10 WW Players to Watch: The Veterans
by Lucas Aykroyd|17 AUG 2021
The best forward and the best defender of the last Women’s Worlds: USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield and Finland’s Jenni Hiirikoski.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You come at the Queen, you best not miss.”

We don’t know yet which stars will dominate the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Calgary. Sheer hard work and an unflinching mental focus may have enabled some veterans to elevate their game since the 2019 tournament in Espoo. Other older players, unfortunately, may have seen their legs and hands diminish in the more than two-year gap between official IIHF competitions. (You can’t help thinking about how male legends like Mark Messier, Ron Francis, and Brett Hull wound up in retirement after the 2005 NHL lockout.)

Yet with all that said, unless some NCAA prodigy or SDHL wunderkind steps up and shows she’s ready to rule the 2020s, we think there’s a very good chance that some familiar faces will remain the players to watch, propelling their national teams into medal contention.

Here are our top-10 2021 Women’s Worlds veterans to watch in alphabetical order.

Cayla Barnes (USA)

With Emily Matheson stepping away from the national team as a first-time parent, the door is open for other members of the deep American blue line to step up and showcase their ability to control the game. Exhibit A: Cayla Barnes. The 22-year-old Boston College captain isn’t just a puck-moving whiz who recorded six points in her 2019 Women’s Worlds debut and a Hockey East-high 53 points over the last three NCAA seasons. Despite standing just 157 cm tall, she also blocked 213 shots over that latter span. Including her 2018 Olympic gold medal, Barnes has topped the podium at all five of her previous IIHF competitions.
Cayla Barnes
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Kendall Coyne Schofield (USA)

Kendall Coyne Schofield wears a ton of hats as the U.S. captain, a Chicago Blackhawks player development coach, a PWHPA board member, and a part-owner of the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, among other responsibilities. Considered the world’s fastest skater, the 27-year-old left wing, who scored nine points in Espoo and was named Best Forward and a tournament all-star, is unlikely to slow down – on or off the ice – as the U.S. vies for a Women’s Worlds six-peat.
Kendall Coyne Schofield
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Brianna Decker (USA)

As feisty as she’s shifty, U.S. centre Brianna Decker boasts the highest average points per game among active Women’s Worlds players (63 points in 37 games, 1.703 PPG) by a solid margin – Hilary Knight is second (74 points in 52 games, 1.423 PPG). At 30, Decker still sees the ice and handles the puck like few others, as she showed with her four-point outing at the PWHPA’s historic game at New York’s Madison Square Garden during the Secret Dream Gap tour on 28 February.
Brianna Decker
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

Jenni Hiirikoski (FIN)

When you talk about European skaters who could theoretically crack either of the deep North American rosters, Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski ranks close to the top of the list. Entering her 13th Women’s Worlds with 68 career tournament games, the Lulea superstar is on the brink of surpassing former Lionesses forward Karoliina Rantamaki (69 games) for the most games played in tournament history. Named Best Defender at two Olympics and seven Women’s Worlds, Hiirikoski remains a game-changer at age 34.
Jenni Hiirikoski
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Brianne Jenner (CAN)

If every Canadian had played with the same hustle and hunger as Brianne Jenner, the motherland of hockey likely wouldn’t have settled for the bronze medal at the 2019 Women’s Worlds. Jenner, 30, sported the “C” in Espoo in place of the injured Marie-Philip Poulin. The veteran PWHPA member is arguably the best faceoff woman in the game, going 69.6 percent at that tournament (85-for-122), top among players who took 30 or more draws.
Brianne Jenner
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Hilary Knight (USA)

Hilary Knight, a 2018 Olympic champion and eight-time Women’s Worlds winner, is at the stage of her career where she no longer needs to prove anything to anyone. As the leading scorer at three of the last four Women’s Worlds (2015, 2016, 2019), the 32-year-old power forward can turn it on and change a game with just a couple of plays. Could “Knighter” get a run for her money as the top U.S. ace after newcomer Abby Roque led the U.S. leg of the 2021 Secret Dream Gap tour with six goals and 11 points? That’s a hard maybe.
Hilary Knight
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

Petra Nieminen (FIN)

Just 22, Petra Nieminen brings an intense attacking mentality to her fourth Women’s Worlds with the Lionesses. The Tampere-born forward, who led Lulea in playoff scoring (6+4=10) en route to her second SDHL title, will be motivated to put the memory of her controversially disallowed overtime goal in the 2019 final behind her. 
Petra Nieminen
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

Marie-Philip Poulin (CAN)

Without context, nobody would have believed that the only woman ever to score in three Olympic gold medal games would spend the majority of the 2019 Women’s Worlds on the bench, logging a grand total of 4:44 in a 5-1 win over Russia. Happily, though, Marie-Philip Poulin is healthy this year. The 30-year-old was visibly back to her old self when she led Team Bauer to victory over Team Sonnet in the Canadian Secret Dream Gap tour final staged in Calgary in May. It could be a good omen as this all-time great looks to help Canada win Women’s Worlds gold on home ice for the first time since 2007 in Winnipeg.
Marie-Philip Poulin
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

Natalie Spooner (CAN)

The biggest, brightest personality to wear the red Maple Leaf over the last 10 years, Natalie Spooner tied Loren Gabel for the team lead in goals (6) at the 2019 Women’s Worlds, including a hat trick against Russia. She finished second in overall scoring (10 points) behind Hilary Knight. The 30-year-old former Battle of the Blades contestant is a consistent threat, from breakaways to battles down low.
Natalie Spooner
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Lara Stalder (SUI)

If the Swiss – winners of bronze at the 2012 Women’s Worlds and 2014 Olympics – are to break back into the medal column, they’ll need a mega-performance out of Lara Stalder. The 27-year-old Brynas Gavle assistant captain just won her second consecutive SDHL scoring title with a career-best 82 points. Stalder has produced a point per game or better at every IIHF competition she’s participated in 2015.
Lara Stalder
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images