CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The puck drops Friday on a women’s world hockey championship more than two years after the last one.
Who’s counting? American forward Kendall Coyne Schofield is, for one.
“The pinnacle of women’s hockey hasn’t been showcased in 859 days,” Schofield told The Canadian Press. “That’s why it’s important that we’re here.”
Ten countries will compete for a world title in Calgary with the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing less than six months away. The pandemic forced the cancellation of the event that had been scheduled to be held in Nova Scotia in 2020 and then earlier this year after a postponement.
The men’s championship in Latvia, under-20 championship in Edmonton and under-18 championship in Texas were completed during the 2020-21 hockey season, but the women’s U18 championship in Sweden was also canceled, creating an international hockey gender gap that Hockey Canada was highly interested in closing.
Whether any fans will be able to attend the championship in Calgary wasn't immediately known. No tickets have been sold, but “all parties are still working with the health authorities to determine if spectators will be in attendance,” a Hockey Canada spokesperson said.
Nine countries arrived last week in Canada and joined the host team in a five-day hotel quarantine. The teams began skating Monday and all 10 countries played exhibition games Wednesday.
“We’re getting used to, on the team, just adapting to whatever comes at us,” Canadian forward Brianne Jenner said. “When we heard we were going to have a quarantine and we were going to have this type of situation for the world championships, I think we were just taking it in stride.
“I know it sounds like that cookie-cutter answer, but we’re honestly just so excited to compete.”
The 2019 women’s championship in Finland now feels long ago for veteran players.
“It feels like a lifetime ago,” Jenner said. “Anything pre-pandemic does feel like a different world, a different reality.”
The United States, Finland, Canada, Russia and Switzerland comprise Pool A in Calgary. The Czech Republic, Japan, Germany and promoted Hungary and Denmark are in Pool B.
The five Pool A countries as well as Japan and host China have berths in Beijing’s Olympic field. The three remaining slots will be filled through November qualifying tournaments.
So while medals and world rankings are at stake in Calgary, a world championship at a strange time in the calendar provides a key benchmark for teams that had little international competition over the last two years.
“It’s extremely important not just for the fans of women’s hockey to be able to see us on TV, to be able to see competition, but in terms of that preparation for Beijing, every team needs some competitive games,” Jenner said.