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Hilary Knight's Golden Goal Caps 2011 Women's Worlds

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There really isn't a lot to say about the Final:  another back and forth power struggle between the two elite nations of women's hockey, ending in overtime with a near delayed penalty empty net own goal against the Americans, before Hilary Knight ended it the proper way for Team USA:

BTW, if anyone has a video of Jenny Potter's 2-1 goal for the USA, it'd be great if you could post it in a FanShot.

The Americans are back on top of the international hockey world.  The World Championships are roughly equal to the Olympics in terms of roster quality, although this first WC after the Olympics is a bit of an early test of the program's true strength.  Younger players, recent retirements, players deciding to start families all comes into play at this point.  While the Americans may have won their third straight World Championship, not winning the Olympic gold is still looming over the program for the time being. 

Hilary Knight's reputation, however, could not be higher after this tournament.  She dominated the tournament in terms of scoring, and capped it off with the winning goal.  Canadian legend Hayley Wickenheiser was a -3 on the night in contrast, so there's reason to legitimately believe the Americans are moving ahead of the Canadians in terms of women's hockey supremacy.  The USA now holds the #1 spot in the IIHF World Ranking, and can take solace in the fact that in these best on best competitions, their only blemish in the past four years has been a loss on Canadian soil.  On the Americans' home ice and neutral ice, Team USA reigns supreme. 

But this tournament was about more than the North American power struggle.  We're seeing that in at least one position, the Europeans are starting to match their more powerful rivals across the sea.  The MVP of the tournament was Slovakian goaltender Zuzana Tomcikova, who may be staking claim to being the top women's hockey player in the world.  However, she didn't even win the top goaltender honours as seen by the IIHF Directorate, who chose the equally compelling Noora Raty of Finland for the prize.  For the competitive balance of the sport, at least the European countries are learning to stop the skilled Canadian and American women's shots...  now it's all about putting the pressure on their goalies by generating a lot more chances of their own.

Coupled with the improved play of the European nations is the decline of the Asian teams.  It used to be common to see all of China, Japan and Kazakhstan at these tournaments, but next year it will be six European teams at the World Championships with no Asian representatives.  Kazakhstan's relegation to Division 1, coupled with Japan's withdrawl this year due to the natural disasters, and China's stunning relegation from the Division 1 level may all be part of the evolution of the sport:  the nations with greater hockey infrastructure and more access to higher competition levels may be a sign of the future.  And for Russia, pushing Finland to overtime in the bronze medal game, it's an encouraging start to the four year cycle that concludes in Sochi in 2014.

The season is over for now.  Next year, they'll all be back at it again in the NCAA, CWHL, and various other domestic leagues that house the best women's players on the planet.  Here's a look at the final standings for the entire World Championships, which saw 34 nations compete at varying levels, including three brand new participants:

2011 IIHF Women's Worlds Final Standings
Rank Country 2012 Tournament
1 USA Us_medium Championship
2 Canada Ca_medium Championship
3 Finland Fi_medium Championship
4 Russia Ru_medium Championship
5 Sweden Se_medium Championship
6 Switzerland Ch_medium Championship
7 Slovakia Sk_medium Championship
8 Kazakhstan Kz_medium Division 1
9 Germany De_medium Championship
10 Norway No_medium Division 1
11 Latvia Lv_medium Division 1
12 Austria At_medium Division 1
13 China Cn_medium Division 2
14 Czech Republic Cz_medium Division 1
15 France Fr_medium Division 2
16 Denmark Dk_medium Division 2
17 Italy It_medium Division 2
18 Great Britain Gb_medium Division 2
19 The Netherlands Nl_medium Division 2
20 Australia Au_medium Division 3
21 Hungary Hu_medium Division 3
22 Slovenia Si_medium Division 3
23 Croatia Hr_medium Division 3
24 Belgium Be_medium Division 4
25 New Zealand Nz_medium Division 3
26 South Korea Kr_medium Division 4
27 Iceland Is_medium Division 4
28 Romania Ro_medium Division 4
29 South Africa Za_medium Division 5
30 Poland Pl_medium Division 4
31 Spain Es_medium Division 5
32 Bulgaria Bg_medium Division 5
33 Turkey Tr_medium Division 5
34 Ireland Ie_medium Division 5
DNP Japan Jp_medium Division 1
DSQ North Korea Kp_medium Division 3