Team Canada at practice last Saturday before leaving for the world championships.

Canada aims for first gold medal since 2012 at IIHF World Championships in Espoo, Finland

While the status of women’s professional hockey looms, Canada looks to rebound against the United States

Natalie Spooner knows the goal is to beat the United States in the world women’s hockey championships, but the battle to get there is just as important.

The Canadian star, who scored once in the nation’s opening game victory against Switzerland at the global tournament in Finland, on Thursday, sees opportunity in each of the preliminary contests.

“The same way we play against the United States we need to play against the other teams because in reality they are preparing us for the gold medal game,” said Spooner, after Canada’s final practice last Saturday. “We need to play the best that we can and improve throughout the tournament.”

The first world championship took place in 1990 in Ottawa, with the rivals having faced off in every final of the tournament. Canada won the first eight titles and the United States has won eight out of the last 10.

Although the last decade saw the Americans assert their dominance, the games have been close.

That includes a 3-2 shoot out win for gold over the Canadians in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeong Chang, and a 3-2 overtime win on a goal by Hilary Knight, to give the Americans the last world championship in 2017 at Plymouth, Mich.

This year’s tournament began April 4 and features 10 teams for the first time, as past events were limited to eight or nine.

Team Canada, ranked second in the world, won’t have it easy if it wants to claim gold, as the group includes all top five ranked seeds – USA, Finland, Russia and Switzerland.

All eyes will be on the marquee match-up against the United States, a club Canada finally beat at the Rivalry Series in February.

“We didn’t go into that series looking for wins, if we came out with wins it would be a bonus, we went in focused on how we wanted to play and we were most proud of that,” said Canadian forward Brianne Jenner.

“Of course the goal at world’s is to win, but we have to make sure we take care of how we want to play.”

With the status of Marie-Philip Poulin still in question as she deals with a lower-body injury suffered in her last regular season game, with Les Canadiennes in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Jenner will likely be relied upon heavily to provide offence for Team Canada.

“I want to play physical, create space for myself and get the puck to my line mates and good things will happen,” said the Oakville, Ont. native. “Something I want to continue to do is play physical, hard-nosed hockey and shooting the puck when I get my opportunities.”

Jenner had 19 goals which tied her for second in scoring to go along with 32 points, fifth overall in the CWHL.

For players like Jenner in the CWHL, their focus has now shifted to the status of women’s hockey as it was announced this past Sunday in a press release made by the league, that beginning on May 1 it will discontinue its operations due to economic un-sustainability.

Many members of the league took to social media to voice their opinion, including Jenner.

Team Canada is expected to wrap up the tournament on April 14 with the final live at 1 p.m. ET.

The red and white have not won a world championship since 2012 when Caroline Ouellette scored the game winner two minutes into overtime for a 5-4 victory over Team USA. Ouellette is now an assistant coach with the team.