Lesser Known Players to Watch in the 2015 Women’s World Championship

We know you’ll have your eyes on what Hilary Knight and Marie Philip Poulin do in the Women’s World Championships – you don’t need us to tell you they’re the players to watch.  But who should you be looking for when Japan and Switzerland close out the first round of games on Tuesday?

Like the B side of an album, there’s lesser-known talent aplenty to be found on these rosters. As well as tons of players that are spending their college careers in the US, meaning you might find a new favorite player that you can watch on the regular.

Let’s start with

Team USA:

Annie Pankowski was the Rookie of the Year in NCAA women’s hockey. She led the Wisconsin Badgers in goals and points as a freshman, scoring 42 points in 38 games (20g, 22a). The Badgers made it to the national semi-final this season. Pankowski looked to be finding a new level as the season wound down – she scored two goals in her team’s NCAA quarterfinal win over Poulin’s Boston University Terriers, including a breakaway two minutes into the game that included this nasty stickwork.

Alex Carpenter absolutely owned the NCAA this season, scoring 37 goals and adding 44 assists on the season and averaging 2.19 points per game. She won the Patty Kazmaier Award for her efforts.

The next highest scorer, seven points behind Carpenter was Hannah Brandt. Brandt will be a great addition to the already potent US offense. She has a knack for finding the loose pucks and making big plays when her team needs them most. Brandt was a Patty Kaz top ten finalist her freshman year and a top three finalist the next two years. She’s only a junior. She’s joined by Minnesota teammate Dani Cameranesi. The linemates combined for 139 points this season. They know each other well and if they’re paired together in Malmö, other teams should be very, very concerned.

One more thing to watch – how Monique Lamoureux does on defense. She transitioned before Sochi and it didn’t go particularly well there for her. She has a tendency to float forward yet. The coaching strategy didn’t compensate for her and she was caught out of position and with no teammates covering for her more than a few times. She did seem more comfortable and less lost with the Boston Blades this season, so it’ll be important to see if the system will now accommodate for her or if she’s tamed her wandering tendencies.

Team Canada:

The goalie situation will be of interest for Team Canada. Only Genvieve Lacasse was on their roster for Sochi, so they’re bringing two young but very talented goalies to Sweden.

Emerance Maschmeyer from Havard had a great showing in this year’s Frozen Four. She’s grown considerably from the prior year, when she was a Patty Kaz top ten finalist. The confidence she gained from taking her team to the national championship was clear and she’ll be riding that swagger into Malmö.

Ann-Renée Desbiens is Canada’s third goalie but WCHA fans know she’s a force in the net. She tied for 1st in the country with a 94.1 save percentage and was second with her 1.15 GAA. She won the WCHA goaltending title as a rookie last year. Desbiens allowed just five power plays goals all season and tied Jessie Vetter for a Wisconsin school record 14 shutouts on the year. With Desbiens, you get a little more reckless play – she’s not afraid to leave the net – which is both a blessing and a curse. She’ll raise your blood pressure but make many more amazing saves then allow small mistakes with her style of play. Wisconsin has a strong goaltending legacy at this point (three Badger goalies are on WWC rosters in 2015) and Desbiens is living up to the pressure and expectations.

Team Finland:

With Noora Räty out with an injury, Finland has a lot to make up for in net. Eveliina Suonpää is listed as the number two goalie for Finland. She was a surprise pick for their third spot in Sochi. She was a late enrollee at the University of Minnesota-Duluth this season, joining the Bulldogs after the new year. She played in just part of one game this season. While Michele Karvinen is the more recognizable Fin that played her college years at North Dakota, Susanna Tapani was also in Grand Forks for a season. She did not return to the ice for NoDak this season, but she’s a great compliment to Karvinen and those two will need to step up their team’s offense in order to take some pressure off their defense. Räty has been the glue that’s kept this team together and relevant for a while and every one on Team Finland has to step up to make up for her missing presence.

Team Germany:

Apparently world-class talent runs in the Eisenschmid family. Tanja is a junior at North Dakota and now sister Nicola joins her on Team Germany. Their brother Markus recently played for German’s U-18 men’s team.

Marie Delarbre is third year player at Merrimack University, where she transferred from Minnesota-Duluth. Anna-Marie Fiegert is a sophomore at Minnesota State-Mankato. The defenseman has four assists for the Mavericks each of the last two seasons.

Team Switzerland:

It seems impossible to me, because my love for her is far-reaching, but it came to my attention recently that there are women’s hockey fans unfamiliar with Florence Schelling. If that is the case, please fix that – now. I both want to be best friends with her and kind of have a crush on her.

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[Thuner Tagblatt]
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[Calgary Herald]
 

Schelling and her Swiss teammates were the surprise of Sochi, winning the bronze medal. She was also the goalie you likely saw getting pushed around on a cart. Schelling plays in a men’s league at home in Switzerland, though she did spend a year in Brampton in the CWHL. She played her college puck at Northeastern University. Based on the amount of press stuff she posts on her FB (which she posts in three languages because she’s fabulous), she’s quite well-known and recognized.

Switzerland was down 2-0 to Sweden in the third period in the Bronze Medal game in Sochi. Phoebe scored Switzerland’s second goal. This is her fourth IIHF WWC for Switzerland. She was second on the Yale Bulldogs in scoring and assists and halfway through her career has 50 points.

Lara Stalder has had two prolific years at Minnesota-Duluth. As a freshman, she was fourth among all rookies with 22 points. This season she finished with 29 points (10g, 19a). Stalder is a physical player that spends some time in the penalty box, so she will need to be careful, especially with the new referee system, to keep herself clean and on the ice for her team. She also had an assist on Switzerland’s bronze-medal winning goal. Check out the highlights on YouTube— sorry, we can’t embed this video.

Team Sweden

Erica Uden Johansson is older than your standard college player, but the 25-year old brought extensive international experience to Quinnipiac University. A veteran of both Vancouver and Sochi, this will be her third IIHF WWC.

In her career at Quinnipiac, Uden Johansson had 96 points (42g, 54 a). She is one of two Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey players to record at least 40 goals and 40 assists in her career (Kelly Babstock). She ranks third in Bobcat program history in both goals and assists.

If you didn’t watch the full Bronze Medal highlights, here’s a snipe from Uden Johansson:

While Switzerland came from behind to win the bronze medal, making them darlings for a bit, the hands-down fan favorite team in Sochi was Team Japan. Playing in their first Olympics since they got an auto-entry when they hosted in Nagano in 1998, the Japanese team were spectacular at embodying the “happy to be here” spirit of the Olympics. They spent their open practice time taking pics of each other and posting them online.

They scored just a single goal, but it was a beauty and also came complete with a spectacular celly.

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Japan is playing in its first WWC in the top tier. The IIHF has many different divisions for the various levels of women’s hockey and they use a promotion/relegation system similar to European soccer. Japan won the 1A division and find themselves among familiar talent a year after Sochi.

The Japanese played Russia to a very close 2-1 game and gave Sweden a tough time. The key to their game is the stellar play of goalie Nana Fujimoto. She was saving 95% of shots she faced through their first two games at the Olympics and many of those were during odd-man rushes.

Of note, former Wisconsin Badger Carla McLeod is an assistant coach with Japan. She was responsible for bringing her team to the US prior to Sochi for some training games. Japan was severly out-scored by teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota, but the trip and chance to play top talent is crucial for international teams and it’s a good precedent to set. Team Japan had won themselves some cult status in their homeland when they were the first of any other of their countrymen to qualify for Sochi.

Can you tell I have a soft spot for these ladies?

Shannon Szabados: Never Just Another Player

I had my notes from sitting down with two-time Olympic gold medalist and Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados up on my laptop for more than a week. Every day I’d open them up and stare without any story materializing and I started to despair that this story would ever see the light of day.

I’m used to taking interviews and turning them into straight profiles the way I was taught in school. But when the story I thought I was going to write just wasn’t coming together, I realized it’s ok to break the rules a little. After all, this started off as a profile of a woman who’s done nothing but challenge standards and rules her whole career.

So instead, I want to use my conversation with Shannon to open a larger dialogue about breaking ground, role models, scrutiny and attention.

Continue reading Shannon Szabados: Never Just Another Player