It felt like this day was never going to come.
The 2021 women's World Hockey Championship is set to begin in Calgary on Friday, four months after the event was originally going to take place in Halifax, N.S. It was a shame COVID-19 put a premature end ot the event just days before things were set to kick off, but at least we're finally going to see the top women battle it out for gold for the first time since 2019.
With Olympic centralizations already set for most of the top teams, the World Championship will serve as the lead-in for Beijing 2022 preparation. It'll make the tournament extra special, with players trying to prove they deserve to play a pivitol role for their nation.
Canada and USA are typically the top teams each year, with the pair making up the final in 19 of the 20 previous events. Finland shocked the world by nearly winning gold in 2019, but, othejrwise, USA has been the team to beat since the 2006 Winter Olympics, taking gold in eight of the past 10 outings. They'll be in medal contention once more.
With the tournament set to begin shortly, here's a look at 10 players to keep an eye on over the next two weeks:
Kendall Coyne-Schofield, F (USA)
Between her work on television broadcasts, acting as a development coach for the Chicago Blackhawks and participating in NHL all-star events, few players have had a busier past few years than Coyne-Schofield. She's still at the top of her game and she's chasing her seventh gold at this event. Back in 2019, Coyne-Schofield was named top forward with five goals and nine points and has gotten at least five points in all but one World Championship during her career.
Hilary Knight, F (USA)
Knight still has it. Knight's World Championship CV is quite impressive, with eight gold medals, two silvers and four instances of leading the tournament in points, including three of the past four events. She shows no signs of slowing down and should be a star once more as USA looks to defend its title. Knight is easily one of the best to ever play in this tournament and only continues to add to her resume - plus, she's only 32, so she has a few more years left in her.
Alex Carpenter, F (USA)
There are so many women worth a shoutout, but Alex Carpenter is ready for her national team return after two dominant years in the Russian league. Carpenter led the league with 53 points in 2019-20 en route to a championship, adding to her five World Championship gold medals. A stout playmaker with a quick shot release, Carpenter has all the makings of a player ready to challenge for the top scoring spot.
Marie-Philip Poulin, F (Canada)
You can't talk about Team Canada without discussing one of the greatest to ever represent the maple leaf for her country. The final player to win the Jayna Hefford Trophy as the CWHL's most valuable player, Poulin has been a force nearly every time she has played for Canada internationally, whether it's the Olympics or World Championship. Poulin had a string of three six-point efforts at the tournament from 2015-17 and then another six at the 2018 Olympics, so if you're trying to gauge the type of impact offensively she'll have, there you go. She's usually one of the most consistent players Canada has and tends to step her game up in big moments. That's exactly what she'll need to do again this year.
Erin Ambrose, D (Canada)
Talk about consistency. Ambrose has always been a big-time player wherever she's been, and her World Championship performance back in 2019 is proof of that. Ambrose seems to rise to a new level every time she plays internationally for Canada and should be the team's top defenseman this time around. The 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award finalist should be among the tournament leaders in points by a defenseman.
Natalie Spooner, F (Canada)
Spooner is always a fixture on Canada's roster, having led the team in scoring back in 2019 with 10 points. Even in the years where she isn't the top player, her impact as a reliable two-way forward with good speed is valuable in just about any situation and nothing will change this time around.
Jenni Hiirikoski, D (Finland)
Hiirikoski is one of the best players to play in this tournament, period. At 34, she's ending the latter stages of her career, but Hiirikoski still managed to have an incredible year in the Swedish league with 47 points in 34 games. Not to mention she finished third in tournament scoring with 10 points in seven games en route to her seventh World Championship medal two years ago to further prove just how good she can be. Expect much of the same from her this year.
Lara Stalder, F (Switzerland)
You can't talk about this tournament without mentioning Stalder's name. She wasn't on the 2019 team, but her expansive career with the national team has proven to be a success. A member of Brynas in the Swedish league, Stadler is coming off of leading the league with 31 goals and 82 points in 36 games - a year after recording 42 goals and 71 points to, once again, lead one of the biggest women's hockey leagues. Stalder will be an integral part of Switzerland's search for a medal.
Alina Müller, F (Switzerland)
It's hard to believe Müller is just 23 considering she helped Sweden win bronze at the 2014 Olympics at the age of 15. But ever since, Müller has found herself among Switzerland's top scorers at every international event and is still in the midst of an incredible NCAA career with Northeastern. Switzerland is typically always a contender for a medal, with Müller being one of the team's most important goal-scorers. Look for that again in Calgary.
Hanae Kubo, F (Japan)
Kubo doesn't have many years left as a 38-year-old, but if this is it, what a career it has truly been. The all-time points leader for Japan at the World Championship with 28 goals and 54 points (no player has more than 24), Kubo has been a staple of the national team since 1999, with the forward competing in four decades of hockey action. That's something so few players can claim to do in international hockey, but Kubo's career has been anything but magnificent as she still, to this day, performs at a high level.