As Team Canada closes in on a chance to end a near decade-long first-place drought at the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship, the hosts are internally emphasizing veteran leadership and enjoying the moment.
Whether it was Sarah Nurse “playing the piano” on the bench versus the Russian Olympic Committee or the creative game-day threads the Canadians are donning, the players are soaking in the opportunity to compete for the first time in more than two years.
Those hallmarks have helped Canada to a perfect start ahead of a semifinal versus Switzerland on Monday. So far, the hosts have outscored opponents 27-5 and outshot them 248-56.
“It’s been so much fun and a great experience so far,” said blueliner Ashton Bell, one of eight Canadians experiencing their first world championship. “The older girls and vets have been awesome, making us feel so welcomed, and they’re valuing all of us.”
Bell scored her first goal with the senior group on Saturday versus Germany in the quarterfinals. It ended up being the winner as Canada handled the Germans 7-0.
“That first goal is definitely special,” Bell said. “Mélo [Mélodie Daoust] had a great setup.”
Canada’s new second line of Natalie Spooner, Mélodie Daoust and newcomer Sarah Fillier plays with skill and tenacity and has contributed 24 combined points through five games.
“We have a lot of fun,” Spooner said. “We’re always laughing.”
Canada head coach Troy Ryan initially put the trio together in part because of how well Spooner and Daoust work with young players. It’s a staple of this version of Team Canada.
“I think the mix of the young with some of the more experienced players, it’s just been a good mix,” he said. “Some of the environment that the older, more experienced players are providing is allowing those young players to flourish and play with confidence. They seem to have a ton of fun away from the rink.”
After Canada’s dominating 5-1 win over the United States on Thursday, Ryan attributed much of their success to that collective focus on the goals of the group. With eight newcomers on the roster, there was a changing of the guard as Hockey Canada transitioned to a new crop of players, including Fillier, Bell, Claire Thompson, and Victoria Bach.
“There’s no one looking for individual [success],” Ryan said. “They’re looking for team [success] and everyone is happy for everyone with their own success. Putting everyone over the boards and knowing they’re going to do their job is probably half the battle right now.”
Captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who took a puck to the throat in a 5-0 victory over the Swiss last Tuesday during group play and missed the contest versus the Americans, returned to the lineup for the quarterfinals and scored a goal.
Emerance Maschmeyer made three saves for the shutout victory versus Germany. So far, Ryan has gone with a 1A-1B setup in net, with Maschmeyer and Ann-Renee Desbiens splitting time in the crease. Despite recording two shutouts in two starts, Maschmeyer has faced just 15 shots, while Desbiens has faced 41 shots through three games.
Canada’s next challenge will be the Swiss in the semifinals. Switzerland punched its semifinal ticket with a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the Russian Olympic Committee on Saturday. Ryan has not yet named his starting goalie for Monday evening.
Regardless of who gets the call, Canadian fans should expect more success as the tournament continues.
“People in Canada should be excited,” Desbiens said. “We did really well as a team, and it shows what we can bring to the table against any opponent.”