It's about that time again.
No, I'm not talking about reindeer decorations and shopping countdowns. I'm talking about something much better -- the 4 Nations Cup, an annual tournament gathering some of the premier players in each of the four countries participating: Sweden, Finland, Canada, and the United States.
A bit of background before we begin on this year -- 19 years ago, in 1996 (!) three of the top nations in women's hockey got together to hold a tournament to see who would be the best among them, aptly dubbed the 3 Nations Cup. Canada took four of the first five gold medals in the tournament. Then, in 2000, Sweden entered the fold, making it the 4 Nations roster we all know today.
Currently, Canada is the team to beat, having won 14 of the tournament's 19 golds thus far (including the last two in Lake Placid, NY and Kamloops, B.C.). Already having beat this year's host country, Sweden, 3-1, in a pre-tournament warmup, they look to make it 15 out of 20 this season in Sundsvall, albeit with a little bit of a different roster from last year.
The team that beat the U.S. in a shootout, 3-2, to capture the championship last year had Olympic heavyweightsBrianne Jenner, Tara Watchorn, Rebecca Johnston and Haley Irwin, among others. This year's roster, meanwhile, gains back an incredible force in Meghan Agosta, but has also turned an eye to younger players, many of them either fresh out of or just finishing college or university. There is also a heavy CWHL presence -- of the 22 players named, 13 are part of the league.
Six members of the Calgary Inferno are featured on the 4 Nations roster, including one who has yet to play a game in red, white and gold. Brigette Lacquette, who was drafted by Calgary in the fifth round of the CWHL Draft in August, is finishing her degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth and looks to join the team in December. Still, her impressive puck moving skills and skating earned her a spot on the National Team this year.
Jessica Campbell makes her return to the 4 Nations Cup after her debut last year in Kamloops. Campbell already has two goals in two games for the Inferno and has carried over her solid offensive play from last year's rookie season. Although she didn't tally a point in Kamloops, she's still a player to look out for on the ice. Joining her are Bailey Bram, Sarah Davis, and Jillian Saulnier, all part of the immensely deep and talented Calgary forward corps.
A seventh Inferno player would have been on the roster, but instead bows out due to apparent injury. Rebecca Johnston has not played a game this season and is being held out due to "precautionary reasons." Instead, her teammate, rookie Blayre Turnbull, takes her place. Turnbull scored her first career goal Oct. 25 against the Boston Blades and has been finding her place as part of a high-powered Calgary offense. She'll also get another chance to help Canada win gold after being part of the 2014 championship team.
But you already knew about the Inferno, right? Who else on Team Canada should you watch out for?
Laura Fortino, D: Team Canada's blueline has a lot of representation from the Brampton Thunder, including 2014's first overall draft pick and the assist-getter for 2014's Olympic golden goal by Marie-Philip Poulin. Fortino scored 15 points in 24 games played for the Thunder in 2014-15, one point behind team scoring leader Jess Jones (and considering it was a dry year overall for a rebuilding Brampton squad, that's impressive). This year, she's got three points (1 G, 2 A) in four games.
Halli Krzyzaniak, D: The North Dakota junior has been a part of the National U18 squad and captained them to a silver medal in 2012. She puts up points but also provides a solid defensive presence as one of the younger members of this roster.
Marie-Philip Poulin, F: Always a threat on the ice, the wildly creative forward made her return to the CWHL with Montreal's Les Canadiennes (formerly the Montreal Stars) and is captaining Team Canada for the 4 Nations Cup. She has five points in two games played already (and she isn't even leading the team, but that's probably because she hasn't played all four games). The Americans will certainly be keeping close tabs on her.
Sarah Potomak, F: The youngest member of Team Canada (born Dec. 19, 1997), Potomak has hit her stride early as part of the University of Minnesota's rookie crop. She's already producing at over two points per game (four goals and 15 assists in eight games played) and is asserting herself as a premier playmaker in an already-deep Gophers offense.
Emerance Maschmeyer, G: The senior goaltender backstopped Harvard to the National Championship game last season, and although the Crimson lost to Minnesota, Maschmeyer's performance was certainly not to blame. So far this season, she's split time with the other two goalies on Harvard's roster and has a .939 save percentage in-conference after losing 2-1 to Dartmouth. Her numbers through her career so far are impressive, and it'll be interesting to see how she and Erica Howe do in net.
Meghan Agosta, F: The 28-year-old put a pause on her hockey career to become a Vancouver police officer, but returns to the ice for Team Canada for this tournament. It'll be a good test of where she's at playing-wise, since she isn't playing for a CWHL or an NWHL team this season due to her work.
The puck drops Wednesday in Sundsvall at 8 a.m. Mountain time (10 a.m. Eastern), as Team Canada starts the round-robin against Finland. Thursday's game is against the U.S. at 11 a.m. (1 p.m.), and Saturday Canada faces Sweden at 5 a.m. (7 a.m.). Fans can stream the action via Live Arena for 79 Swedish krona, or $11.51 CAD ($8.59 USD) or follow live stats via Hockey Canada's 4 Nations Cup page.