Although 1987 pushed international women’s hockey in the right direction with the first unofficial World Championship, things really took off in 1990. And Canada played a leading role from the get-go.
The first official, IIHF-sanctioned World Women’s Championship took place in Ottawa in 1990 with eight countries participating. The Canadians were led by Head Coach Dave McMaster, who guided them to a decisive opening win against Sweden (15-1), and that set the tone for the rest of the tournament. Although the semi-final versus Finland was a one-goal affair (6-5 Canada), the pink jersey-wearing host team clearly dominated on balance, winning the gold against Team USA with a 5-2 final victory.
Manon Rheaume, the netminder for Team Canada at the second World Championship in 1992, was the first woman ever to play professional hockey. Playing for the Atlanta Knights, the farm team for Tampa Bay, this Quebec native was asked to be the goaltender for the Lightning during a period of an NHL exhibition game. She definitely proved herself again for Canada that year at the tournament in Tampere, Finland, recording a .957 save percentage. Forward Angela James and defenceman Geraldine Heaney made the tournament all-star team that year, and Head Coach Rick Polutnik was happy to oversee the 8-0 rout of the archrival USA in the final. It was another gold medal for Canada.
In 1994, Hayley Wickenheiser suited up for her first World Championship at the age of 15. Les Lawton came on board as head coach, assisted by Shannon Miller and Melody Davidson. Canada kicked off the round-robin of the third World Women’s Championship in Lake Placid, USA with a 12-0 shutout against Norway. Again, that set the tone for the team, and the Canadians romped 6-3 over the Americans in the final. Danielle Goyette made the all-star team, unsurprisingly, with nine goals total for the tournament, and Therese Brisson was chosen on the defensive side, along with Rheaume. The Directorate Award for Best Defenceman went to Geraldine Heaney.
The 1997 IIHF World Women’s Championship in Kitchener, Ontario saw things tighten up between Canada and the USA, as the host nation narrowly prevailed 4-3 in the final. Nancy Drolet’s hat-trick goal at 12:59 of overtime gave Canada the victory. Prior to that, Canada’s semi-final win over Team Finland was also a close one (2-1). Wickenheiser made the All-Star team for the first time with four goals in five games.
Women’s hockey became an official Olympic sport at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. It was about time, for women had been playing hockey for almost 100 years by then. And even though the Canadians succumbed to the USA in that first Olympic tournament, they used the experience as motivation to come back strong at the following year’s World Championship.
Espoo, Finland hosted the fifth IIHF World Women’s Championship in 1999. Canada was ready for the USA again, and posted a 3-1 win in the final. This was the first World Championship for goaltenders Sami Jo Small and Kim St-Pierre, and they excelled, Small with a .982 save percentage and St-Pierre with a .971 mark. Small got the nod as Best Goalie, and Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford cracked the tournament all-star team.
Only one goal was scored in the round robin against Canada at the 2000 IIHF World Women’s Championship in Mississauga, ON. However, the semi-final against Finland was a close one for Canada, which emerged with a 3-2 victory. And it was a nail-biting final for the Canadians, too, 3-2 against the Americans. Nancy Drolet came through for the Canadians again with the decisive goal in overtime.
The seventh IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championship was in 2001 in Minneapolis, USA. Russia surprised the world with the bronze in an upset against Finland, and Team USA took the silver once again. Kim St-Pierre was spectacular as Canada’s main netminder after being on the bench for the final in the past two years. In fact, St-Pierre stopped all but two of the 64 shots she faced in the tournament. Named the top goalie of the 2001 Championship, she saved 33 American shots in the final. Jennifer Botterill scored the winning goal for Canada for a tight 3-2 win over Team USA.
Losing eight exhibition games to the USA prior to the 2002 Olympics, Team Canada was unhappy with Nancy Drolet’s production that year. In a decision that caused some controversy at the time, Drolet was replaced with forward Cherie Piper.
The 2002 Olympics would become known among Canadians for the “Lucky Loonie.” It was a special year for Canada with both the men’s and women’s teams coming out on top in hockey, and everyone was saying Team Canada’s luck came from the loonie that was placed underneath the centre ice faceoff dot.
The women’s final, pitting Canada versus the USA, was an intense affair. Head Coach Daniele Sauvageau’s squad was assessed 11 penalties by referee Stacey Livingston, but only surrendered one power play goal. Despite the adversity, the Canadians came out on top by a 3-2 count, with the winner coming on a Jayna Hefford breakaway goal with one second left in the second period. Kim St.-Pierre stopped 25 shots that game, and proved successful even with eight straight American power plays. Cassie Campbell did Canada proud as well in the role of captain for the nation’s first golden Olympic team.
The 2003 World Women’s Championship slated for Beijing, China was cancelled due to the SARS outbreak. But the eighth World Women’s Hockey Championship was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2004. Led by Head Coach Karen Hughes, Canada lost 3-1 to Team USA in the Qualifying Round, but got back on its feet for the final. Canada sent a message to the Americans with a 2-0 shut-out victory this time. Jennifer Botterill was named the most valuable player of the tournament. Directorate Awards went to Kim St.-Pierre as the goaltending leader with a .952 save average, and forward Jayna Hefford with seven goals and three assists.
The 2005 World Championship in Sweden was a heartbreaker for Team Canada, as it lost to Team USA 1-0 in the final match-up in a shootout. For the first time ever, the Americans topped the podium in this event.
But it wasn’t over for Canada. The 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy turned things around again as Canada outscored its opponents 46-2, never allowing an even-strength goal. The Americans were surprised to be eliminated during the semi-final round in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Swedes. With Cassie Campbell returning as team captain, Canada defended its Olympic title easily, winning gold against Tre Kronor. The final result was 4-1, with Caroline Ouellette, Gillian Apps, Cherie Piper, and Jayna Hefford scoring the goals.
The 2007 IIHF World Women’s Championship in Winnipeg, Manitoba will provide likely provide an interesting battle between Canada and the USA in the final. But as we know, hockey is an unpredictable sport. Still, with eight gold medals in IIHF World Women’s Championship play and two Olympic golds, Team Canada is widely regarded as the favourite, even though the Americans are the defending champions.