There were a lot of memorable moments at the inaugural IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Calgary, Alta.
Host nation Canada reaching the gold medal game against its arch-rival, the United States.
A pesky Czech Republic team, not expected to do too much, winning the bronze medal and earning the support of fans and opposing players along the way.
Fans cramming into the side-by-side Father David Bauer Olympic and Norma Bush arenas to see the world’s up-and-coming women’s hockey stars.
Natalie Spooner has her own memories.
“My favorite memory from the U18 worlds would have to be getting ready for our first game against the Czechs,” says Spooner, now well known as a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team and a gold medallist at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. “The first time you get to put on a Canada jersey is very special and being able to share this moment with 20 teammates and new friends was a dream come true. We had all worked so hard to be there and this was all of our first time we would be representing our country.”
Spooner was one of a number of Canadian players who used the U18 women’s worlds as a springboard to great things in their hockey careers. Laura Fortino, Brianne Jenner, Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau, Spooner and Tara Watchorn all helped Canada to Sochi gold, and all were on the ice in Calgary in 2008.
Earlier this week, Hockey Canada announced that the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship will return to Canada for the first time since 2008, with St. Catharines, Ont, serving as host city for the 2016 event.
Since its inception, the U18 women’s worlds has been held in seven different countries, from Canada in 2008, to Germany in 2009, then on to the United States, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland and, most recently, Hungary.
While Canada and the United States have swapped gold and silver medals over those years, several countries have won the bronze medal. And Melody Davidson, general manager of national women’s team programs for Hockey Canada, says countries outside of Canada and the United States have been the greatest beneficiaries from the event.
“In Europe and Asia, one of the things I learned from them was so much of the money they get from their governments and their federations is tied to having a world championship to attend,” says Davidson, who remembers the 2008 event well, having coached Canada to the silver medal. “The ability to have a U18 worlds allows them more financial resources to grow and develop their programs.
“Also, because a lot of female players are dual-sport or tri-sport athletes … other sports had world championships and they had higher carrots to strive for and (hockey was) losing athletes early to other sports because there wasn’t a world championship at the under-18 level.”
By keeping their top athletes in hockey, many countries have been able to build and develop their senior women’s teams a lot better and faster. Davidson says countries in Europe and Asia start working with players earlier and, subsequently, the players have more years to work within a national team’s program.
“They’re able to get kids in earlier,” says Davidson, “and they’re able to get more training years with those kids.”
Spooner, who has risen through the Hockey Canada ranks, from the U18 level to U22s and right to the top with Canada’s National Women’s Team, says her experiences in 2008 prepared her well for what was to come.
“Having the privilege of playing U18 worlds helped me develop as a player. It was my introduction to the Team Canada program and allowed me to meet players from across the country that had the same goals that I did,” she says. “Being able to play with the best players from our country against the best of others was definitely a step up and pushed me to be a better hockey player.”