PLYMOUTH, Mich. â€” A team-by-team look at countries competing in the 2017 women's world hockey championship March 31 to April 7 in Plymouth, Mich.
The 2017 hosts have won of six of the last seven world championships. Former NHL goaltender Robb Stauber took over as head coach from Ken Klee in December. Amanda Kessel, sister of Pittsburgh Penguin forward Phil, returns to the national team for the first time since 2014 when she was concussed. Forward Hilary Knight (32 goals) can move into the top five in scoring all time at the world championship.
Its last world championship gold medal was in 2012 in Burlington, Vt., when Caroline Ouellette, now assistant coach to Laura Schuler in Plymouth, scored the overtime winner. Goaltender Shannon Szabados will play in her first international tournament since the 2014 Winter Olympics. Forward Meghan Agosta, a Vancouver police officer, is Canada's active leader with 155 points in 155 career games.
Olga Sosina led Russia's offence and scored the shootout winner to beat Finland 1-0 for bronze last year in Kamloops, B.C. Former University of Calgary Dino forward Iya Gavrilova, the Canadian university MVP in 2015, and current Dino Alexandra Vafina are on the roster.
The country capable of upsetting Canada and the U.S., went for it in last year's semifinal against Canada. Their coach pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker during three power plays in the third period. They scored on one gamble but gave up two empty-netters in a loss. Led by forward Michelle Karvinen, Finland is disciplined and tenacious.
After bronze in 2005 and 2007, Olympic silver in 2006 and an upset of Canada during the 2008 Four Nations Cup, the Swedes lost steam. Goaltender Sara Grahn is capable of stealing a game, but their offence runs hot and cold. Three Swedes are University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who went 25-7-5 this season.
The Czechs upset Switzerland and lost to the Swedes in a shootout en route to the quarter-finals last year. Almost half the team won bronze at the world under-18 championship in 2014, including goaltender Klara Peslarova, who chosen top goalie of that tournament. Czechs playing in North America include forward Veronika Bucifalova (Ontario Hockey Academy) and Katerina Mrazova (UMD Bulldogs).
Forward Lara Stalder led UMD in scoring and was a Patty Kazmaier finalists for the top NCAA player in Division 1 women's hockey. Workhorse goaltender Florence Schelling leads the women's world championship in all-time minutes played (2,210) and backstopped the Swiss to Olympic bronze in 2014.
The Germans an Olympic qualification final to Japan in February, so they won't be in Pyeongchang in 2018. Laura Kluge and Manuela Anwander are their top scorers. The German women have a long history of women's world championship participation dating back to the first in Ottawa in 1990. Their best result was fifth in 2013 and 2001.
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Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press