2024 Women’s Worlds Preview: Stats and storylines to know

USA forward Hilary Knight (21) and Team Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin (29) battle during second-period action in the IIHF Women's World Hockey Championship gold-medal game in 2023. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Well, it’s that time of year again. With spring upon us, the weather is warming, flowers are blooming, and the world’s best players are gearing up for the IIHF Women’s World Championship. 

After being held on Canadian soil last year, the 2024 edition of the tournament heads just south of the border to Utica, N.Y., running April 3-14. This marks the fifth time the United States has hosted, with the last time being in 2017 in Plymouth, Mich.

With puck drop set for Wednesday, let’s jump straight into what we can expect over the next 11 days. 

Canada-USA rivalry still thriving

It might seem safe to assume the Americans have a bit of extra momentum this year, considering they enter as defending champions. Then again, maybe it’s the Canadians who will benefit from some added motivation after settling for a silver-medal finish on home ice in 2023. Canada should be fired up by the idea of reversing fortunes and upsetting their long-time rival on U.S. turf, and the Americans have a 2023-24 Rivalry Series loss to avenge. Regardless how it plays out, the most storied rivalry in women’s international hockey should once again bring fireworks. 

A special time for women’s hockey

Despite the separation between Team Canada and Team USA when they take the ice, 2024 has been a massive year for women’s hockey for both the North American neighbours. The Professional Women’s Hockey League launched its inaugural season in January and has already found significant success, breaking women’s hockey attendance records left and right. This may be the 23rd Women’s Worlds to date, but it’s the first time it’s happening in the midst of a PWHL season. League games have been on pause since March 25, with players returning to pro action four days after international play concludes. 

Of course, not every PWHL player will be at the Worlds and not every player at the tournament plays in the PWHL, but the crossover between the two means we get to see some opponents become teammates and vice versa for the next week and a half. With three PWHL teams based in the United States and three in Canada, it’s little surprise that around 90 per cent of the league’s players hail from the two countries. The PWHL also features some very exciting talent from outside North America — and, of course, so will this tournament. 

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The basics

Eight other teams join Canada and the U.S. in Utica: Czechia, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland. Denmark and China are newcomers this year, heaving earned promotion as the top two teams from Division I-A. They replace Hungary and France, who were relegated after 2023. Denmark returns to the top-level tournament after a two-year absence, while China makes its first appearance in 15 years. Team China’s captain, Baiwei Yu, is the only player on the current roster who played at that time.

As usual, the 10 teams have been divided into two groups for round-robin play. Group A features the top five nations from 2023: the U.S., Canada, Czechia, Switzerland and Finland. Group B is made up of the countries that finished sixth to eighth, along with the two newly promoted teams: Sweden, Japan, Germany, China and Denmark. After a single round-robin series in each group, all five teams from Group A advance to the playoff round, as well as the top three teams from Group B. The playoff round, which starts April 11, consists of quarterfinals, semifinals, placement games and the two medal games. 

Storylines to watch

Between them Canada and the United States may have taken home every world championship gold since the tournament began in 1990 (and faced off in every gold-medal game except 2019, when Finland took silver), but the competition is strong across the board this year. Take a look at Czechia as an example: After winning a first-ever medal in 2022, they followed up that achievement by taking home another bronze in 2023. They are solidifying themselves as a serious contender at this tournament — following years of relegation or bottom-half finishes — and will look to make a real push for a third-straight podium. 

Switzerland is another team to keep an eye on when looking for possible breakouts. The Swiss have competed in the last three bronze-medal games, finding themselves on the losing side each time. Their most recent — and only — medal at the tournament was a bronze back in 2012.

It will also be interesting to see how Denmark fairs this year in just its fourth appearance at the top level over the span of 24 years. The only other team with a single digit number of appearances is Czechia, with eight. Canada, the U.S. and Finland are the only countries to have participated every year since the tournament’s inception. 

As in previous years, there will likely be some blowouts, especially when the Canadian and American powerhouses are in the mix. However, this world championship is more balanced and competitive than it may appear on the surface. Of the 93 total tournament games played over the last three years, 57 per cent were decided by three goals or less (53 games), more than a third were decided by two goals or less (38 games) and a quarter were decided by just one goal (24 games). 

And at the end of the day, anything can happen. We almost saw a major upset last year when, with just seconds remaining in regulation, Sweden forced overtime against Canada in the quarterfinals (the first team to do so at the women’s worlds other than the U.S.). Canada ultimately pulled off the win, but it could have gone either way. 

Records and milestones

U.S. captain Hilary Knight, already the all-time world championships leader in goals and points, stands poised to break two more records this year. Should the Americans win a medal, Knight will surpass Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser for all-time medals earned by an individual player. If it’s gold, she will break the record of another Canadian, Danielle Goyette, for all-time gold medals.

Knight’s teammate, Kendall Coyne Schofield, is also within striking distance of the top of an all-time list at the tournament. She currently sits fourth in total assists, and if she manages to notch nine more, she will beat out Winckenheiser’s record of 49.

Meanwhile, Canadian head coach Troy Ryan needs to lead his team to at least six more wins this year to climb ahead of former U.S. coach Ben Smith as the tournament’s all-time leader. A major milestone that both Canada and the U.S. are guaranteed to hit in Utica is their 100th wins — both countries currently sit at 99.

Team-by-team breakdown

United States

Appearance number: 23

Most recent result: Gold 

Medal history: 10 gold, 12 silver

One question: After back-to-back silvers in 2021 and 2022, can the U.S. run the gold medal back for the second time in a row?

Player to watch: Forward Kirsten Simms, set to make her tournament debut, led the NCAA in scoring this season with 75 points in 39 games. 


Appearance number: 23

Most recent result: Silver

Medal history: 12 gold, nine silver, one bronze

One question: Before winning gold in 2021 and 2022, Canada’s last first-place finish was all the way back in 2012. Can they avoid another lengthy stretch lower on the podium?

Player to watch: Forward Natalie Spooner currently leads the PWHL in both goals (15) and points (20).


Appearance number: Nine

Most recent result: Bronze

Medal history: Two bronze

One question: Can the Czechs build off their past two years of unprecedented success and bring home a third-consecutive medal?

Player to watch: Forward Michaela Pejzlová tallied 71 points in 24 games this season in Finland’s Naisten Liiga. 


Appearance number: 19

Most recent result: Fourth

Medal history: One bronze

One question: After three straight losses in the bronze-medal game, can the Swiss finally find themselves on the winning side?

Player to watch: Goaltender Andrea Brändli posted a 16-9-0 record this season in the SDHL, along with a 1.62 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. 


Appearance number: 23

Most recent result: Fifth

Medal history: One silver, 13 bronze

One question: Last year marked the Finns’ second-consecutive finish outside the top four. Can they bounce back to medal contention?

Player to watch: Goaltender Sanni Ahola appeared in three games at last year’s tournament and recorded the best save percentage (.956) and goals-against average (0.67).


Appearance number: 22

Most recent result: Sixth

Medal history: Two bronze

One question: Can they hang with the top teams and deliver another statement game like their close match against Canada in the quarterfinals last year? 

Player to watch: Forward Josefin Bouveng scored 50 points in 39 NCAA games this season, tripling her offensive output from the previous season. 


Appearance number: 11

Most recent result: Seventh

Medal history: None

One question: Entering last year’s tournament in Group A, Japan’s results dropped them back down to Group B for this year. Can they climb back up?

Player to watch: Defender Ayaka Hitosato had a strong season in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League, recording 16 points in 36 games. 


Appearance number: 18

Most recent result: Eighth 

Medal history: None

One question: The Germans moved up one spot from their previous ninth-place finish in 2022. Can they continue to build momentum?

Player to watch: Forward Nicola Eisenschmid collected 45 points across 24 games this season in the German league (DFEL). 


Appearance number: 12

Most recent result: Ninth (out of nine teams in 2009)

Medal history: None

One question: Can China maintain its place after a 15-year journey back to the tournament?

Player to watch: Forward Minghui Kong led China’s offence last year with five points, playing a significant role in their successful promotion. 


Appearance number: Four

Most recent result: 10th (2022)

Medal history: None

One question: Can the Danes redeem their performance from three years ago, which saw them finish in last place while serving as tournament hosts?

Player to watch: Goaltender Emma-Sodie Nordström finished the NCAA season with a 25-11-0 record, 2.03 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. 

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