Nurse, Poulin make presence felt in Canada’s strong start at World Championship

Brianne Jenner of Canada in action with Michelle Karvinen of Finland during the IIHF World Championship Women's ice hockey match between Finland and Canada. (Bo Amstrup/AP)

After just a six-month hiatus, Canada’s women are back playing hockey at the highest level. And they’re off to a great start.

Canada defeated Finland 4-1 in its tournament-opening contest at the 2022 Women’s World Hockey Championship in Herning, Denmark on Thursday afternoon. Canada enters the event as the defending world champs after winning a COVID-delayed tourney 12 months ago. And, of course, Canada also took gold at the Olympic Games in February of this year.

Four different players scored for Canada against Finland, as the game remained a two-goal affair until, with 92 seconds left on the clock, Blayre Turnbull put it away with an empty-net tally.

What stood out from Canada’s first match? Let’s dive in.

Sarah Nurse: Still A Boss

After leading the Olympics in scoring and fresh off the news she will be on the cover of NHL 23, the EA Sports video game, Sarah Nurse continued to keep her name front and centre by opening the scoring for Canada.

With Canada on a five-minute power play thanks to Petra Nieminen’s hit from behind on Kristin O’Neil, Nurse parked herself in the slot while the puck moved around her. Captain Marie-Philip Poulin made a great hot pass through the middle of the ice, which Nurse deftly re-directed into the back of the net.

Speaking of Poulin, it takes very little time to get re-acquainted with how wicked her shot is. “Captain Clutch” put Canada up 2-1 less than two minutes after Finland had equalized by showing off her most deadly asset. After accepting a nice feed from Jocelyne Larocque, Poulin calmly cruised into the Finnish zone. No. 29 shuffled the puck at the top of the circle, glided toward the middle of the ice, then lasered one to the far side past the blocker of Anni Keisala. Just classic stuff from Canada’s heart and soul.

Meaghan Mikkelson Makes It All The Way Back

We didn’t have to wait long for a fantastic story to present itself. Wearing the red and white for the first time at the World Championship or Olympics since 2018, Meaghan Mikkelson scored her first goal for Canada in — according to Hockey Canada’s Twitter feed — 2,341 days. Mikkelson nearly made it back from a devastating knee injury to suit up for Canada at the Olympics, but just missed the cut. Prior to that, she was busy becoming a mom.

Her goal in this game was emblematic of the fact Canada’s blue line crew likes the push the envelope and get involved in the action. The 37-year-old had parked herself no more than a couple of feet from the lip of the crease and after an Ella Shelton shot kicked back into the goalmouth, Mikkelson was there to swat it home for a second-period marker that gave Canada a two-goal advantage and a little breathing room.

You can bet that one ranks right up with their the veteran’s favourite goals from a wonderful career.

Second Line Needs Time To Find Groove

The story of the last worlds was a breakout performance by Canada’s Sarah Fillier. Though she did draw a second assist on Mikkelson’s goal after some strong work in the offensive zone, Fillier’s line with her between Jessie Eldridge and Sarah Potomak didn’t impact the game the way Canada will eventually be hoping for. Of course, Fillier lost her two stellar linemates from the 2021 event — Natalie Spooner is pregnant, Melody Daoust is injured — so it could take a little time for new chemistry to form.

Keisala, Finns Hang Tough

Hats off to Keisala, who made 39 saves in this contest, including a couple in the middle frame that kept her team in it. The 27-year-old robbed O’Neil on what looked like a gimme by getting her right pad in the way. She also denied Eldridge on a wide-open look from the heart of the slot later in the period.

Finland, which lost 11-1 to Canada at the Olympics, basically played the entire game without one of its best players when Nieminen got the gate less than 10 minutes into the night for blindsiding O’Neil.

The most eye-popping moment from Finland may not have been a Keisala save, but rather a daring penalty-shot attempt by 20-year-old Kiira Yrjanen just before the first period expired. With a chance to knot the game, Yrjanen took off toward Ann-Renee Desbiens. In the high slot, Yrjanen pivoted her body so that her shoulders and hips were now facing the side boards. She glided toward Desbiens, quickly uncoiled and tried to swoop the puck past Desbiens’ outstretched right foot. The Canadian goalie made a great effort to thwart the move, but the attempt alone was something to behold.

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