CALGARY - Canada's roster for the upcoming women's world hockey championship reflects a balancing act of producing a winner while also cultivating a team to defend an Olympic gold medal in 2018.
The average age of the Canadian team unveiled Thursday was 23, compared to 26 just over a year ago when Canada won gold in stunning fashion in Sochi, Russia.
Ten players will make their world championship debut when Canada opens against the arch-rival Americans on March 28 in Malmo, Sweden.
"They are our first game of the tournament, so I think it will be a really good test for us as it will be for them," forward Haley Irwin said.
Eleven players, including sniper Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., return from the squad that edged the U.S. 3-2 in overtime in Sochi.
"I think it's the youngest roster we've ever put together," said Melody Davidson, Hockey Canada's director of female hockey. "The first year of the quad, as I've said all the way along, is when we need to see and understand exactly what the depth is that we have.
"It's going to be no easy feat trying to go to (South) Korea and win. Definitely we're not interested in sacrificing a world championship by any means. We believe we've got a great squad here to compete and go towards that gold medal in Malmo."
The U.S. beat Canada 3-2 in the 2013 world championship final in Ottawa. The Canadians edged the Americans 5-4 in overtime in Burlington, Vt., to take the '12 title.
Canada's 23-player roster for Malmo includes 19 players who edged the U.S. in yet another tight final — a 3-2 shootout victory in November's Four Nations Cup in Kamloops, B.C.
Doug Derraugh of Arnprior, Ont., was Canada's coach in Kamloops and will be behind the bench again in Malmo.
"You'll see a team that plays with a lot of speed, a lot of passion, a tough team, an aggressive puck-possession team," predicted the Cornell Big Red coach. "With a young team, I think it's a matter of keeping them focused and not allowing them to get too wrapped up in the extra-curricular stuff that's going on around the world championships."
Poulin scored the equalizer with less than a minute remaining in the Olympic final and struck again in overtime.
The 23-year-old Boston University forward is a finalist for this year's Patty Kazmaier Award, given annually to the top female NCAA Division 1 women's hockey. Poulin missed the Four Nations because of injury.
While Derraugh hasn't named his captains for Malmo, Irwin of Thunder Bay, Ont., Rebecca Johnston of Sudbury, Ont., Lauriane Rougeau of Beaconsfield, Que., and Toronto's Natalie Spooner are expected to be team leaders as they were in Kamloops.
Genevieve Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., was Canada's goalie in the Four Nations shootout win over the Americans. She's the most seasoned of the three netminders on the world championship roster.
Irwin was Canada's captain in Kamloops and says the experience the new players gained there will be important in Malmo.
"It was their first international tournament with the senior team, so that will I think help in their play going into Malmo," she said. "They got to learn a lot and we got to get to know them."
While no player on 2014 Olympic team has officially retired, there are veterans not on the world championship roster for various reasons.
"We've told all the veterans if there's going to be a year we might do something different or you might do something different, this is the year to do it," Davidson said.
All-time leading scorer Hayley Wickenheiser had season-ending surgery on a broken bone in her foot last month. Three-time Olympian Meghan Agosta is in police training in Vancouver.
Five-time Olympian Jayna Hefford is expecting a child. Defenceman Meaghan Mikkelson and her husband also want to start a family.
Edmonton goaltender Shannon Szabados will play out the season with the SPHL's Columbus Cottonmouths. Goaltender Charline Labonte is pursuing a graduate degree at McGill.
Defender Catherine Ward and forward Gillian Apps took a step back this season to determine their future plans, Davidson said. Canada's Olympic captain Caroline Ouellette remains part of the player pool, she added.
"Caro was a great captain for us in Sochi," Davidson said. "She still wants to play and wants to be a part of our program and just the direction we went with this team didn't put her on that roster.
"She definitely hasn't hung up her skates at all."
Canada, the U.S, Russia and Finland make up Pool A in Malmo, while Olympic bronze medallist Switzerland, Germany, host Sweden and Japan are in Pool B.
The top two teams in Pool A get a bye to the semifinals while the bottom two face the top two teams in Pool B in the quarter-finals. The championship game is April 4.
The Canadian squad's pre-tournament camp is March 18-24 in Toronto, where they'll play exhibition games against local male midget triple-A teams.