2020 Worlds roster featured eight new faces and it’s tough to see any of them being passed up for the Olympic roster at this point.
The 23-year-old Gabel out of Clarkson might have the most star power here. She won the Patty Kazmaier (top US college women's player) as a senior, has been with Team Canada since the 2018 Four Nations Cup, and is an absolute game changer who scored 40 goals in a season.
She’s in. Sarah Fillier likely is too.
Fillier was a Patty Kaz finalist as a freshman at Princeton -- a rarity -- and made her national team debut at the same time as Gabel. They’ve had a similar timeline and like, Gabel, Fillier is a machine scoring-wise, averaging almost two points per game with the Tigers.
Bach and Rattray are sure-fire scorers to be on the roster to make their Olympic debuts. They’ve been with the program and have played really well, with Bach especially showing flashes of dominance at times.
Maschmeyer has had a few chances to play at the international level, but has had an impact in the crease for years between Harvard and then across the CWHL. This could be a chance for her to get more involved in Canada’s long-term plans.
The defence gets really interesting with young players. Zandee-Hart and Bourbonnais are a dynamic duo on the blue line who aren’t going to back down with inexperience. Thompson is also a really fascinating option there.
On the cusp
If only Canada could add, like, 10 more players.
The passing of the torch from the last generation is clearly underway, but there’s so much talent -- so much young talent -- that ultimately will certainly be a part of Olympic plans, even if not this time.
One player who is going consistently overlooked is Grant-Mentis. The forward for the Toronto Six of the NWHL was the best player on the ice during the Lake Placid tournament and broke all sorts of team records in college at Merrimack. She’s probably a long shot to actually make the Canadian roster, but deserves more than a courtesy look.
Then there’s Giguere, the college teammate of Gabel who could end up on the roster if she plays her way there. Giguere and Watts, who has been dominant since she was a freshman at Boston College (she’s since moved on to being a power with Wisconsin) weren’t at the camp in January, which doesn’t help their chances. Their talent is enough to wow anyone though.
If there were more camps and competition, perhaps there could be spots to be stolen away from Saulnier or Turnbull, who have established themselves plenty, but without competition in the past year. That doesn’t seem likely to happen if there are no Worlds in 2021, and it’s almost certain Canada will err on the side of players who have already succeeded in its program.