BURLINGTON – The rosters are more or less set and the eight teams settled in Burlington, Vermont on the final day of preparation before the 14th IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship gets under way with a radical new format. The big questions revolve around the United States (can they win again?), Canada (can they do at WW what they do at the Olympics?), and the other six nations as a group (can any of the Europeans crack the gold-medal game?).
Defenceman Angela Ruggiero isn’t here (now that she’s retired), but that leaves several key questions about leadership, experience, and defence. The veterans are now Jenny Potter and Julie Chu, but two young blueliners will have to take up the slack without Ruggiero. Defencemen Megan Bozek and Michelle Picard have played at WW18 but are making their senior debuts here along with four forwards—Taylor Wasylk, Hannah Brandt, Jillian Dempsey, and Amanda Kessel. Coach Katey Stone of Harvard is back trying to bring the nation its fourth straight WW title which it kept last year in Zurich with a dramatic 3-2 win over Canada in overtime.
Coach Dan Church shook up his selection camp by cutting Cherie Piper, the 30-year-old veteran who has been with the team since 2002. Church is giving three newcomers to the senior team’s defence a chance to make an impression in Burlington—Laura Fortino, Lauriane Rougeau, and Courtney Birchard. Fortino scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over the U.S. in an exhibition game a few days ago. Bailey Bram and Vicki Bendus are forwards making their senior debut. Canada has won the last three Olympic tournaments but, oddly, hasn’t won WW gold since 2007.
Ranked third in the world, the Finns have established themselves as the best European nation over the last four years, usurping Sweden from bronze in every event since 2007. The Finns will have Noora Raty in goal after her excellent season with the NCAA champion University of Minnesota, but they will also have five players who also appeared in this year’s WW18, a clear indication of the team’s push for youth—goalie Isabella Portnoj, defenceman Anna Kilponen, and forwards Anni Rantanen, Saana Valkama and Venla Kotkaslahti.
The fifth-ranked Russians had an impressive tournament last year in Switzerland. They made a sensational comeback against the hosts Swiss in the quarter-finals, and in the bronze-medal game it took an overtime goal from Karoliina Rantamaki to give Finland a 3-2 win. The fourth-place finish was the nation’s best in a decade, their only superior showing coming in 2001 when they won the bronze. This year’s team, though, has several changes. Incredibly, seven players from the WW18 team in January are here and four players from last year’s senior team are not, notably Alyona Khomich, Yekaterina Smolentseva, Olga Sements, and Svetlana Terentieva. Iya Gavrilova, who played for the CIS-champion University of Calgary Dinos this year, will have to lead the way on offense.
Ranked fourth for four years running now, the Swedes will try to recapture some of that swagger that got them to the gold-medal game at the 2006 Olympics. The goalie tandem of Kim Martin and Sara Grahn have been together since 2007, but Grahn, perhaps surprisingly, got the call for the most important game last year in Switzerland, a quarter-finals clash with Finland (and a 5-1 loss). Like the U.S., the Swedes will be without one of their leaders. Defenceman Gunilla Andersson, who has played at every women’s event for Damkronor since 1992 (excepting 2008), is not with the team, although she continues to play Division II back home. However, many familiar names are back, notably Erika Holst, Pernilla Winberg, and Danijela Rundqvist. The team also had four players in the NCAA this year, including defencemen Emilia Andersson (Minnesota State University-Mankato) and Annie Svedin (Ohio State) and forwards Erica Udin (Quinnipiac), and Winberg (University of Minnesota-Duluth).
Now sixth in the World Ranking, the Swiss are led by goalie Florence Schelling, a finalist for the prestigious Patty Kazmaier trophy as NCAA MVP in women’s hockey thanks to her stellar season with Northeastern University. The Swiss started the 2011 World’s strongly, but faded badly when it mattered most. They’ll have captain Kathrin Lehmann again with a veteran roster including the Waidacher sisters, Monika and Nina, both of whom attended College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. Johanna Vuille-dit-Bille is new to the defence and Martina Steck is new among the forwards.
Being ranked 8th in the world is due largely to the play of the Slovaks’ best player, their goalie Zuzana Tomcikova. She was one of the stories of last year’s tournament and incredibly was named to the end-of-tournament all-star team for her brilliant and inspiring play. Blessed with little scoring ability, Slovakia avoided relegation by beating Kazakhstan by scores of 1-0 and 2-1 in the best-of-three, Tomcikova largely responsible for allowing just the one goal in two games. She is back for more this year, and it will be on her shoulders again, no doubt, to keep the team in the top pool for Ottawa 2013 with a team that is even younger and more inexperienced than 2011.
Ranked 10th overall, the Germans made it to Burlington by virtue of their perfect 4-0-0 record at the 2011 World Women’s, Division I, in Ravensburg. They last appeared in the top level in 2008, but several of the players from that team are here this year, including goalie Viona Harrer, forwards Bettina Evers, Susann Gotz, and Andrea Lanzl. Manuela Anwander, a star with the team’s WW18 program for three years (2008-10), is hoping to have an impact on her team’s performance this year as well.