Scouts look for U18 stars at Nationals
At the 2007 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, Jessica Jones helped Ontario Red win its fourth-consecutive gold medal at the tournament, while Samantha Watt picked up Top Defenceman honours.
Did either player think their performance in Kitchener, ON was enough to earn a spot on Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team for the inaugural IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship, held last January in Calgary, AB?
Actually, no – both players thought the team had already been picked.
“The roster for the summer team was so strong, I did not think the coaches were going to make any changes,” said Watt. “I went into the national championship with the mindset that I was going to play the best I could and help my team win a medal. The national team wasn’t really in my thoughts.”
Watt and Jones ended up being two of five players – including goaltender Amanda Mazzotta, defenceman Laura Fortino and forward Audrey Bélanger-Cournoyer – who earned spots on the U18 team for the world championship after not playing in the three-game series against the United States in August 2007.
Canada finished with the silver medal in Calgary, falling to the Americans in the gold medal game.
Despite what Watt and Jones believed heading into last year’s tournament, the National Women’s Under-18 Championship was, and is, one of the best tools Canada’s coaching staff has in selecting the national team for the world championship.
The coaches look at a number of things, including club team play and performance at national team camps, but the national championship brings all the hopefuls together in one place.
“It’s the best, and really only, chance we have to see the players against the best competition in the country,” said Stephanie White, the head coach of Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team for 2008-09. “It plays a major role in our selection process.”
It certainly did in 2007. All 20 players who helped Canada to a silver medal in Calgary were on the ice in Kitchener, including nine members of the gold medal-winning Ontario Red squad.
In reality, according to White, someone who didn’t take the ice at the national championship would have a hard time cracking the national team roster for the world championship.
“Unless there was an injury, or some kind of medical reason the player couldn’t be there, it would be next to impossible for them to make the national team without being at nationals,” White says. “It’s a big part of what we look at.”
But the coaches and scouts also look ahead to the future, to players who could suit up for Canada not at the world championship, but possibly the following summer in the August three-game series against the United States.
In Kitchener, Candice Styles led a star-studded Ontario Red in scoring en route to the gold medal while Roxanne Douville backstopped Quebec to silver, posting the tournament’s second-best goals against average. Both earned spots on the national team for the summer series against the Americans.
In fact, of the 20 players that played for Canada in this summer’s series in Lake Placid, NY, 18 of them were in Kitchener.
“Obviously looking for the world championship team is our priority,” White says, “but there will be players who will catch our attention, who the scouts will keep tabs on for next season for the U18 team, or for the U22 in the future.”
So for the players who came up one step short in the summer, all hope is not lost.
“Work hard every time you’re on the ice, keep your chin up and think positive,” Watt says. “You never know who is watching.”