The puck drops Friday on a women’s world hockey championship 859 days after the last one.
Who’s counting? American forward Kendall Coyne Schofield is, for one.
“The pinnacle of women’s hockey hasn’t been showcased in 859 days,” Schofield told The Canadian Press. “That’s why it’s important that we’re here.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 world championship in Halifax and Truro, N.S.
Those communities were awarded the championship again in 2021 when it was postponed from April to May.
Iain Rankin, who was Nova Scotia’s premier then, pulled the plug on the tournament the same day international teams were departing for Canada.
The men’s championship in Latvia, under-20 championship in Edmonton and under-18 championship in Texas were completed during the 2020-21 hockey season.
The women’s under-18 championship in Sweden was also cancelled, creating an international hockey gender gap that Hockey Canada was behooved to close.
Spectators an uncertainty
Canada’s governing body of hockey relocated the women’s championship to its WinSport headquarters at Canada Olympic Park.
The Markin MacPhail Centre, which served as a domestic and international curling bubble venue from February to May, features an ice surface of international dimensions with seating for 3,000.
No tickets have been sold, but “all parties are still working with the health authorities to determine if spectators will be in attendance,” a Hockey Canada spokesperson said.
Host Canada faced Finland in a pre-tournament game before opening the championship against the Finns on Friday.
“We’re getting used to, on the team, just adapting to whatever comes at us,” Canadian forward Brianne Jenner said.
“When we heard we were going to have a quarantine and we were going to have this type of situation for the world championships, I think we were just taking it in stride.
“I know it sounds like that cookie-cutter answer, but we’re honestly just so excited to compete.”
Extended rosters, isolation and regular testings
Rosters are expanded to 25 players from 23 for this tournament because no late additions are permitted in the event of injuries.
Similar to the junior men’s championship in Edmonton, players and other personnel travelling to Canada isolated at home or in a team bubble, and were tested regularly, for seven days before arriving on charter flights
No player or official tested positive for the coronavirus during the five-day hotel quarantine in Calgary, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation.
On the eve of that championship, those who played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League were informed it was about to fold.
Bronze medallist Canada lost a semifinal to the host Finns and didn’t play for gold for the first time in the 29-year history of the tournament.
Finland briefly celebrated a first world championship before Petra Nieminen’s overtime goal was waived off for a controversial goaltending interference call.
The U.S. beat Finland in a shootout for gold and a fifth straight world title. Sweden, the 2006 Olympic silver medallist, was beaten by Japan and relegated.
‘Feels like a lifetime ago’
“It feels like a lifetime ago,” Jenner said. “Anything pre-pandemic does feel like a different world, a different reality.”
The United States, Finland, Canada, Russia and Switzerland comprise Pool A in Calgary. The Czech Republic, Japan, Germany and promoted Hungary and Denmark are in Pool B.
Russia continues to be designated “ROC” in IIHF tournaments, without the country’s flag displayed or anthem played, because of World Anti-Doping Agency sanctions against the country.
The five Pool A countries as well as Japan and host China have berths in Beijing’s Olympic field. The three remaining slots are still to be filled via November qualifying tournaments.
So while medals and world rankings are at stake in Calgary, a world championship at a strange time in the calendar provides a Beijing benchmark for teams that had little international competition over the last two years.
“It’s extremely important not just for the fans of women’s hockey to be able to see us on TV, to be able to see competition, but in terms of that preparation for Beijing, every team needs some competitive games,” Jenner said.