Hockey worlds: Five things to watch
The 2013 IIHF World Women's Championship is set to get under way in Ottawa on Tuesday. This marks the 15th anniversary of the tournament and a return to its roots, as Ottawa was the venue for the very first women's world championships in 1990. Since its inception, both the game and tournament have undergone significant growth. With so much action set to take place, here are five things to keep an eye on.
1. Rivalry renewed
The tournament gets off to a great start with Canada taking on the United States on the opening night of the tournament. Once again, the two heavyweights are considered tournament favorites, and this will likely be a preview of the championship final. Canada will be looking to defend its title as it defeated the U.S. 5-4 in overtime last year in Burlington, Vermont. The two teams have met in every final of the championship, with the Canadians winning gold 10 times.
2. Hayley Wickenheiser
There is perhaps no one better known in women's hockey than Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser, who was named team captain for the sixth consecutive world championship. Wickenheiser, who will be making her 13th worlds appearance, has played in 254 international games and has 162 goals and 197 assists. The 34-year-old suffered a minor knee injury in early March, but says she has fully recovered and doesn't expect any setbacks. The Canadians will rely heavily on Wickenheiser for leadership, as well as her offensive abilities.
3. Players on our radar
The tournament features a number of outstanding players, but there are a few who have the ability to lift fans right out of their seats. Keep an eye on Amanda Kessel of the United States. The 21-year-old sister of the Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel led the NCAA's Minnesota Gophers in scoring with 101 points in 36 games this season (46 goals, 55 assists) and won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top player in the country. Kessel is expected to play a key role for the Americans at worlds, as well as the upcoming 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
While Finland may not have the overall star power of Canada or the U.S., it does boast one of the tournament's star goaltenders in Noora Raty, a teammate of Kessel's in Minnesota. Raty played a key role in the Gophers' perfect 41-0 season, as she compiled 38 victories with a .956 save percentage and 0.96 goals-against average.
Keep an eye on Canada's Meghan Agosta-Marciano. The 26-year-old has a knack for scoring big goals under pressure, as was evident during the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Games, where she scored a hat trick during each respective tournament.
4. A medal for Russia?
Over the course of the tournament's history, Russia has only won bronze once. This year, the Russian Hockey Federation would love to see its team compete for a bronze medal yet again. The Russians feel a certain amount of pressure to improve its standing considering the 2014 Olympic Games will be held in Sochi.
In an effort to strengthen the program, former NHL and KHL sniper Alexei Yashin was hired as the team's general manager. Yashin's presence has brought stability to the program, not to mention financial support. But perhaps most impressive is Yashin's hands-on approach. It's not uncommon to see Yashin take to the ice and help his players work on specific skills.
Russia's road to the medal round won't be easy. It will first have to qualify for the playoffs as one of the top two teams in round-robin play in Pool B, which also includes Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
5. Drawing a crowd
Watch for an attendance record to be set during the tournament. The last time Scotiabank Place hosted a women's hockey game featuring Canada and the United States was Jan. 1, 2010, when 16,347 fans filled the arena to set a women's hockey game attendance record. Organizers are hopeful to set a new mark over the next week.
Lisa Wallace covers hockey for The Canadian Press.