6 bold predictions about Women’s Worlds
by Lucas Aykroyd|07 MAR 2020
The Japanese, who gave the Americans a tough time in last year's quarter-finals, could be poised for a 2020 playoff upset.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship is no place for the faint of heart. Based on the colour, controversy, and passion that the 2019 tournament in Espoo, Finland spawned, there will be plenty of compelling storylines in Halifax and Truro.

Nova Scotia fans may witness things that we haven’t seen in a long time – or have never seen before. Here are 6 bold predictions about the Women’s Worlds.

1) Knight will bring pro wrestling attitude again

We’re not suggesting that Hilary Knight will follow in Ronda Rousey’s footsteps by switching sports to help revive the WWE’s flagging fortunes. (Although it’d be as entertaining as Halifax if she did.)

No, we’re alluding to the 30-year-old American superstar’s knack for selling women’s hockey with a touch of “get in the ring” hype. It’s been on full display lately.

In November, Knight called the NWHL “a glorified beer league.” When the defending World and Olympic champion U.S. won four out of five Rivalry Series games against Canada, Knight literally thumped her chest after scoring her 200th career national team point in Victoria in February.

Two nights later, the eight-time World Champion played the heel by shushing the Vancouver crowd after notching an empty-netter. And instead of resorting to euphemisms, she explained afterwards to reporters how Canadian fans had told her and her teammates to “go back to [their] country and die” after their 2-0 loss in the 2010 Olympic gold medal game.

Nova Scotia? Different coast. More Canadian fans. And, undoubtedly, more headlines for Knight on and off the ice as she prepares to surpass the legendary Cammi Granato’s all-time Women’s Worlds records for goals (44) and points (78). She knows how to back up her words.

2) Finland will go home emptyhanded

There’s no doubt about Finland’s talent, heart, or desire to make history. But last year’s silver-medal squad under coach Pasi Mustonen faces new, daunting questions. It's a time of transition with seven new players set to make their Women's Worlds debut in Halifax.

How can you match the emotional high of playing on home ice in Espoo? How do you replace the veteran experience of now-retired Olympians like IIHF Hall of Famer Riikka Sallinen, Venla Hovi, and Linda Valimaki? How will you get up for a bronze medal game when you’ve got your hearts set on gold?

The U.S. and Canada are still favoured to meet in the final for the 19th time in 20 Women’s Worlds and show that 2019 was an anomaly. Meanwhile, the Russians, who play in the increasingly well-funded Women’s Hockey League, are hungry for their first bronze medal since 2016. Switzerland will be turbocharged with SDHL scoring leader Lara Stalder coming off a world-class first season with Brynas and 2018 Olympic scoring leader Alina Muller contending for the Patty Kazmaier Award as a Northeastern sophomore.

History, too, suggests Finnish vulnerability. Although consistently ranked the world’s third-best team, Finland has lost three of its last five Women’s Worlds bronze medal games. Sorry, Suomi!

3) A quarter-final upset is coming

“Impossible!” you cry. But hang on. Look back at the simple days of 2017. Nobody foresaw Russia falling to Germany in the quarter-finals in Plymouth, Michigan. Still, Marie Delarbre’s third-period goal propelled the Germans to a surprising 2-1 victory and, ultimately, a fourth-place finish.

A quarter-final upset would be a first under the 10-team tournament format, which debuted last year and will also grace the 2022 Olympics. If 2019 provides any indication, one of the returning Group B teams should have the wherewithal to make it happen.

Take the Japanese. With tight checking and Nana Fujimoto’s heroics in net, they limited the U.S. to a 1-0 lead for more than 29 minutes before eventually falling 4-0. The Czechs led host Finland 1-0 nearly halfway through their quarter-final, and they hung tight in a 3-1 defeat.

And even though the Germans were undeniably outclassed in their 5-0 loss to Canada, their relentless work ethic means that another 2017-style surprise can never be ruled out.

We’ll just sit back and wait for the big reveal.

4) The Danes will pull off a mini-miracle

In the mainstream media, coaching is one of the most underanalyzed and underappreciated aspects of women’s hockey. Remember how Kevin Dineen replaced Dan Church at the last minute and led Canada to gold in Sochi? Remember how Robb Stauber won it all with the Americans in 2018? Both men slipped off the women’s hockey radar afterwards with barely a ripple.

However, Denmark’s Peter Elander has a special resume that suggests he’ll make a splash in Nova Scotia. Elander, 60, took over behind the Danish bench from Fredrik Glader in September.

In 2006, with his native Sweden, he earned a history-making Olympic silver medal after the 3-2 semi-final shootout upset over the Americans, sparked by Maria Rooth’s scoring prowess and Kim Martin’s great goaltending. At the University of North Dakota, Elander taught Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson the dazzling “Oops!...I Did It Again” dekes that she used to score the U.S.’s golden goal in the 2018 Olympic shootout against Canada.

He’s just the guy to inspire the underdog Danes to achieve something bigger than they could have imagined. Something like, say, winning more than once in their long-delayed top-division return.

5) Gabel and Bach will go from fourth-line to first-line minutes

Apart from the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, the Canadians fell a goal or two short in their most crucial games over the last decade. To start the 2020’s off right, they can’t expect veterans like Marie-Philip Poulin, Rebecca Johnston, and Natalie Spooner to still do all the heavy lifting. That’s why two speedy U23 forwards with magical hands can expect their prominence to rise in Halifax – whether or not they play the perfect, coach-friendly 200-foot game. Somebody’s gotta score.

Loren Gabel, the 2019 Patty Kazmaier Award winner with Clarkson University, tied Spooner for the team lead with six goals in Finland last year. Victoria Bach, the 2019 CWHL rookie of the year with the Markham Thunder, scored four goals against the Americans in pre-Women’s Worlds exhibition play this year. 2020 is their time to take flight.

6) Gold will go to Canada

Back when Alanis Morissette and the Barenaked Ladies ruled the charts, this would probably have been The Least Bold Prediction Ever (TM). After all, starting with the inaugural tournament in Ottawa 30 years ago, Canada won a record-setting eight consecutive Women’s Worlds gold medals (1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004).

However, leaders like Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford have hung up their skates. And the reality is that Canada hasn’t entered a senior IIHF women’s tournament as the consensus favourite for more than 10 years. The Canadians haven’t won Women’s Worlds gold since 2012 and haven’t dominated the Americans in a Women’s Worlds final since the 5-1 triumph in Winnipeg in 2007.

So what’ll end the drought? Canadian fans are banking on a blend of inspired coaching from Nova Scotia’s own Troy Ryan, home-crowd fervour at the Scotiabank Centre, and – most vitally – lights-out netminding from Ann-Renee Desbiens or Genevieve Lacasse. You heard it here first.