The IIHF Women's World Championships are finally getting underway in Plymouth, Michigan. After resolving their boycott with USA Hockey, the US women's national team will set their sights on the ice, where they will try to defend their gold medal.
Pool A will consist of the two powerhouses in the US and Canada; both will collide on day one of the tournament. The other two teams in the pool are Russia and Finland, who are going to have their hands full as they navigate through this group.
Meanwhile, Pool B will consist of Switzerland, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Germany. Although the pool lacks the powerhouses; it will have an entertainment factor with no clear favorite, so this pool will be up for grabs.
With the match ups and pools set, here are the five players to watch during the 2017 IIHF Women's Championships.
With the off-ice negotiations now behind them, the leadership provided by captain Meghan Duggan, she will have to rally the troops as they can now focus on hockey. It won't help that they are facing Canada right off the bat, but the leadership on the team will play a vital role in the first few games.
If they parlay that into a successful tournament after a monumental victory off the ice and win back-to-back gold medals, it will be a success year for the USWNT as they head into an Olympic year.
However, in order to do so, Duggan also needs to lead by example and put together a solid tournament. Last year, the 29-year-old had a quiet performance with one point in five games. Nonetheless, if Team USA can get the Duggan that recorded 20 points for the Boston Pride, they could find themselves in another final.
The 28-year-old Swiss netminder has an opportunity to backstop her team out of the group stage and into the knockout round. Also, with Switzerland being in a group that doesn't include the US or Canada, Schelling will be key through the group stage of play.
At last year's World Championships, Schelling registered a goal against average of 1.58 and a save percentage of .932 in five games. However, at this year's tournament, opponents should expect a more confident Swiss netminder.
In three Olympic-qualifying games for Switzerland, she holds a GAA of 1.00 and a SV% of .941. However, her season in the SDHL (Swedish Dam Hockey League) was impressive as well, despite the small sample size.
There will be fresh blood on the blueline for Team Canada when they suit up for the tournament. After being taken third overall, the 22-year-old led all rookies in points with 24 (11 goals and 13 assists) and was a plus-15 in 20 games for the Brampton Thunder.
This won’t be her first time suiting up for Team Canada as she played for her country during the U-18 tournament. However, this will mark the first time she participates in the World Championship for Canada.
Also, on a team filled with stars, Stacey could play a vital role on defense. If she can find her game during group play, she could quickly find herself playing top minutes if she can translate her success from her rookie season.
The Finnish defenceman has a lot on her mind right now: not only will she represent her country at the World Championships, but her playing career is in limbo at the moment. Kilponen played college hockey at the University of North Dakota, which recently cut their women's hockey program.
Before the program received the axe, Kilponen played in 37 games for the Fighting Hawks as she put together eight points (two goals, six assists) with a plus-two rating.
Although she plays with a heavy heart, the 21-year-old will have to put that part of her life on hold as she attempts to help Finland reach the medal round for a second year in a row.
At last year’s World Championships the Czech Republic were the new kids on the block having just been promoted from Division 1 Group A. However, this didn’t stop them from making some noise as they finished in the top two of their group.
For them to repeat the same success, they will have to count on one of their young forwards to help translate their NCAA success. In 28 games at the University of Maine, Tereza Vanisova finished with 28 points (16 goals and 12 assists) in her first year of college hockey.
In the previous two World Championships, the 21-year-old has played a key role in helping the Czech Republic garner promotion and making a bit of a presence at the international level.
Last year she registered three points in five games, so with experience under the belt now, the young Czech will look to add to build off her performance from a year ago and help her country reach the medal round.