Faced with the daunting task of defending its gold medal at the IIHF Women's World Championship, Canada opened the tournament with a 4-1 victory over Finland on Thursday, Aug. 25.
With five substitutions from the 23-player roster than won Olympic gold in Beijing six months ago, Canada's roster features a mix of youth and veterans. On opening day, the more seasoned players provided the leadership.
Defender Meaghan Mikkelson - the eldest player on the team at 37 years old - registered a second-period tally to record her first point at this tournament in five years. It was redemption for the St. Albert, Alta., native, whose bid to make it to the Olympics after a devastating injury fell just short.
"I think we're pretty happy for her on the bench," captain Marie-Phliip Poulin said to the host broadcaster. "She's put the work in, she was never down, and now she's back on the team and we're very happy for her."
Meanwhile, Sarah Nurse, fresh off being named the first woman to ever be featured on the cover of the famed EA Sports NHL video game, opened the scoring on the power play in the first period.
Nurse - like Poulin - finished the game with a goal and an assist; however, her off-ice accolade of sharing the coveted image (along with Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras) made all the headlines going into the tournament.
Nurse's goal came after Canada was awarded a five-minute power play, when Finland alternate captain Petra Nieminen hit Canadian forward Kristin O'Neill from behind. Ultimately, Nieminen was not only ejected from the game, but will miss her team's outing versus the United States.
Finland got the equalizer on a power play of its own, as Julia Liikala was able to convert a loose rebound with Nurse in the penalty box. Poulin restored her team's lead before the period was over, but the Finns had a chance to even the affair with one second left in the opening frame on a penalty shot. On the play, Kiira Yrjanen tried a creative 180-degree back-to-front spin move, but goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens would have none of it, making the save and staring down her opponent, to boot.
Desbiens ended up making 16 saves in the victory. Blayre Turnbull had an empty-netter to round out the scoring.
Coach Troy Ryan, rewarded before the game with a four-year contract extension through to the 2026 Olympics, wasn't about to rest on his team's laurels.
“We’re obviously happy with the win, but we’re not happy with the way we played at all," Ryan said to reporters. "The first (period) wasn’t great. We were pleased with our second, and the third period was somewhere in between the two. It’s only the first game and we understand that a lot of times the world championship is just about getting better every day and building off that.” Canada's next action is Saturday against Switzerland, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.