Coming into the 2022 Women’s World Championship, all eyes were on what exactly Canada’s offence would look like as it turned the page from a medal- and trophy-clinching stretch of dominance.
The defending champions made the trek to Denmark without Melodie Daoust, who’s developed a penchant for finishing tournaments with MVP-calibre performances. They’re without Natalie Spooner, too, one of the top scorers at the 2022 Olympic Games and the 2021 women’s worlds. The same goes for Claire Thompson, and Rebecca Johnston.
While Canada isn’t short on veteran talent leading its attack — their top line’s still anchored by the game’s marquee talent in Marie-Philip Poulin, and 2022 Olympic scoring leader Sarah Nurse — there was no denying the Canadian offence would have a different feel this time around.
But Sunday morning, as Canada flexed its offensive muscle in a 9-0 win over Japan, the Canadian squad’s young phenoms made clear the team’s future is in good hands.
Leading that charge was Victoria Bach, the supremely talented Milton, Ont., native who’s been waiting in the wings to make her impact up to this point. Thrust into a bigger role for the 2022 world championship, Bach’s delivering. And on Sunday, she flat out looked like one of Canada’s most dynamic talents.
It started early. A minute and a half into the first period, Canada opened the scoring on the power play — a theme that would persist, as the Canadians were gifted eight chances on the power play over the course of the game. And kicking things off was Bach, who got the highlight reel started early with a slick toe-drag top-shelf snipe.
In the second period, there was Bach again, flying down the right wing and dishing a picture-perfect backhand pass to Blayre Turnbull, who made no mistake, piling more goals onto the tally.
But it was the magic Bach authored later in the second period that might’ve been her finest sequence of play.
Gifted yet another chance on the power play — Canada’s sixth of the game by that point — Bach picked up the puck behind her own net and took off. She cut far to the right, then swung left, flying down the sheet end-to-end, pulling defenders with her as she went. Pressing all the way down to Japan’s net, she drove to the middle and flipped the puck to Kristin O’Neill, who one-touched it to an open Ella Shelton for Canada’s sixth goal of the game.
It’s only the beginning for Bach, but she’s proving she can make magic in a bigger role for this team, and her impact seems certain only to grow as the tournament’s stakes ramp up.
Of course, if there’s an undeniable leader of Canada’s youth movement, it’s Sarah Fillier, who’s turned future potential into present-day dominance during her last few outings in a Team Canada sweater, and is reaching yet another level at this tournament.
Entering Sunday’s tilt as the team’s leading scorer, Fillier continued to show glimpses of her all-world skill all game, weaving in and out of traffic, out-thinking opponents in battles along the wall, and firing sly passes around the ice to set up dangerous chances.
Her finest moments against Japan came in the third, as the Georgetown, Ont., native showed off her puck-protection ability to help set up a Sarah Potomak goal, before Fillier herself sniped one of her own off a devastating wrister to cap off Canada’s nine-goal night.
With Sunday’s three-point effort in tow, Fillier now sits tied for the tournament scoring lead with six points through three games. If there was ever any doubt, she confirms with each passing game that the team’s future is in good hands.
Captain Clutch continues to set the tone
But let’s not turn the page entirely, not just yet. Because Sunday was also another sign that we’re nowhere near the end of the MPP era in Canadian hockey.
Regardless of the strength of the opponent, the stakes of the game, the score at any moment, Poulin is simply going to do what she does. That was very much the case Sunday as the captain led the way again, putting up two goals, an assist, and a team-leading six shots on net.
Both her goals came off signature wristers from No. 29, the captain burning both of Japan’s netminders — the team made a change from Akane Konishi to Riko Kawaguchi halfway through the game — on shots neither had much of a chance on.
But the two goals also showcased different facets of what makes Poulin so unstoppable, the first coming with her standing still on the left side of the zone during a power-play cycle, simply holding onto the puck and then picking her spot; the second goal coming as MPP won a race for a loose puck near the wall, flew in alone, and wired one home at top speed.
It wasn’t Poulin’s offence alone that stood out in this one, though. It was her overall game, her overall understanding of the situation Canada’s in as it tries to defend its title.
Despite facing an overmatched opponent, despite dominating Japan to the tune of a 69-5 difference in shots, the red and white continued to focus on the details all night, battling along the walls, defending hard, and taking the puck to the net to cause chaos on the inside. And Poulin was right there in the middle of it, most clearly in the middle of the game, when she dove forward and laid out trying to bat a rebound into the cage, the desperation play coming as Canada already held a 5-0 lead in the game, at that point more goals than the opponent had shots.
With Team USA coming up next, the most important thing Canada could’ve hoped to get out of Sunday’s win was a chance to establish habits and hone the details of their game. As she always does, the captain ensured they did that.
Turnbull thriving as Canada’s depth leader
While the top-end talents continue to do their thing and the young phenoms are making their names, Canada continues to get exceptional play from one of their most reliable depth players, Turnbull, who’s holding it down as the team’s third-line pivot.
After two strong showings against Finland and Switzerland, Turnbull was a force again against Japan, playing a straight-ahead game and directing chance after chance on the cage. Combining with Bach on Canada’s fourth goal of the tilt, she showed some playmaking poise of her own on the team’s seventh, calmly wheeling around the net with the puck on her stick, waiting out Japan’s defenders, before finding Jamie Lee Rattray to add to Canada’s pile of goals.
By the end of the night, Turnbull had tied Poulin for the team lead in shots, and wound up with a two-point night. She’s now scored in each of Canada’s three games at this tournament, an offensive outpouring that hasn’t gone unnoticed by her teammates.
“It’s huge to see Blayre score,” Fillier had said of Turnbull after Canada’s win over Switzerland on Saturday. “She’s a huge part of our team and usually she is pretty locked down defensively, so it’s awesome to see her get one for the team.”
Turnbull had just one point at the 2021 iteration of this tournament. She had four goals and seven points through the entirety of the 2022 Olympic Games. Now, through three appearances at this 2022 world championship, she’s already put up three goals and five points for Canada.
The red and white would take the offence in any year, but in this tournament specifically, as the squad vies for gold without some of the talents that racked up points for them in the past, it’s even more pivotal. Playing alongside Bach on Canada’s third line, Turnbull’s infused some reliable depth scoring into the bottom six, playing a key role in balancing out some of the offence that’s been lost from the top of the lineup.
That said, the true test for this group still lies ahead. After an undefeated run through their first three games, a stretch that saw them outscore their opponents 17-2, Canada meets Team USA Tuesday at KVIV Hockey Arena before the pressure truly ramps up, and the elimination games begin.