Young stars shining bright
by Liz Montroy|17 APR 2023
Sweden's Hilda Svensson plays the puck at the 2023 IIHF Women's World Championship
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin

Hilda Svensson was impossible to miss the moment she stepped on the ice at the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship. The 16-year-old scored on her first shot in her first shift in the first minute of her first Women’s Worlds game. Earning a spot on Sweden’s top line with her sharp hockey IQ, Svensson went on to finish sixth in scoring with five goals—one of which was in the dying seconds against Canada to force overtime—and six assists. If there was a rookie of the tournament award, it might very well have gone to Svensson.

In Brampton we got a glimpse of what the future holds for women's hockey, with rookies and young players making a name for themselves. So let's talk about the future—by highlighting one young star from each team.

Sweden wasn’t the only team with a 16-year-old superstar on their top line. Adela Sapovalivova returned for her second Women’s Worlds with Czechia after a fantastic debut last August in Denmark. The fact that she didn’t score as much as she did in 2022 didn’t matter—what mattered was that Sapovalivova didn’t looked out of place in Group A, and her confidence seemed to grow as the tournament progressed. Czech captain Alena Mills said it well: “She’s a bubbly kid, great to have on our team, and I think she’s able to build on the confidence and also gets better every tournament. That’s what we want to see, that’s how we’re going to get this team to those shinier medals. It’s kids like her that are going to help us.”

Many of the teams have that same mindset, including the one that won gold. It’s very difficult to choose just one young player to highlight from Team USA, but defender Caroline Harvey was a clear standout. Yes, this wasn’t her first rodeo (she played in the 2021 and 2022 Women’s Worlds and the 2022 Olympics), but her performance in Brampton really cemented Harvey as the future of Team USA. She had points in all seven games, had five multi-point games, and scored the tying goal in the third period of the gold medal game.

Another defender we can expect to see suiting up for her country for a long time yet is Germany’s Nina Jobst-Smith. The University of Minnesota-Duluth player led her team in ice time and averaged 25:38 per game. She’s not a big goal scorer, but is depended on (and delivers) defensively, and was key to Germany’s close games with Finland and the United States.

The teams with the youngest average age (22) were Japan and Switzerland. For Japan, the young stars to keep an eye on are the goalies, as this was Japan’s second Women’s Worlds in a row without Nana Fujimoto. We talked a lot about the breakout performance of Miyuu Masuhara last summer, so let’s highlight 18-year-old Riko Kawaguchi, who has come a long way since letting in five goals in 32 minutes against Canada in 2022. Kawaguchi started two games and played in three others in Brampton. She was given the start for Japan’s placement round game against Sweden, turning away 23 shots in tight 1-0 loss.

As for Switzerland, Alina Muller and Lara Stalder’s linemate Rahel Enzler emerged as a goal scorer, and was one of just six Swiss players to contribute a goal in Brampton. She was also one of just three Swiss players with a positive plus/minus, leading the team with +6—impressive for a player on a roster that struggled to score and led the tournament in goals against.

Back to goalies for a moment. The Hungarians have had a clear number one goaltender for a decade in Aniko Nemeth, but 17-year-old Zsuzsa Revesz got some playing time in Brampton and looked good, most notably against Sweden. She relieved Nemeth five minutes in to the second period with the score at 5-2, allowing just one goal against (scored by none other than Svensson).

Okay, one more goalie. There were a lot of young players on Finland’s roster that had a great tournament (don’t forget about Sanni Vanhanen, the 17-year-old playing in her fifth major international tournament in 14 months), but Sanni Ahola was brought up in our “Ask the Experts” that followed the preliminary round. This was Ahola’s first look in net for Finland, playing against Hungary (5-0) and France (14-1) before getting the call for the critical fifth place game, which Finland would go on to win to earn a spot in Group A for 2024. Sweden did score in the first minute of that game, but Ahola was solid for the remaining 59 minutes.

The team that came in with the least top division experience was France. They know that if they want to be able to maintain a spot in the top division of Women’s Worlds that they need to continue working on developing their young talent and finding opportunities for them to play against elite competition. That said, there were three young players in particular who made their presence felt in Brampton who have been building careers for themselves in Canada and Sweden: Mia Vaananen, Jade Barbirati and Margot Desvignes.

Finally, the Canadians, who had the oldest average age of 28. Danielle Serdachny was the only rookie on the team, and Sarah Fillier was named tournament MVP, but it’s worth keeping an eye on players not hitting milestones or lighting up the scoresheet. Players like Emma Maltais (third youngest on the roster after Serdachny and Fillier), who made every minute of ice time count. She was often called upon for her tenacious forecheck and relentless battle along the boards, a role not always recognized, but crucial to a team’s success.