While the Canadian and American women’s hockey teams continue to garner the headlines, there will be plenty of star power outside North America to watch at this year’s women’s worlds.
The 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship begins this Friday in Calgary. Along with Canada and the United States, Group A consists of Finland, Russia and Switzerland, while Japan, Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark and Hungary will play in Group B. All of the games can be seen live on TSN.
The two North American powerhouses boast some of the biggest names in women’s hockey: Marie Philip Poulin, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Natalie Spooner, Hilary Knight – just to name a few.
But there are several big names hailing from the eastern hemisphere that have helped their countries to some major results on the international stage.
Finland upset Canada in the semifinals of the 2019 women’s worlds and went on to take home silver. Switzerland earned bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games, the country’s first Olympic medal in ice hockey in 66 years. And Russia has supplanted Sweden as one of the perennial top-four nations in the world.
Here are some names outside of North America to watch at this year’s women’s worlds.
Alina Müller has already been a mainstay for the Swiss national team for almost a decade. At the Sochi Games in 2014, she became the youngest hockey player to ever win an Olympic medal at age 15, scoring the game-winner in the bronze-medal match against Sweden.
Four years later in PyeongChang, she led the tournament in scoring with seven goals and 10 points in six games, although Switzerland would fail to medal.
She has already been to four world championships, accumulating seven goals and 13 points, and she has also excelled at the collegiate level. In her freshman year at Northeastern, Müller was just the second rookie in program history with 50 or more points in a season and was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.
She has been named an All-American for all three of her seasons with the Huskies and has also been a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award (given annually to the best women’s collegiate player) every year she has played, including being one of the final three nominees in 2020.
This past season, Müller led Northeastern with 38 points in 25 games and helped take her team to the National Championship game, where they lost 2-1 to Wisconsin in overtime.
She’s still four months shy of her 20th birthday, but Elisa Holopainen already has a world championship silver medal on her resume. At the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship, Holopainen, then 17, recorded two goals and an assist to help her country to an unprecedented second-place finish.
She previously represented Finland at the under-18 level. At the 2019 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship, she led the tournament with five goals and eight points in six games and was named Best Forward. Her performance helped Finland win bronze, the country’s first medal at the under-18 worlds since 2011.
Holopainen played for four seasons with Kalevan Pallo in Finland’s Naisten Liiga and twice was named the league’s player of the year. She won the award for Best Forward in the league three times, and this past season she recorded an astonishing 64 points in just 25 games. She helped lead her team to the championship game, where they lost 3-1.
Over her four years playing in the Finnish league, Holopainen has 247 points in 129 games.
Viivi Vainikka is another Finnish teenager who was with the national team when they claimed silver at the 2019 world championship, recording four points in seven games.
Like her teammate Holopainen, Vainikka also wore the Finnish jersey at the under-18 level. She was part of the squad that won bronze at the 2019 U18 Women’s World Championship, finishing second in team scoring with six points in six games, including the game-winner in the bronze-medal match against Russia.
Vainikka made her debut in Naisten Liiga when she was 15, spending four seasons with Team Kuortane and earning the Fair Play Award in 2020. At 18, she left the club as the team’s all-time top scorer with 129 points in 112 games.
She joined Luleå HF in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League this past season, scoring in each of her first two SDHL games. She finished the season with 13 goals and 27 points and helped her team win both the regular season and the playoff championship.
Nana Fujimoto has played on the Japanese national team since 2006 and helped the program reach its highest-ever world ranking of sixth. She has competed in four world championships at the top division and two Olympics.
She was named Best Goaltender at the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship, posting a 1.52 goals-against average and a save percentage of .938.
At the 2019 women’s worlds, Fujimoto made 28 saves to help lead Japan to a win over Sweden in the group stage finale and avoid relegation.
Following her performance at the 2015 women’s worlds, Fujimoto was signed by the New York Riveters in the NWHL. She recorded a .914 save percentage and was selected as one of the starting goaltenders for the 2016 All-Star Game.
Fujimoto is coming off a stellar season with Färjestad in Sweden’s second-tier Division I and is one of just two players on the current Japanese roster to play in Sweden. In eight games, she posted a 0.62 goals-against average and four shutouts.
Russian Olympic Committee (ROC)
Olga Sosina has represented her country at eight previous world championships, winning bronze in 2013 and 2016. She’s also been to three Olympics and was captain of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team in 2018.
Last season with Agidel Ufa in Russia’s Zhenskaya Hockey League, Sosina finished with 50 points in 27 games, just three points behind Anna Shokhina for top scorer in the league.
Sosina has delivered for her country on the big stage before. At the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship, she scored the winner in the shootout to give Russia the bronze medal over Finland, just the third medal ever for the country at the women’s worlds.