For the first time ever, the Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey tournament has been expanded to include 10 teams. While Group A will compete in the preliminary round for quarterfinal seeding, Group B will fight to advance to the quarterfinals by establishing themselves in the top three of their group.
The Group B preliminaries are sure to be exciting. Sweden, Japan, and China are coming in with varying degrees of Olympic experience:
Sweden is looking to show the world it’s returned to it’s rightful place in the rankings after briefly falling out of the top division and Japan is looking to continue its climb on the world stage. After years of investment, China is ready to show the progress they have made since 2010, including some notable and talented heritage players.
Meanwhile the Czech Republic and Denmark will be making their Olympic debuts in Women’s Ice Hockey. Since the 2020 and 2021 World Championships were cancelled due to COVID, the Final Olympic Qualifiers this past November were a major test for all teams competing and Denmark and Czech earned their tickets.
Let’s take a look at some notable players from each Group G team,
Canadian-born Akane has been competing for Japan since 2016. Prior to lacing up for her heritage nation, she played for the Calgary Inferno in the CWHL and played for Syracuse in the NCAA. She is a dynamic defenseman with exceptional skating abilities. In her second Olympics with Team Japan, she will serve as Alternate Captain. We can expect to see her command a fast-passing powerplay similar to what we saw in PyeongChang.
The Team Japan captain since 2012, Chiho has spent the last three seasons playing for the dominant Lulea of the SDHL. There, practicing and playing among the top talent of Team Finland and Sweden will have provided ample opportunity to prepare for the face-pace of the Olympic games. That experience, coupled with this being her third Olympics, she’s sure to bring important leadership to her nation.
Sena will also be returning for her third Olympics with Team Japan. She’s currently in her second season in the SDHL, currently playing for Goteburg and previously playing for AIK. Prior to Sweden, Sena played three seasons with the Toronto Furies in the CWHL and in 2016 she became the first non-north American player to be selected to the all-star game. She is a solid and reliable defenseman with good neutral zone vision.
Alena Mills (nee: Polenska)
Affectionately known to her college teammates at Brown University as “czechy” she is captain marvel of her nation. Three time winner of best female player in the nation, Alena is a born leader with unrivaled work ethic. She is a talented stickhandler with a goal-scoring-touch. Her leadership coupled with their secret weapon, Coach Thomas Pacina, will make the Czech squad a formidable opponent in this group stage.
A mainstay in the SDHL, Mrazova has been near the top of league points for several seasons. With only 17 games played, she is currently league 4th with 42 points. Now in her third season with Brynas, Mrazova and Switzerland’s Stalder have been a nearly unstoppable duo. Prior to Sweden, Mrazova saw success at Minnesota-Diluth alongside Swedish Captain Michelle Lowenhielm. Additionally, she won a Clarkson Cup with the Boston Blades in the CWHL, alongside many USA Olympic team-members, becoming the first European player to do so. Her speed and play-making make her an indisputable impact player.
Brynas teammate, Krizova, is another hard-to-defend forward. She currently sitting at 9th in the SDHL with 36 points and she is another key reason Brynas is at the top of the SDHL table. After a prolific career at Northeastern in the NCAA, and continued performance in the SDHL, I’m excited to see what she brings to this strong Czech team.
Michelle was a young competitor at the 2014 Sochi games and is now returning to the Olympics with experience; and as captain of the national team. Coming off a 49 point season with HV71 in the SDHL, Michelle was named the 2020-21 Swedish female player of the year. This she moved back to her home club of SDE and is off to an impressive 16 point start on a team that has been struggling to consistently find wins this season. Michelle is a talent goal scorer who isn’t afraid to battle in the corners and fill whatever role is asked of her.
Bouveng is a 20 year old talent with incredible offensive sense. She is currently 8th in the SDHL in points. Committed to the University of Minnesota, she’s helped push Brynas to the top of the table alongside Czech teammates Mrazova and Krizova.
Maja Nylen Persson
Persson is another young Brynas player who is likely to add fire power to a strong Swedish team. Persson has 40 points on the SDHL season so far - as a defenseman. I expect to see her contributing in this preliminary round.
Jakobsen is a three time SDHL gold helmet winner and two time Danish Women’s player of the year. She was alternate captain of University of North Dakota during her time in the NCAA and has been a longtime leader of Djurgarden in the SDHL. The captain of Denmark has played in over 100 international matches and was a big part of their team’s success during the Olympic qualifying games, where she had 4 points in three games.
In her 6th season with Lulea in the SDHL, Persson has 27 points in 27 games and was also an important contributor during the Olympic qualifying tournament. She is a four-time SDHL champion and likely to bring poise and experience to Beijing.
Canadian born defenseman, who represented Canada at the U18 World Junior Championships in 2008, is now in her 5th season playing in China. Coming off of 28 points in 28 games last season. Jess is known for her Bobby Orr style end to end rushes and heads-up play making ability. She was named a 2014 CWHL all-star. She retired then returned to the game in 2017 to compete with the Kunlun Red Star, where she has been a key part of their success in both the CWHL and Russian league.
Yu has captained Team China since 2012. She is a solid defensive presence, who has 7 points in 14 games and a plus/minus of +10 this season with the Vanke Rays. This will be her second Olympics and she is sure to bring experience to her squad.
Llanes is an American born forward, who previously played for Northeastern in the NCAA, the Boston Blades in the CWHL, and the Boston Pride in the NWHL. Now in her 5th season playing with a Chinese club, Llanes serves as an alternate captain with the Vanke Rays. Llanes will bring the x-factor of tenacity and grit.