The 2021 Women’s World Championship was a strong indication of how much women’s hockey has grown internationally.
Canada still won gold, defeating Team USA in dramatic overtime fashion in the title game, but what the rest of the nations did in Calgary, Alberta, is notable — especially Japan.
Japan has rarely been in the women’s hockey conversation, but that changed drastically with its showing in the tournament.
Akane Shiga scored the first-ever Japanese goal against the U.S. in Japan’s 10-2 loss. She scored later that period as well for all of Japan’s offense.
After the loss, Japan defeated the Czech Republic, a program with multiple professional players. The 3-2 victory earned Japan a game with Russia, where it competed for a spot in Group A next year. Japan lost, but to even reach that point was incredible for a growing program.
Hanae Kubo, Rui Ukita and Shiga scored the goals, and Nana Fujimoto made 31 saves.
The sixth-place finish is the highest Japan has placed in Worlds; the last time it reached seventh was 2015.
Japan will be back in Group B next year, and attention should be heeded; it finished ahead of the Czechs and Germany, which placed in fourth as recently as 2017.
Another growing program, Switzerland, continued to impress and placed in fourth, tied for its highest placement ever.
Switzerland’s win over Russia, a dramatic come-from-behind effort, was one of the most thrilling games of the tournament. Switzerland has been on the radar as an up-and-coming program for some time and, when healthy, should be worth watching again.
Poulin does it again
If anyone in hockey would pick anyone besides Marie-Philip Poulin in a big moment, they’re either wrong or they’re lying.
Poulin, who now has three gold-medal-clinching goals, did it again in Canada’s comeback win Tuesday over the U.S. Trailing 2-0, Canada forced overtime, and Poulin beat Nicole Hensley during the three-on-three extra frame.
At first, only Poulin noticed she had scored; review quickly corrected that.
The future Hall of Famer has done things nearly no one in hockey has. She’s sixth all time in Canadian scoring at Worlds, a former CWHL MVP, an Olympic gold medalist.
Also, she’s only 30. There’s a lot of time left for Poulin to keep doing this.
No time to spare for the U.S.
Usually, Worlds take place in late spring. This year, after missing last year, Worlds were pushed to August. Originally scheduled for Nova Scotia, the province postponed the event twice.
It’s an Olympic cycle, and this was the first international women’s event since the 2019 Worlds. With it so close to February’s Games as it is, there’s barely any time to take these results and prepare for a tournament less than six months from now.
Centralization rosters already have been posted, so there won’t be many changes, but the United States has a lot to think about.
The defense struggled. Megan Bozek had a few breakdowns, and Megan Keller struggled throughout, even while leading in defensive time on ice with Cayla Barnes.
Aerin Frankel, this year’s Patty Kazmaier award winner for the best player in women’s college hockey, didn’t even see the ice. Hensley was admirable, and Maddie Rooney should be back, but it’s pretty incredible she didn’t even dress.
Joel Johnson — in his first event coaching Team USA since Bob Corkum resigned ahead of the would-have-been Nova Scotia event — didn’t make many adjustments to a struggling power play. The U.S. went 2-for-19 in the tournament before Alex Carpenter’s first-period power play goal against Canada. Team USA finished at 3-for-24.
“We’ve got to generate more chances and be more organized, and I take 100 percent responsibility as a coach for us not being as prepared or not being as successful in that area,” Johnson said after the loss.
Three-on-three wasn’t ideal for a team that struggled with open ice. The defense was clumsy, the offense couldn’t possess, Poulin had room, and the rest was history.
The last thing to address is the playing time of Abby Roque. The Wisconsin product has been highly touted and was the rising star of the PWHPA American Dream Gap Tour this year. She played only 62 shifts during the tournament.
Whatever was up with that, it didn’t work, and she likely should have more ice time. That Lacey Eden apparently jumped her in the depth chart is curious. Perhaps that changes in the next six months.
The gold-medal loss was still a better showing than Team USA showed in the preliminary-round loss to Canada. There’s just a long way to go.