When the 2013 National Women’s Under-18 Championship commences at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary next week, several of last year’s gold medallists will be battling to repeat as champions of the event.
This year, however, they will be playing for a different team.
Ontario, with a long history of supremacy at the National Women’s Under-18 Championship, is divided into two teams: Ontario Blue and Ontario Red. Ontario Red has won the gold medal seven times in the last eight tournaments.
But last year’s 2012 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Dawson Creek, B.C., was an exception. The provincial “underdogs,” Ontario Blue, skated out of the shadow of Ontario Red to claim its first-ever gold medal with a 4-2 win over Manitoba in the final game.
“To be the underdogs in a tournament and to prove that we could win … it meant the world to us, our coaches and Ontario,” Ontario Blue defenceman Hailey Noronha remembers.
Noronha scored the decisive game-winning goal early in the third period of the gold medal game, leading Ontario Blue to the pinnacle of Canadian women’s under-18 hockey.
“It was amazing for me and our team,” Noronha recalls. “I didn’t even see it go in. My mind went blank and then I saw my teammates celebrating.”
This year Noronha returns to the National Women’s Under-18 Championship, but as a member of Ontario Red’s roster. Also making the jump from Blue to Red are fellow 2012 gold medallists Victoria Bach, Rebecca Leslie, Ainsley MacMillan and Mackenzie MacNeil.
Returning to Ontario Blue to help defend its championship title is defenceman Lauren Williams and forward Kirsten Miller.
“It was a surreal experience,” Miller said of last year’s gold medal game. “We really believed in ourselves and we believed in each member of our team. Everyone brought something to the team that helped us win the championship.”
Miller is equally excited about the potential of Ontario Blue at this year’s championship.
“This year will be amazing. We have a lot of talented younger players that are coming up,” Miller said. “It’s a real honour to be part of a national championship team, especially coming from Ontario where there are so many talented players.”
Miller looks forward to playing against her former teammates, who are now suiting up for Ontario Red.
“Off the ice, we are great friends. When we step on the ice, it will be really good competition,” Miller added. “It’s awesome actually. It will be very exciting, fun and up-beat.”
Former teammate Noronha also looks forward to the challenge of playing her former teammates from Ontario Blue.
“I love playing girls I know, not just for the rivalry,” Noronha agrees. “You want to see that your friends are playing well.”
Both teams enter this year’s National Women’s Under-18 Championship with the same goal in mind: to win the gold medal.
With Ontario Blue battling to defend its title and Ontario Red fighting to regain it, it will be interesting to see if one of the Ontario teams will prevail again at this year’s national championship.
“Every year is different,” Noronha said. “I’m really excited for what this year is going to bring.”
The 2013 National Women’s Under-18 Championship runs Wednesday, Nov. 6, through Sunday, Nov. 10, with the bronze medal game scheduled for 12 p.m. MT and the gold medal game set for 4 p.m. MT. Follow all the action from the Markin MacPhail Centre at www.HockeyCanada.ca/NWU18.