The biggest prize of the year in women’s hockey is on the line for the next two weeks.
The CAA Center in Brampton, Ontario will host the world championships, the annual measure of each country’s position on the sport’s largest non-Olympic stage.
It creates a unique dynamic between sports: Players have plied their trade in various leagues around the world since the fall with the goal of peaking for the annual international event.
But how much longer will it continue to be like this?
Team Canada assistant captain Renata Fast told CBC Sports that she hopes a professional championship will soon reach the same level as an international title.
“That’s the goal. That’s the goal for sure. One day we will achieve it. Obviously, it will still be an honor to always represent your country, but that will be really important, the next step,” Fast said. saying.
In North America, the rift between two women’s hockey factions, the Premier Hockey Federation and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association, is well documented. The PWHPA owns the vast majority of the talent, while the PHF owns the established infrastructure.
Every member of Team Canada plays in the PWHPA or college, and top PHF talent like Brittany Howard and Loren Gabel were left off the roster. Becca Gilmore, forward, is the only PHF player on Team USA.
The PWHPA will reportedly begin a formal professional league next fall, replacing the Dream Gap Tour series of events it currently hosts.
CLOCK | Canada wins the 2021 world championship:
Whichever side emerges – and history tells us there is only room for one – will have momentum on their side as women’s sports and women’s hockey continue to grow in popularity.
The world championship can only accelerate that ascent.
In men’s hockey, which hasn’t staged a best-on-best international tournament since the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, it’s commonly lamented that Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby will probably never stand next to each other for the Team Canada at its best. like players
The Hockey World Cup has only taken place three times, all on an irregular basis, while most top pro players are barred from the annual men’s world championship due to a schedule that overlaps with the NHL playoffs. .
The women’s hockey version is the complete opposite: let’s see the likes of Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Nurse go head-to-head against each other in high-stakes, high-stakes competition, something the Dram Gap Tour hasn’t provided to date.
Canadian head coach Troy Ryan agreed with Fast that a meaningful professional championship is “ultimately what you want.”
“Desire [international hockey] always be special, but I want the athletes to play in a professional league and grow as much as they can,” Ryan told CBC Sports.
Of course, there is one thing that professional hockey will never be able to match: international rivalries.
“I never think that goes away,” Ryan said. “That’s always been a great foundation of the women’s game, and I think it will continue no matter what professional sports come along.”
CLOCK | Unknown story of how hate fueled the 2002 women’s hockey gold medal game:
Canada has the upper hand in the US rivalry.
The Canada-USA rivalry has become somewhat asymmetrical in recent years, with Canada reclaiming Olympic gold in 2022 and also taking each of the last two world championship titles.
The recently played seven-game Rivalry Series only added insult to injury, as Canada overcame a 3-0 deficit to win four straight games and steal the exhibition championship.
“We’re not here to defend past world championships. The best thing you can do is find a way to win this world championship, and the recipe for previous ones won’t be the same as this one,” Ryan said.
With Canada’s tournament scheduled to begin on Wednesday against Switzerland at 7 pm ET, the team says the motivation is internal. Each tournament brings a new group of players who have not necessarily been a part of previous triumphs. In these World Cups, forward Danielle Serdachny is the only rookie from Canada.
Still, the American rivalry remains a driving force for some like Natalie Spooner. Spooner gave birth to her son Rory in December and was on the ice four weeks later with the goal of making the World Cup roster.
She said she was excited to reunite with her teammates, but had something else on her mind.
“The intense rivalry with the US as well, I think that will be something to look forward to,” he told CBC Sports.
‘Here to win a gold medal’
Canada will play in Group A along with the United States, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Japan. All five teams are guaranteed entry into the quarterfinals, where they will be joined by the top three teams from Group B (Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary). Russia is still banned from international hockey due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Canada faces the United States in their final group stage match next Monday. The quarterfinals go on Thursday, with the semifinals on Saturday and the medal games on Sunday.
When asked what a successful tournament would look like, Fast said it would be the team “that commits to their roles and plays their heart out and never, ever gives up.”
Ryan, however, had a different idea.
“We are here to win a gold medal.”