Women’s World Championships 2024 Preview

Team USA captain Hilary Knight celebrates at the World Championships in 2023
Photo: International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin

The 2024 Women’s World Championship gets underway this week in Utica, New York, with round-robin games beginning April 3. The USA is defending its title after reclaiming the gold last year following two years of Canadian victories. With Czechia coming on strong, there could be an upset, and Finland and Switzerland are always in the fight as the elimination games occur.

Here are the storylines to watch:

Can Hilary Knight rise to the occasion?

In last year’s final, Team USA’s captain had a statement game, scoring a hat trick to lead the way to a 6-3 victory over Canada. She became the first player in Women’s Worlds history to reach 100 points, and also won the inaugural IIHF Female Player of the Year award. It was the fifth time she has led an IIHF Women’s Worlds in goals, another feat unmatched in the history of the tournament. Accolades deserved, but as the first season of the PWHL unfolded, Knight’s Boston team struggled to score. She has only put up 4 goals and 3 assists in 19 games, a shockingly low total for such a prolific scorer. But the international game has been Knight’s stage. She led all scorers in the 23-24 Rivalry Series against Canada, and always finds a way to be a difference maker when the stakes are high. Has she lost a step, or will she break out with another commanding performance?

What effect will the PWHL have? 

The Professional Women’s Hockey League has given players an unprecedented opportunity to stay battle-tested and play meaningful games leading into the World Championship. Canada’s team has the most players currently in the league, and this game readiness should translate to a higher level of play. Most national team players are at least partially clustered on teams like Minnesota, Toronto, and Montreal, so they have some continuity and familiarity that will be an advantage. But for some countries, some players haven’t been playing in any significant league, and those might be behind in fitness and competitiveness. Also, expect coaches to make some decisions based on PWHL performances (Toronto’s Kristen Campbell has been exceptional, for instance, and Minnesota’s Grace Zumwinkle should have an expanded role). 

NCAA players take center stage

Players from college hockey missed the last three games of the Rivalry Series but will rejoin (or join for the first time) their national teams for the Worlds. For the USA, the influx includes Abbey Murphy, Cayla Barnes, Haley Winn, Caroline Harvey, Hannah Bilka, Rory Guilday, Britta Curl, Lacey Eden, Sydney Morrow, Laila Edwards, Joy Dunne, Kirsten Simms, and Tessa Janecke, meaning their roster has a huge turnover from the group that played last year and in the losing efforts of the seven-game series. Their youth and talent are undeniable and are a marked contrast to the more veteran players on Team Canada. 

Will Captain Canada be available?

Marie-Philip Poulin missed the last three games in PWHL Montreal’s season with an apparent knee injury, and was also absent for Canada’s warmup game against Finland on the weekend. She has been skating with the team, but there is yet no official word on her participation. The round-robin games won’t be crucial, but Canada needs her in the elimination portion of the tournament, or their chances for success are severely diminished. She’s scored clutch goals (also earning the nickname Captain Clutch) and gold-medal clinching goals more than once. 

Overtime, shootouts, disallowed goals, controversies

The World Championships have been characterized in recent years by various dramatics, including an overtime, gold-medal winning goal for Finland (in Espoo, 2019) that was called off after video replay. A nine-round shootout between the U.S. and Canada took place in their preliminary-round game last year. Poulin’s championship-winning goal in 2021 during overtime wasn’t confirmed for 40 seconds of playing time, when the buzzer sounded to signal that a review had spotted the puck in the net behind Nicole Hensley. What kind of wild action can we expect this year? It’s a reason not to miss this tournament.

Don’t forget Czechia

The rise of the Czech team (coached by PWHL Ottawa’s Carla MacLeod) has been a heartwarming story as they won bronze in 2022, their first-ever medal in Women’s World Championship play. Previously, the Czechs had never finished higher than sixth. They repeated that result in last year’s Championships, defeating Switzerland 3-2. MacLeod’s influence has helped this team become a fascinating squad to watch, and her Ottawa players (Katerina Mrázová, Tereza Vanišová, and Aneta Tejralová) join PWHL Minnesota’s Denisa Křížová on what will be a fast, skilled team.

Forward Michaela Pejzlová earned her second scoring title in the Naisten Liiga (30 goals and 41 assists in 24 games) as well as back-to-back championships and is a legitimate offensive threat. In goal, starter Klára Peslarová returns after an injury that held her out of the World Championship last year. In the SDHL this season, Peslarová had a .935 save percentage in 20 games.

Could this be the year they upset one of the top two and play in the final?

Cee Benwell

Longtime hockey player and fan, host of PWHL Puck Drop Podcast and GameDay Hockey on YouTube, X, hockey writer and proud supporter of women's hockey.

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