Saturday was National Women's Hockey Day in Canada, a couple of months after the IIHF declared World Girls' Hockey Day for October 2. The women's game doesn't get much, if any, coverage outside the Olympics game, but with a major mandate to grow the game significantly leading up to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, I figure its good to check in on the game at various levels in the meantime.
The Canadian Women's Hockey League is the top circuit of women's hockey in the world, with six teams total, five in Canada and one in Boston. The league has been lobbying in recent years for support from the NHL, to perhaps become a WNHL type circuit. The five Canadian teams are based in Montreal, Toronto, Burlington, Brampton, and an Alberta based team that plays games throughout the province, primarily out of Edmonton and Calgary. The league merged with the former 3 team Western Women's Hockey League this past year, which had teams in Calgary, Edmonton, and Minnesota. The Minnesota Whitecaps, the 2010 Clarkson Cup Champions (the top club championship in women's hockey), still exist, though they currently only play exhibition games mainly against NCAA teams.
One of the unique features of the CWHL is that the teams based in Montreal, Toronto, and Boston wear the colours of the NHL's Canadiens, Maple Leafs, and Bruins. Part of that is a hope to be eventually sponsored by those NHL clubs, as well as appeal to the fan bases in those cities. The Alberta team kind of has adopted the Edmonton Oilers' colours as opposed to the Calgary Flames, for whatever that's worth. I had heard they were trying to recruit European players to play in the CWHL this year, but it appears only two are actually in the league this year: Finnish forward Annina Rajahuhta plays for Burlington, while Austrian goaltender Nina Geyer plays for Brampton. The rest of the league is made up of Canadian and American players, with most playing close to home (Quebec born players for Montreal, American players for Boston, etc.).
Melissa Boufounos, herself a one time CWHL player, did a report on her blog Habsolutely Wonderful about Brampton's 7-2 win over Toronto yesterday. The game featured famous international players Gillian Apps, Molly Engstrom, Sami Jo Small, Jayna Hefford and Tessa Bonhomme, fresh off her victory on CBC's popular show Battle of the Blades.
After the jump, some women's hockey news from Europe and some roster news for the upcoming Men's U20 World Junior Championship.
With a mandate to grow the women's game worldwide, the IIHF has to be happy to see four new nations join their Women's World U18 Championship program. Those four nations are Hungary, Italy, China and Great Britain, and they joined last year's two lowest ranked WWU18 participants, being France and Kazakhstan. The Division 1 Qualification tournament took place in Asiago, Italy, with the top two finishers earning a place in the Division 1 tournament in Trøsmo, Norway from December 29-January 4. Hungary made a very successful debut, and announced that they intend to be very competitive at the Division 1 tournament with a perfect record, outscoring their opponents 37-4. Great Britain finished second, edging out China, who didn't advance despite beating the Brits on the final day in a shootout. Here's a link to the final standings (PDF), while here's the tournament's homepage. Hungary and Great Britain will join Japan, Slovakia, Austria and Norway in the Division 1 tournament, with the winner being promoted to the championship division for the 2013 WWU18 championships. The main event, the pinnacle of the 2012 WWU18 championship program, will run December 31-January 7 in the Czech Republic, featuring the USA, Czechs, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Finland, Germany and Switzerland.
Meanwhile, that little tournament that's taking place in Calgary and Edmonton, Canada, over the holiday season involving the top U20 men's players from around the world has some more news to share. Sweden, who have played for a medal the past four years at the WJC's (or JVM as its known in Sveriege), have announced their roster, which isn't officially finalized since they are carrying an extra goaltender. Highlights of the roster include star centre Mika Zibanejad, forwards Pontus Åberg, Max Friberg, Rikard Rakell and Johan Larsson; top 2012 draft prospect Filip Forsberg, top blueline prospects Jonas Brodin, Oscar Klefbom and Patrik Nemeth; and probable starting goaltender Johan Gustafsson. 18 of the 23 players play for Swedish clubs, with one playing hockey in Finland and the other four playing in the Canadian Hockey League.
Meanwhile, the Czechs have announced their preliminary roster as well, and it notably includes Ottawa 67's goaltender and Red Wings prospect Petr Mrázek. The dispute between Ottawa and HC Viktovice from last year that prevented Mrázek from being part of the Czech team has been settled as far as the national association is concerned, with the protest of him participating for the national team lifted. The Czech Hockey Report has a full list of the preliminary roster, which will hopefully feature junior star Martin Frk, who hasn't played a game yet for Halifax of the QMJHL due to a concussion, but indications are that he's nearing a return. It's quite a mix of players playing in the Czech Republic, Slovakia (in the KHL's Lev Poprad's system), the Canadian Hockey League, and even a player each playing in Finland and the NCAA.
In case you missed on Twitter last week, Russia has announced their preliminary WJC roster, exclusively made up of Russian based players. These players will train together before heading to Canada where players from the Canadian hockey league, featuring many Russian stars, will join the team. A lot of the names will be familiar to those who watched the Super Series in November. Eurohockey also has a feature article on the MHL that I think will be of interest to those wanting to learn more about the newly designed Russian junior system (I also did a piece on the MHL this summer).
And, of course, today the Americans will announce their WJC preliminary roster live on NHL Network at 5:00 PM EST. As always, Chris Peters of the United States of Hockey has a good preview of who to expect to hear their names called.
And one final note: as I mentioned last night on Twitter, a new biography of Pavol Demitra, called "38 Demitra", has been published in Slovakia. It was baptized in ice during a tribute game to the deceased international star, and all proceeds from the sale of the book will go to youth hockey in his hometown of Trencin, Slovakia. No word on where you can purchase this book, which of course will be in Slovakian (as is the link above).