Which country has the best women’s hockey team?

Hockey players in uniform lined up for photo (© AP Images)
American women laugh during the team photo on the eve of the ice hockey Women's World Championship. (© AP Images)

With the Winter Olympics around the corner, hockey fans look to an ice arena in Michigan where eight nations are competing from March 31 to April 7 for the ice hockey Women’s World Championship.

The championship, held annually in non-Olympic years, has been won by the Canadian or U.S. women since it was first played in 1990. While the U.S. squad has captured the last three titles, the Canadians have hoisted the trophy 10 times to the Americans’ seven.

“We want to bring it back to Canada,” forward Marie-Philip Poulin of the Canadian team told the Toronto Star. “We know it’s going to be hard.” (Canada won Olympic gold in 2014 on a thrilling power-play shot by Poulin.)

But Russia, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany — seeded in that order behind the Americans and Canadians — are determined to break the dominance of the North American teams.

Their hopes may be bolstered by the fact that the Americans came into the tournament with only one day of practice after a dispute over wages, which are meager compared to those for the U.S. men’s team. The women won big raises, with the potential to earn more in Olympic years. During their campaign for better pay, they drew support from stars of the men’s National Hockey League.

Female hockey player in gear (© AP Images)
Forward Meghan Duggan, shown after a December 2016 practice, is captain of the U.S. women’s team. (© AP Images)

Teammate Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson calls the new contract “a turning point for women’s hockey in the world.”

And sounding a warning to anyone who thinks that the timeout for negotiations hurts the team’s chances, U.S. captain Meghan Duggan says, “We’re completely energized.”

The championship will be decided over 22 games culminating April 7. The Winter Olympics will take place in February 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.