2023 Women’s Worlds Preview
by Andrew Podnieks|05 APR 2023
There has been plenty of celebrating by the Canadians the last two years--can the Americans, or anyone else, stop their winning ways?
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Hockey fans have been spoiled by women’s hockey in the last two years. In part because of COVID-19, in part because of the Olympics, and in part because of the IIHF’s new mandate to hold a Women’s Worlds even in Olympic years, fans are now getting their fourth top-level women’s event in the last 19 months. It’s all good.

And if you’re a fan of Team Canada, you’re loving every minute of the extra play because Canada has won all three previous events in this short time frame. The U.S., however, has continued to be the main opposition, but every nation in Brampton has a reason to be optimistic. 

Let’s look at the ten teams competing for the medals, and what each brings to the ice for the 22nd edition of the Women’s Worlds.

Canada (gold 2022)
Canada has won the last three top tournaments at the expense of the U.S., and the team arrives in Brampton even better than when they won most recently, in Herning last August. That’s because they have defender Claire Thompson back in the lineup. The 25-year-old was sensational in Beijing and at the 2021 WW but paused her playing career last fall to pursue her degree in medicine. She will anchor a defence that has no weakness. Some 20 of 23 players are from the PWHPA, including captain Marie-Philip Poulin and goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens, who has a miraculous 18-0 record in combined Women’s Worlds/Olympics history. Canada clearly remains the team to beat.

United States (silver 2022)
Change is the name of the game for coach John Wroblewski, which is not surprising considering a program that won gold at the Women’s Worlds every year between 2013 and 2019 (five in all) has experienced defeat three events running. The biggest change, however, isn’t because of talent or a new strategy. Captain Kendall Coyne Schofield is sitting this one out as she readies herself to give birth for the first time. Hilary Knight will inherit the “C” for the next two weeks, and the all-time leading scorer is expected now, more than ever, to run the offence. But four top names were cut: Jincy Dunne, Hannah Brandt, Jesse Compher, and Grace Zumwinkle. In their place come Abbey Levy of Boston College, who will make her Team USA debut, as well as others who have played only at the U18 level—Rebecca Gilmore, the only PHA player on the team, who played for the Boston Pride; Gabrielle Hughes of the University of Minnesota Duluth; 18-year-old Tessa Janecke of Penn State, the youngest player on the team; Nicole Lamantia from U of Wisconsin; and, 19-year-old Haley Winn out of Clarkson University.

Czechia (bronze 2022)
Perhaps the most important returnee from last year’s historic bronze medal isn’t a player but rather coach Carla MacLeod. She infused the players with a belief they could win and gave them a playing style to match their skills and ambitions. The result was an historic 4-2 win over Switzerland for third place. MacLeod, however, is not resting on her laurels. Fully eight players from that team didn’t make the roster for Brampton, but all of their replacements have previous IIHF experience, some only at the U18 level, some at the senior level. Sara Cajanova, a 20-year-old defender who played in Beijing, is back, as are Karolina Kosinova, who played at the 2019 Women’s Worlds, and Tereza Vanisova, who has three WW18, five WW, and the 2022 Olympics on her lengthy resume. All in all, MacLeod is giving a slew of players a chance to impress as we make our way to the 2026 Milan Olympics.

Switzerland (4th 2022)
No one wants to forget the 2022 Women’s Worlds more than Switzerland. Beset by injuries and positive COVID-19 tests, the team lurched to the bronze-medal game where they proved no match for Czechia. The top stars are back and healthy, from captain Lara Stalder to offensive star Alina Muller. And in the blue ice is Saskia Maurer, who has taken over for Florence Schelling after 2018 and developed into one of the top goalies in the world. But the feel-good story for the Swiss will be the appearance of Cindy Joray. The 29-year-old will be making her international debut with the Swiss after more than a dozen years in the Swiss women’s league, notably with Neuchatel, where she stayed for six years.

Japan (5th 2022)
Welcome to Group A, Japan! They earned their place in the top group, but they will now have their hands full playing their first four games against the world’s top teams. No room to breathe here for coach Yuji Iizuka. Most of his players from last year’s 5th-place finish will be back, notably Aoi Shiga and her sister Akane. Goalie Miyuu Masuhara is also back, and newcomers include 18-year-old twins Riri and Rio Noro from Daishin. Japan had trouble scoring goals last year, and this year, playing against the North Americans as well as Czechia and Switzerland, denting the twine will be even more difficult. All of the players play in Japan’s women’s league with three exceptions: Ayaka Hitosato and Haruka Toko, who play for Linkoping in Sweden, and Chihiro Suzuki, who plays at Guelph University, not far from Brampton.

Finland (6th 2022)
A disappointing tournament in Herning was punctuated by internal difficulties and a 6th-place finish that put Finland in Group B for the first time ever. But hopefully coach Juuso Toivola has righted the ship in time for the opening faceoff. Don’t look now, but captain Jenni Hiirikoski is now, at 36, the oldest player at the tournament. The multi-talented blueliner has recovered from a scary skate cut to her neck and is ready to appear in her record 15th Women’s Worlds. She will be surrounded by many teammates who have been with her for several years, starting with Petra Nieminen and Noora Tulus. Rosa Lindstedt, at 35, is the second oldest player in Brampton, and goalie Anni Keisala has a sparkling 1.81 goals-against average in 12 career Women’s World games. Anything less than a return to Group A and a place in a medal game would be a crushing disappointment for Suomi.

Sweden (7th 2022)
Relegated in 2019, Sweden was promoted in 2022 only because of the suspension of playing privileges of Russia. But rather than wallow in pity, the Swedes made the most of their chance and finished 7th last year after a superb performance by goalie Emma Soderberg against Canada in the quarter-finals. Outshot 57-9, Soderberg delivered one of the greatest games in WW history, limiting Canada to a 3-0 victory. She played for the University of Minnesota Duluth this past season and will backstop Sweden again. Coach Ulf Lundberg is going with a veteran roster that is bereft of newcomers, so many of the players who kept the team up last year will be the focus of this year’s success—Hannah Olsson, Josefin Bouveng, and Linnea Andersson key among them.

Hungary (8th 2022)
Under the well-travelled tutelage of bench boss Pat Cortina, Hungary showed some grit and offensive power last year, earning a return invite to the 2023 Women’s Worlds. Theirs is not a deep program, so Cortina has most of the old guard back, hoping to survive another year against the likes of France and Germany. Franciska Kiss-Simon led the team with three goals in 2022, while Alexandra Huszak had a team-best four points. It will be a battle, though, but with two teams being demoted it’s not about goals or records or playoffs; it’s about beating the right team at the right time. 

Germany (9th 2022)
Germany lost out to Hungary on goal differential for the 8th and final playoff spot last year, and they have only one new player in the lineup, Sandra Abstreiter, who played this past season with Providence College. But she was not the only collegian to make the team. She is joined by veterans Nina Christof (RPI), Katarina Jobst-Smith (Minnesota Duluth), Svenja Voigt (St. Cloud State), and Louisa Welcke (Maine). This impressive quintet will be aided by other experienced teammates such as Nicola Eisenschmid and Laura Kluge. Like Hungary, they will be looking for that one key win to stay afloat for 2024.

France (promoted from Division I-A 2022)
Promoted for the 2019 Women’s Worlds and then promptly demoted, the French are back thanks to a massive 4-1 win over Norway to clinch top spot in last year’s Division I-A. Key to that win was Chloe Aurard, who has played at Northeastern for several years, and her linemate Estelle Duvin, the well-travelled 26-year-old who has played in the NCAA, Canadian university, and the pro leagues of Finland and Sweden. They will be key to France’s fortunes, if they hope to return to the top pool for another year. The difficulty will be experience. Fully 13 players have never played at the top level, and the jump in standards from I-A is significant.