Canada wants to be golden again at the IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship. They’ll likely have to beat the U.S. in the final to do it.
The defending champions open the 2011 world championship Saturday against Switzerland in Stockholm, Sweden.
The majority of players on the Canadian team faced the U.S. in an exhibition series last August in Lake Placid, N.Y. The Americans swept the three-game set.
“We definitely all know the feeling of losing three games to the U.S.,” said forward Emily Fulton. “We’re kind of keeping that in the back of our minds.”
Canada and the U.S. have met in every final of the three IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championships played to date. The U.S. won the first two — 5-2 in Calgary, Alta., in 2008 and then 3-2 in overtime the following year in Fussen, Germany.
Canada came back from a two-goal deficit and beat the U.S. 5-4 in overtime to win gold at the 2010 tournament in Chicago, Ill. Captain Jessica Campbell scored the winner.
Fulton, from Stratford, Ont., and defenceman Erin Ambrose of Keswick, Ont., are the two returning players from the 2010 roster. They know what it feels like to pile on their teammates to celebrate a world title.
“I’d never been in a more intense game,” Ambrose recalled. “It was a little community rink, but the stands were absolutely packed. There were four rows (of people) deep around the boards.
“When we scored it felt like ‘Oh my goodness, we just won.’ It didn’t really sink in until we sang the anthem.”
The post-victory highlight for Ambrose was attending the July ceremony in Edmonton, Alta., where she received her championship ring from Hockey Canada alongside the victorious men’s and women’s Olympic teams.
“A lot of us look up to them, me personally and I’m sure I could say that about the other girls on the team,” Ambrose said. “It’s all where most of us want to get to in our careers.”
Finland and Germany are in Canada’s pool along with the Swiss. The other five-team pool includes the U.S., Czech Republic, Sweden, Japan and Russia. The final is Jan. 8.
Canada’s 20-player roster of players born in 19 was chosen from a selection camp of 31 players held Dec. 17-19 in Toronto, Ont.
Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored both of Canada’s goals in the Olympic final in February, played in the first two IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championships. This year’s team doesn’t have a standout sniper like Poulin, according to the coach.
“We have a pretty balanced team in that I don’t think we have one player who is going to stand out and score a bunch of goals for us,” head coach Sarah Hodges said. “I think we have to score by committee.
“We’re strong in net and I think we have four lines that are pretty even in front of solid defence. There’s not going to be anything flashy about us.”
Hodges coaches the University of Regina women’s team and also coached Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team in that summer series versus the U.S. She’ll be assisted by Cassie Turner and former national team player France Montour in Sweden.
It’s a challenge to get sustained effort out of young athletes, but that is exactly what Canada needs to win another world title.
“We have to learn to compete for 60 minutes,” Hodges said. “We have a good team, but the U.S. also has a good team as well. To beat them, we’re going to have to outwork and outbattle them for 60 minutes.
“We have to do that every game leading up to the medal round if we want to be in the gold medal game.”
Canada doubled the Swedish bantam boys’ team AIK 4-2 on Thursday in an exhibition game. Caley Mercer of Exeter, Ont., scored a pair of goals with Ambrose and Cydney Roesler of Stittsville, Ont., also scoring for Canada.
Ann-Renée Desbiens of La Malbaie, Que., and Amanda Makela of Thunder Bay, Ont., split goaltending duties. The Swedes outshot Canada 30-28.
The under-18 players aren’t the only women representing Canada in international hockey to start 2011.
Canada’s National Women’s Under-22 squad opens the MLP Cup next Tuesday in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. The defending champions play their first game against the host Swiss.
That 21-player roster includes four players — Vicki Bendus, Natalie Spooner, Tara Watchorn and Courtney Birchard — who helped Canada’s National Women’s Team win the Four Nations Cup last month in St. John’s, N.L.
The under-18 team for the world championship isn’t usually chosen via a selection camp. There wasn’t a National Women’s Under-18 Championship in November for Hodges to scout because that tournament isn’t held when there is a Canada Winter Games in the same season.
So the women’s team was chosen in similar fashion to the men’s under-20 team currently competing at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. Ambrose feels competing for spots on the team has prepared Canada well for the rigours of the world championship.
“We’re all used to playing our club hockey levels, but this kind of hockey is a different level,” Ambrose said. “It’s a different compete and skill level.
“I think because all of us got to play against the 31 best players in our age group in Canada, it will help all of us.”