Ask the Experts II
by Andrew Podnieks|16 APR 2023
Canada eked out a 4-3 shootout win in the preliminary round--what bodes for the gold-medal game?
photo: Andrea Cardin / IIHF
Okay, hockey fans, we’re on the final day of what has surely been the most exciting and competitive Women’s Worlds. So we check back with writers Liz Montroy and Andrew Podnieks to get their thoughts on Game 31, the final game where the most coveted medals are handed out.

Okay, let’s start in the blue ice. Who do you think has the advantage?
LM: I named Ann-Renee Desbiens as one of my preliminary round MVPs, and she’s the sure-fire starter for Canada in the gold-medal game. Her and Aerin Frankel, who will likely start for the U.S., have very similar records and statistics here in Brampton, but Desbiens has gold medal-game experience and consistency—both within games and throughout the tournament—that I think gives Canada a goaltending advantage. 
AP: Yes, I agree. Desbiens has been a big-time goalie for several years while U.S. coach John Wroblewski is rolling the dice with Frankel over Nicole Hensley, who is a 28-year-old veteran in her fifth Women’s Worlds. Coming into Brampton, Frankel had all of 20 minutes’ experience with USA Hockey, that being a single period at the 2022 WW. It’s a gamble that she can match Desbiens save for save.

On the back end it’s Caroline Harvey versus Renata Fast. Or is there more to it than that?
AP: It’s crazy to think back to the Beijing Olympics when U.S. coach Joel Johnson nailed Harvey to the pine. She didn’t play in the quarters or semis and was on the ice for all of 62 seconds in the gold-medal game. But under Wroblewski she has emerged as perhaps the best defender in the world. And she is moving up ice and contributing to the offence. Fast is more the opposite. She is on the ice for a goal allowed about once a decade it seems. Two very different superstars. But Lee Stecklein isn’t exactly chopped liver. She has been a stud on the blue line for a decade. Claire Thompson—Dr. Claire to mere mortals!—has had a quiet tournament by her Olympic-record standards, so let’s see if she can take it up a notch with gold on the line.
LM: It would be remiss to not bring Jocelyne Larocque into the conversation, as the Canadians depend significantly on both her and Fast; they lead the team by a wide margin in ice time. Erin Ambrose has also been prominent on the blue line for Canada, quarterbacking the power play. But Caroline Harvey has had a fantastic tournament, earning at least one point per game. What I find interesting is that ice time amongst the Americans’ top six defence is fairly even. There is an obvious top pairing, but the U.S. doesn’t lean on them as heavily as the Canadians do with Larocque and Fast.

What about the stars up front? We know who they are—Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight—but what can we expect from them?
LM: We can definitely expect both to continue to lead by example. Marie-Philip Poulin has been Captain Clutch throughout her career, and while I think we may see a different player come up big for Canada (think Jamie Lee Rattray scoring the shootout winner against the U.S.), there’s no doubt that Poulin’s fiery determination, work ethic, and pure talent will be key to generating scoring opportunities. Captaincy is really suiting Knight, and she’s on the verge of reaching 100 Women’s World Championship points. As for what to expect from her, Cayla Barnes said it best after their semi-final win: “She’s an incredible leader, an incredible hockey player, and when the team needs one like that, she puts in on her back. I would follow her anywhere.”
AP: The attitude and confidence that Team USA has today is the result of one thing—Knight’s late goal against Canada that cued a remarkable comeback and gave the team a new identity. It’s not the first time she’s come up big, and likely won’t be the last. She thrives on those kinds of expectations. Poulin has been terrific, but not off the charts, and that should worry the Americans because everyone knows number 29 has another level to take her game to. It might well be that another player scores the winning goal for either side, but 21 and 29 will be central to either team’s success.

It’s Canada’s veterans against the young stars of the U.S. Is one group more favourable?
AP: Canada has seven players who are 30 or will turn 30 this year, so one of the big-picture questions is whether coach Troy Ryan will keep this core through Milano 2026 or make changes. But if he were going to make changes, you’d think he would have done so by now. And yet, why would he? This core has won three big tournaments in a row and continues to shine in Brampton. Natalie Spooner had three assists yesterday; Brianne Jenner has scored some important goals; MPP is MPP. But the young Americans all have U18 experience and most have a bit of a WW past as well, so I feel they’re trying to sell the “young team” concept a little more than it actually is. Regardless, youth won’t be the sole reason the U.S. loses and ageing players won’t cost Canada gold either.
LM: One of the questions going into the tournament was how the younger Team USA would fare in general. The answer? Great. The line of Tessa Janecke, Hannah Bilka, and Taylor Heise has been a thrill to watch, and the aforementioned Harvey seems destined to become a national-team mainstay for years to come. Meanwhile, Canada's veterans don’t appear to be slowing down—just look at the trio of Poulin, Brianne Jenner, and Rebecca Johnston.  Both teams have found a formula that works for them, and I’m excited to see which ends up leading to gold.

Special teams can be important…or not? What should we expect from 5-on-4 play?
LM: The United States has spent more time short-handed in this tournament than any other team, but their PK has been pretty solid. They’ve also scored a whopping 11 power-play goals so far, and are the only team that was able to crack Czechia’s perfect penalty kill. Canada’s penalty kill is strong, which should make for exciting 5-on-4 play against the Americans’ leading PP, but (similar to 2022) they haven’t scored much with the player advantage. Long story short, the U.S. has the slight advantage when it comes to special teams. 
AP: If, as expected, there is one Canadian and one American referee, you’d think their job is to let as much physical play go without letting the game get out of hand. The more 5-on-5 time, the better Canada’s chances. Canada has been over-passing on the PP in recent games, but earlier in the tournament they scored several goals the easy way—quick wristers from the point deflected or screened in front. The U.S. is hard to the net and drives the puck to the goal whenever they can with the extra skater.

Are there any intangibles to consider?
AP: I think perhaps more than any previous rivalry game, goaltending will be key. A big save can be a massive momentum changer; a bit of a soft goal can dampen spirits and send the other team into overdrive. In the end, the team that weathers the storms and can turn a bad shift into a good shift the quickest will win.
LM: There’s something to be said about playing on home soil. Canada wants and likes to play in front of big, loud crowds, and really tries to use the opportunity to play at home to their advantage. The Americans are hungry to top the podium, though. The last time they won Women’s Worlds gold was in 2019, and it has been just over a year since they lost to the Canadians at the Olympics in Beijing. They’ll be looking to translate that desire to reclaim first place into a good game on Sunday night.

How much will coaching play a role?
LM: What I’m curious about is what John Wroblewski’s line combinations are going to be. He kept his lines consistent all tournament until the semi-final, where he moved Alex Carpenter off the top line with Knight and Amanda Kessel and put Abby Roque in her place. Carpenter played with Hayley Scamurra, who was bumped up from the fourth line, and Abbey Murphy. Wroblewski has been deploying the right players in the right situations, and has been very vocal about the belief he has in his roster.
AP: Again, an apple is coaching against an orange. Troy Ryan just relies on his players and has a more practical, down-to-earth approach. He knows they can do the job; he just has to give them the opportunity. I’m not sure line matchups will matter (or even be attempted, for that matter--for the record, Canada is the home team), so in the end I think it will be more about the players than the guys behind the bench.

For all the marbles, one simple question to finish. Who’s grabbing the gold?
AP: It’s so easy to argue either side, but if we have to choose, I’ll take Canada simply because they have the momentum and confidence from the last three events. The crowd will be unbelievable, but I think both teams benefit equally from that. Remember, Canada came back to win in Burlington in 2012, and a year later the Americans won in Ottawa. In one sentence, here’s what I would say—it’s not which team scores the first goal that’s important—it’s which team scores the second goal.
LM: Always a tough question with these two teams, but I’m leaning towards Canada. The only gaping potential issue I see is their unproductive power play. I actually like that they had a close (in terms of score) quarter-final with Sweden and that it took half the game for them to get their first goal on Switzerland in the semi-final. They needed to fight for those wins, and I think that’s a benefit to them, as they’ll need to replicate that fight against the U.S. But you never know—these teams needed a shootout to determine the winner earlier this week, and I think the gold-medal game is going to be another close one.