Can Canada make it three in a row? 5 things to know ahead of women’s worlds

Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin celebrates her gold medal winning goal during overtime IIHF Women's World Championship hockey action against the United States in Calgary, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Can Canada make it three big titles in a row?

That’s the test coming up for the women’s national hockey team as they get set to open the 2022 IIHF world championships in Denmark, heading in with top-dog status as both defending world and Olympic champions.

Two facts everyone knows about the women’s game: Captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored the game-winning goals in both of those tournaments (she is the clutchest of clutch) and Canada and the U.S. absolutely dominate the game at the international level.

Here are five other things you ought to know about the world championships, which open Thursday, Aug. 25, and end with the gold medal final on Sunday, Sept. 4.

Comeback complete, again

One of the best stories on a Canadian team full of them is the return of veteran defender Meaghan Mikkelson. The 37-year-old attempted to fast-track her rehabilitation from a horrific knee injury to crack what would’ve been her fourth Olympic roster back in February, but despite superhuman efforts, she was released. (Team Canada did offer Mikkelson the chance to travel with the team to Beijing and be there in case of injury and/or COVID cases. She passed and instead pursued broadcasting opportunities.)

But now, Mikkelson is back on the ice in the red and white. She’s one of five players on this Canadian roster who weren’t on the Olympic team earlier this year. A two-time Olympic gold medallist, this marks the eighth appearance at the world championships for Mikkelson, who owns just one gold medal on this stage, from 2012. (That gives you a picture of Team USA’s recent dominance here: They’re winners of eight of the last 10 world championship titles). Mikkelson hasn’t represented Canada since the 2018 Olympics, because she took time off after those Games to give birth to her daughter, Berkley. That was her second return to the ice after having a baby. In other words, Mikkelson is a master at comebacks.

A bunch of firsts

This marks the first time Denmark has played host to this tournament, and it’ll be played in two rinks: KVIK Hockey Arena in Herning, which has capacity for 4,120 fans and will host the final, and in nearby Frederikshavn at Scanel Hockey Arena, which has capacity for 4,000 fans.

For timing to watch back at home, sports fans, Denmark is nine hours ahead of PDT and six hours ahead of EST. You can find the full schedule here. Canada opens its tournament against Finland, the reigning and frequent bronze medallists.

There are other firsts. This year is also the first time the women’s world championships will be held the same year as the Olympics. The IIHF made the decision to hold the tournaments the same year for a few reasons, one being to encourage countries to continue to regularly invest in their women’s programs.  

And finally, another first: Russia won’t be competing here for the first time since the country debuted at this tournament back in 1997. In February, the IIHF suspended all Russian and Belarusian national teams from participating in its competitions due to the ongoing war. Nearly every medal won at this tournament has been won by Canada, the U.S. and Finland — but Russia, with three bronze medals, is the fourth most successful nation on this stage.

No Spooner, no Decker, no Daoust, no…

More than a few star players from Canada and the U.S. are missing from the world championship this year. We’ll start with the two who have Middle Body Injuries (the non-scientific term for being pregnant, which leads to one of sports’ most difficult comebacks).

Canada will be without Natalie Spooner, who had the third-most points of any player at the last world championship, with four goals and five assists in seven games. Spooner is expecting in December. No doubt her absence is a big one.   

For the Americans, goaltender Alex Cavallini is also MIA on account of an MBI. Cavallini was the starter at the last Olympics, and she posted two shutouts in four games.

But the biggest absence for Team USA is forward Brianna Decker, who’s been up there in the Best Player in the World conversation. Decker broke her leg in Team USA’s opener at the Olympics, and she’s still recovering. She’s twice been named MVP of this tournament.

And for Canada, Melodie Daoust is just as big a loss. The 2021 world championship MVP — she paced all scorers with 12 points in seven games —was also injured at the last Olympics. Though she did return for the semifinal and played in the gold medal final, she wasn’t at the selection camp for Team Canada, and wasn’t named to this roster. Daoust, 30, was named MVP of the 2018 Olympics.

Canada is also without veteran forward Rebecca Johnston, who has represented her country on this stage a whopping 10 times, as well as defender Claire Thompson, the 24-year-old who was an all-star at the 2022 Olympics while setting a record for the most points by a defender at the Winter Games, with 13. Thompson won’t be in Denmark because she’s going to medical school. Some people really can do it all. 

World class summer hockey again

In the past, this tournament has been held in March and April, but COVID cancellations and delays last year moved the dates to August and September, and the tournament is slotting in at the same time this year.

Just weeks ago, many blamed the summertime dates, at least in part, for the low number of viewers and low attendance at the men’s world junior hockey championship, which is usually held over Christmas. But if you need any evidence that a horrific Hockey Canada scandal played a major role in low interest this time around, you needn’t look further than the last time the women’s tournament was held in sunny summer — and attracted record numbers of eyeballs.

According to the tournament’s broadcaster, TSN, the 2021 gold medal final of the IIHF women’s world championship last August and September attracted a record audience, reaching 2.7 million Canadians. There’s a little evidence right there that summer is a fine time to play hockey.

For more on the Hockey Canada scandal, read the excellent work done by Sportsnet’s Emily Sadler and Paul Grant.

Return of the Potomak

Flashy forward Sarah Potomak was the youngest member of Team Canada back in 2017 when she made her debut at the world championships while still a sophomore playing for the Minnesota Gophers, but she hasn’t suited up for Canada since.

The MVP of the 2014 IIHF world women’s U18 championship, Potomak has been so close to cracking this senior team’s roster again, and absences in the lineup up front certainly opened up opportunity for her this year. This will no doubt be a chance for Potomak, the 24-year-old from B.C., to prove she belongs at this level, and to regain some confidence and get in some big games again after her 2019-20 college season, her last in Minnesota, was cut short because of COVID days before the Frozen Four was due to start.   

Back on the world stage five years after she was last here, Potomak is starting out well: In a pre-tournament exhibition game on Saturday against Denmark, she potted two goals. (Canada won 14-1, paced by Poulin and Sarah Fillier, who both had four goals. The hosts are in tough.)

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