WOMEN’S HOCKEY CONTINUES TO GROW WITH THE INAUGURAL IIHF WORLD WOMEN’S UNDER-18 CHAMPIONSHIP
On March 19, 1990, Canada played host to a milestone in the history of women’s hockey, as the IIHF World Women’s Championship kicked off in Ottawa; the first official world championship for women’s hockey.
Almost 18 years later, another milestone will be reached on Canadian soil when the first-ever IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship comes to Father David Bauer Olympic Arena and Norma Bush Arena in Calgary, beginning January 5, 2008.
Eight teams from around the world – Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia and the USA – will converge on the Alberta city and play for the first women’s Under-18 gold medal.
“The IIHF Women’s Committee originally made the proposal for a women’s Under-18 world championship, and it has been in the works for quite a while now,” says International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel. “The IIHF Council felt it was great timing to have the inaugural event during our centennial season.”
The IIHF was founded on in Paris, and will celebrate its 100th anniversary during the 2007-08 season.
And with it being the centenary season for international hockey’s governing body, the IIHF felt there would be no better place to hold the championship than the country Fasel calls “the motherland of hockey.”
When the IIHF announced the 2008 World Women’s Under-18 Championship during meetings in Moscow in May 2007, Canada was immediately proclaimed as host country, and Calgary was announced as host city during the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in Vancouver in August.
“We could not be more pleased to be playing host to the inaugural IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship,” says Julie Healy, director of female hockey for Hockey Canada. “Canada has long been a leader in women’s hockey, and any opportunity we get to help grow the game internationally is one we are more than happy to take.”
Since the women’s world championship debuted in 1990, women’s hockey on the international stage has been dominated by two countries. Canada has claimed nine of the ten world championship gold medals and two of three Olympic gold medals, while the USA has taken home the other two golds.
With women’s hockey entering uncharted waters at the Under-18 level, Fasel says it is a logical scenario for those two nations to once again lead the way in Calgary.
“We don’t know much about the state of women’s Under-18 hockey around the world,” Fasel says, “but this championship will show us just where we are at. It is not a wild guess that Canada and the USA will dominate, followed by Sweden and Finland and then the rest. But hopefully that structure will be rocked a little.”
Healy hopes Canada’s Under-18 program, and that of the USA, can be an example for the other countries competing at the U18 worlds, to grow the game and one day create parity on the ice.
“We are very lucky that we have been able to set up such a terrific program here in Canada,” Healy says. “If another country can take something from us and apply it to their program to get better, and make the game better, then that is something we want to get behind.
“Eighteen years ago, ten years ago, even five years ago, there may not have been many people who thought any countries other than Canada and the USA would play for gold at a major international event. Then 2006 came along, and Sweden showed how far their program has come. Any country can be beaten on any day, and I think that is starting to be seen more and more.”
So why an Under-18 world championship? This event can be considered similar to the IIHF World Junior Championship, an event that is played at the men’s Under-20 level. Why not have the same age grouping for women’s hockey?
According to Fasel, the answer lies in the age at which more and more women’s players are joining their senior national team.
“Female players join their national teams at a young age,” he says. “Hayley Wickenheiser was not even 16 years old when she made her debut (at the 1994 IIHF World Women’s Championship) and (Swedish goaltender) Kim Martin was a few months younger when she first played for her country (at the 2001 IIHF World Women’s Championship). Had the IIHF chosen the Under-20 level, the teams would have looked too similar to the senior teams.”
By keeping the event at Under-18, Fasel says it emphasizes the development aspect of the event, preparing young players for their future at the senior national team level.
Regardless of who wins or loses, the 2008 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship will write yet another chapter in the ever-growing story of women’s hockey.
Just like the first-ever IIHF World Women’s Championship in 1990 and the debut of women’s hockey at the Winter Olympic Games in 1998, the women’s Under-18 world championship is another step in the growth of the game.
“We are always striving to get our game to the next level and right now, this world championship is the next level,” Healy says. “That is what’s exciting about being a part of something that is continually growing, like women’s hockey is.”