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      2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship Preview, Predictions

      Who will come away with the gold in Utica?

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      It is that time of year again.

      The best players from around the globe prepare to represent their countries on the international stage, as they get set to play in the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championships.

      The United States ended Canada’s bid for a three-peat in Brampton last year, and you know the Canadians will be looking for revenge on American ice.

      Let’s look at how the teams are shaping up heading into Utica from April 3-14:

      Group A

      Canada

      After losing the gold medal game on home ice last season, the Canadians hope to return the favor this year.

      The 12-time world champions have a stacked roster with many returning faces. From Professional Women’s Hockey League stars like Sarah Nurse, Laura Stacey, Jocelyne Larocque and Renata Fast to recent college graduates Sarah Fillier and Danielle Serdachny, there is loads of firepower wearing the maple leaf this year.

      One player who has been on an absolute tear in the inaugural PWHL season is Natalie Spooner. The 33-year-old has been a big reason why Toronto is sitting first in the PWHL standings, leading the league in goals (15) and points (20).

      One question mark will be with the team’s leader. Marie-Philip Poulin was injured in Montreal’s loss to Toronto on March 8, and has missed her team’s last three games with a lower-body injury. Poulin has been skating to prepare for Worlds, but it is tough to say if Captain Clutch is 100%.

      Canada begins play on the tournament’s second day, taking on Finland on Thursday.

      Czechia

      This is the golden age of women’s hockey in Czechia. After not winning a medal in the first two decades of competition, the European nation claimed bronze in the last two events. The Czechs expect to make it to the semifinals once again and potentially challenge for an even better medal.

      Kateřina Mrázová will once again be under the tutelage of her PWHL Ottawa head coach, Carla MacLeod. Mrázová has been one of the most efficient scorers for her team this season, sitting fourth in the league with 17 points.

      She will be backed up by teammate Aneta Tejralová, one of the most effective two-way defenders this year.

      While other notable producers in the lineup, including Montreal’s Tereza Vanisova and Denisa Krizova of Minnesota, keep an eye out for Adela Sapovalivova. The 17-year-old led the Czechs in scoring during the Women’s Under-18 tournament this past January, helping earn the country’s first silver medal in international competition.

      Czechia kicks things off on Wednesday when it takes on Finland.

      Finland

      It is strange to think that a team that came close to winning gold five years ago has not even been able to make it to the semifinals recently, but that is where the Finns stand coming into the tournament. They hope to have a good showing in the top group after starting the 2023 tournament in Group B.

      Finland has plenty of offensive prowess to make a run this year. Petra Nieminen is back after leading the team in scoring in Canada last April. She has been a key part of a Luleå HF squad that won the SDHL regular season and playoff championships. She will be flanked by club teammates Noora Tulus and Viivi Vainikka, who finished first and second in SDHL scoring, respectively.

      Susanna Tapani is a key player who will be back in the lineup after missing out last season. The PWHL Boston forward has brought a different energy to the top six since getting traded from Minnesota and hopes to use that spark in the tournament.

      Finland has a solid goaltending duo that they can utilize in the group stage to figure out who they want to use in the quarterfinals. St. Cloud State starter Sanni Ahola showed maturity in her second season in the NCAA, posting a .935 save percentage, good for sixth in the WCHA. HV71 starter Anni Keisala has been a mainstay between the pipes for the Finns on the big stage, having helped her country capture bronze at the Beijing Olympics.

      The Finns begin group play on Wednesday when they meet Czechia.

      Switzerland

      Over the last 15 years, the Swiss have consistently been a team with a couple of talented stars but not enough depth to compete with the depth of the big programs.

      This year’s lineup includes many familiar faces, including a couple of players who hope to perform well in New York.

      They will be again led by national team veterans Lara Stalder and Alina Müller. Müller, currently with PWHL Boston, has more than enough to be a game-changer all by herself. After playing six years in the SDHL, captain Stalder returned to her home country to play with EV Zug in Switzerland’s second league, where she scored *checks notes* 187 points in 24 games.

      Andrea Braendli is the uncontested starter in net, as she was a big part of MoDo’s run to the SDHL Finals. One player to keep an eye on is Sinja Leemann. The 21-year-old is coming off a career year with ZSC Lions Frauen, with 52 points placing her fourth in the top Swiss league in scoring.

      The Swiss have only medaled twice in major international competitions, winning bronze at the 2012 World Championships and 2014 Olympics.

      Switzerland is getting a rude awakening into the tournament, facing the host Americans on Wednesday.

      United States

      Speaking of the U.S., the Red, White & Blue are looking to become back-to-back champions since their run of five straight championships from 2013 to 2019.

      Like every other year, the Americans are full of talent, with a healthy mix of young guns and veterans. National team mainstays like Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Megan Keller will be complemented by Patty Kazmaier finalists Kirsten Simms and Casey O’Brien from the University of Wisconsin.

      Abbey Murphy was one difference maker who proved to be a crucial absence in the final leg of the Rivalry Series. The Minnesota Golden Gopher posted four points in the first four games of the series before going on to finish tied for the most goals (33) in the NCAA with Simms.

      Like Canada, the U.S. has an excellent goaltending duo, as Aerin Frankel (Boston) and Nicole Hensley (Minnesota) are arguing their respective cases to be named PWHL Goaltender of the Year.

      Group B

      China

      Though China played in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, this is the first time the nation has participated in the top division at the World Championships since 2009. They got to this point by going a perfect 5-0 at the D1A Championships last year.

      However, things will be incredibly tough this season. The Chinese team has been elevated through the ranks with the help of dual-passport players like Leah Lum, Hannah Miller, Madison Woo and UConn goaltender Tia Chan. However, China has chosen to ban such players from playing in international competitions, heavily putting the country at a disadvantage, even in Group B.

      What’s left of the roster, which features mostly those who play domestically in the Chinese Women’s League, has been in Utica for the past few weeks, holding a near-three-week training camp to prepare for the tournament.

      However, no matter how prepared China is, they are favorites to fall back to down Division 1A.

      China will kick off the tournament against Asian rival Japan on Thursday.

      Denmark

      Like China, the Danes received promotion to the top division after a good performance in the D1A Worlds last year. Unfortunately, like the Chinese, Denmark will have a tough path out of the group stage.

      The team is very light on pros from the big leagues in Europe but does have a couple of players from the collegiate ranks.

      St. Lawrence goaltender Emma-Sofie Nordstrom was a big reason why the Saints advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years. At last year’s D1A Championships, Nordstrom posted a .925 SV% in four starts, helping the country earn the bump.

      Olivia Ranum will be an interesting player to watch. At 15, the youngest player in the tournament, the Aalborg product has played for the nation’s Under-18 World Championship roster over the last two years, though they were relegated to D1B this past January.

      Denmark will play in the tournament’s opening game, as it faces Sweden on Wednesday.

      Germany

      The Germans have had to battle simply to get into the knockout stage in recent memory, but they certainly turned some heads last season when they opened up play in Brampton by hammering Sweden.

      No one will be taking this time team lightly this year.

      Sandra Abstreiter was masterful in net in 2023, giving Germany three wins. The former Providence College standout was good enough to be signed by PWHL Ottawa, and while she has only made two starts this season, she has shown signs of being a star goaltender in the pro ranks.

      Along with many players from the NCAA ranks, including North Vancouver native and Minnesota-Duluth product Nina Jobst-Smith, Franziska Feldmeier hopes to have a repeat performance from Brampton, where she was one of the team’s top scorers.

      Germany gets a pass on the opening day, facing Denmark in its first game on Thursday.

      Japan

      I enjoy watching Japan because they always find a way to get into the quarterfinals and can give the top teams a run for their money.

      This year’s team has a healthy mix of professionals scattered across Europe, along with Akane Shiga, the lone Japanese player in the PWHL, who has scored a goal in 19 games with Ottawa during their inaugural season.

      She hopes to make an impact alongside players like Yoshino Enomoto and Haruka Toko. Toko, who has been playing on the senior national team for the last nine years, was one of the top scorers in the SDHL on a really good Linkoping team. With 43 points, the 27-year-old finished second in the league in assists (30).

      Enomoto was the top offensive weapon on Team Lugano in the top Swiss league this season, scoring nine goals and 27 points in 24 games. Shiga and Enomoto were on the Japanese team that took home a silver medal at the World University Games in Lake Placid last year.

      Japan will get a chance at an early win when it takes on China on Thursday.

      Sweden

      After a stunning third-place finish in Group last year, Sweden has high hopes to finish atop the group in 2024, thanks to plenty of firepower capable of pushing the team to its first semifinal appearance in 17 years.

      The exciting young player to watch for the Swedes is Hilda Svensson. The 17-year-old has represented her country in each of the last two Under-18 World Championships, helping Sweden to silver in 2023. The HV71 product also led Sweden in scoring in Brampton last year, scoring 11 points in seven games. The Ohio State commit hopes she can elevate her game even more in Utica.

      It will be interesting to see what version of Hanna Olsson we get in the tournament. After suffering a near-season-ending injury in October, the national team veteran managed to return for Frolunda’s semifinal series but had obvious rust. Sweden is hoping the break between the SDHL Playoffs and World Championships gives her time to get back to 100%.

      Goaltending will be key if Sweden wants to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2012. That is where PWHL Boston netminder Emma Söderberg will have to come in clutch in the knockout stage.

      Sweden will try to get started on the right foot on Wednesday against Denmark to kick off the tournament.

      Predictions

      Group A

      1. United States
      2. Canada
      3. Czechia
      4. Finland
      5. Switzerland

      Group B

      1. Sweden
      2. Japan
      3. Germany
      4. Denmark
      5. China

      Medals

      Gold: Canada
      Silver: United States
      Bronze: Sweden

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