2021 Worlds: U25 First Team

The stars of the future shined brightly in Calgary

We saw plenty of memorable performances at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship and many of them by made by prominent youngsters and rising stars. With this quick series, we are going to highlight big performances made by players under the age of 25 by selecting a first and second U25 team.

To be clear: these teams don’t reflect the best U25 players from the Worlds — they represent the top performances specifically at the 2021 tournament by U25 talent. For example, Switzerland’s Alina Müller belongs on every list of the top U25 players in the world but she won’t appear on the first or the second team because of the injury that knocked her out of the tournament early.

To aid in our selection of the U25 teams, I turned to the data I tracked for the Worlds for Their Hockey Counts. For skaters, that was Game Score (GS), primary point production (P1/60), and even-strength scoring (EV). I also considered average ice time to get a general idea of each skater’s role. For goaltenders, I took total minutes played, goals saved above average (GSAA), and average workload (SA60). Of course, I also factored in save percentage and goals against, specifically by strength.

Admittedly, this is not a foolproof way to determine the best performance by any skater or goaltender but these are the tools available. So, without any further preamble, let’s dive right in and look at the U25 First Team from the 2021 Worlds in Calgary.

Petra Nieminen, Forward | Finland

Nieminen, 22, was selected for the Media’s All-Star team as a result of her registering seven primary points in seven games for Finland. Like a lot of the players who will be on this list, Nieminen was a hot shooter, to the tune of a 31.58 Sh%. But we need to remember we are looking at a seven-game sample here and that Nieminen was being set up by Michelle Karvinen. I think every goal scorer on the planet wishes that they were receiving passes from Karvinen.

As if we needed any other reason to have her on the first team, Nieminen led all U25 skaters with an 8.79 GS — a 1.26 GS/GP — and averaged 2.98 P1/60 (all situations). She also stayed out of the penalty box in the tournament and averaged over 20 minutes per game (20:09). Nieminen scored at evens, on the power play, and on the penalty kill — no other U25 player had a shortie in Calgary.

It’s hard to believe that Nieminen is still only 22 given the mark she has made on the Finnish national team, the Naisten-Liiga, and in the SDHL. She will be a huge part of the future of Finnish hockey and is now a must-watch player for the Finns in the 2022 Olympics.

Grace Zumwinkle, Forward | USA

Zumwinkle had an eye-opening performance for Team USA in Calgary. You could make a strong case that she was the most consistent and impactful forward for the Americans at evens. Yes, we’re talking about the same Team USA that has three forwards who are on the road to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Despite averaging just 11:48 TOI/GP, Zumwinkle finished the tournament with six primary points at even strength, four of which were goals. Zumwinkle was a +5 with four EV goals in just over 100 total shifts in Calgary. That’s incredible.

On her way to earning a silver medal, Zumwinkle finished second among U25 skaters with a  7.0 cumulative Game Score. Her 4.36 P1/60 and 5.08 GS/60 were simply off the charts. She took a single trip to the penalty box and had 16 iSOG. In future tournaments, don’t be surprised if we see that second number increase by a wide margin.

Sure, Zumwinkle was playing on a great team and had a 25.0 Sh% but that hardly takes away from what she accomplished in Calgary. Remember, this was her first major senior international tournament. At 22, Zumwinkle outshined many of her teammates, some of whom are counted among the best skaters in the world.

Sarah Fillier, Forward | Canada

The “next one” had a lot of hype to live up to playing on the gold medal squad and it is safe to say that the pride of Princeton delivered.

Fillier’s 5.47 Game Score in Calgary was good for fourth among forwards but, unlike Akane Shiga who finished in third with a 6.04 total Game Score, she played almost exclusively against Group A competition. She also helped Canada win its first gold at the Worlds in a long time. That definitely counts for something.

Another reason that Fillier made the cut for the first team is the eye test. She just looked dynamic out there for Canada. She created chances for herself and for her teammates and looked confident and comfortable with the puck on her stick. With an average ice time of 15:27, she piled up six points in seven games — five of which were registered at even strength. That made her the second-most productive U25 forward at even strength in Calgry.

The biggest strike against Fillier was the three minor penalties she took playing for a team that absolutely dominated in puck possession. She was very much present in some memorable scrums, especially in two matchups against Team USA. Personally, I love that element in her game, especially at the age of 21. She showed us all that she’s ready for the big stage and isn’t going to back down from any challenge. Fillier is the real deal.

Claire Thompson, Defense | Canada

Thompson was a revelation on Canada’s young blue line. She seemed to improve with each game that Canada played and finished with an average of 18:54 TOI/GP which indicates just how much her coaches trusted her in her own end of the ice. She is a young defender you can trust both on and off the puck.

Thompson picked up a secondary assist on the power play but what stood out the most to me was her play at evens. She had three helpers at even strength — two of which were primary — and played a big role in Canada’s transition game with her ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone. Thompson finished fifth among U25 defenders in GS/60 (1.90) but I felt like she belonged on the first team for her overall play and for the big role she played on the gold medal-winning team.

If you are looking for a safe bet, you should bet on Thompson playing a big role on Canada’s blue line in future tournaments. She has national team top pair potential in her, which is not news to anyone who watched her play at Princeton before she made some noise playing in the PWHPA in the 2020-21 season for Toronto.

Dominika Lásková, Defense | Czech Republic

If you didn’t know who Lásková was before the Worlds started you certainly know who she is now.

The Czechs were a wildly entertaining team to watch in Calgary and Lásková was a big reason why. She scored four goals for the Czechs and averaged 21:30 TOI/GP playing in every situation for her team as a 24-year-old defender. Obviously four goals in seven games is really impresive for a defender but I have to note that all four of her goals were scored at evens. That is also an indication of just how involved she was and is in her team’s offense.

The Merrimack defender made a lot of big plays for the Czechs, especially in the group stage where she looked like one of the most impactful blueliners of the tournament. Lásková’s 2.58 GS/60 was first among all U25 defenders who played in at least four games. She finished the tournament as a +4 with 23 shots on goal. The only U25 player who regsitered more shots on goal in Calgary was Japan’s Akane Shiga (28) and, just a reminder, Lásková plays defense.

Lásková is the oldest player on our U25 first team. She won’t be eligible for this list in the 2022 Olympics but I hope the Czechs qualify so we can see some more of her on the biggest stage in women’s hockey. She was such a dynamic, entertaining puck carrier in Calgary.

Anni Keisala, Goaltender | Finland

Keisala earned honors as the Top Goaltender of the 2021 Worlds so her presence here is not a surprise.

With all eyes on Meeri Räisänen, it was Keisala who stole the show for Finland in the goal crease. Her stat line is just dizzyingly good. Keisala had a .949 Sv% and averaged 1.003 GSAA/60 in 294:09 — that’s five starts. Her average workload was 27.74 SA60 and she finished with a 3-2-0 record and 1.43 GAA.

Truth be told, all of Keisala’s numbers are impressive — even in the context of this sample size — but the one number I keep coming back to is zero. She allowed no power-play goals and helped the Finns finish with a spotless 100% penalty kill playing the toughest teams in women’s hockey. Well, I also think about the .949 Sv% a lot too. Again, all of her numbers were just silly good. Keisala was unbelievable.

Anyone who watched Finland’s quarterfinal game against the Czechs knows that the Finns may not have finished with a bronze medal without Keisala. She stopped all 29 of the shots she faced from a dangerous Czech team to earn one of her two shutouts in Calgary.