The Women’s Under-18s Hockey World Championships return to its regular schedule with Canada chasing its second gold medal in less than seven months.
The Canadians opened their title defense on Sunday against the Finns in Oestersund, Sweden.
Canadian head coach Courtney Birchard-Kessel told The Canadian Press from Sweden: “These girls are amazing and very excited about this opportunity.
“You don’t have to fire them, that’s for sure. Sometimes you have to tell them to take a breather.”
Seven players returned from the team that held the United States 3-2 to a win on June 13, 2022 in Madison, Wis.
The 2022 tournament originally scheduled to be held in Sweden in January has been rescheduled and rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after the 2021 women’s under-18 championship was canceled altogether.
After they were defeated 7–0 by the United States in the preliminary round at Madison, the Canadians defeated the Americans in the title match.
Kitchener, Ont. defender Ava Murphy, who had one goal and one assist in the final, led Canada in points in the league with two goals and three assists in the final. six matches.
Murphy said: “I am grateful for the opportunity to compete in two world championships. “I don’t take that for granted at all.”
Returning players Murphy, Jocelyn Amos of Ailsa Craig, Ont. — who scored the final goal of the game in Madison — Alexia Aubin, of Levis, Que., Jordan Baxter of Coquitlam, BC, Piper Grober of Toronto, Alex Law of Whitby, Ont., and Emmalee Pais of London , Ont., leads the charge in Canada in its first iteration since 2013-14.
“Being here with a group of seven returning is pretty special,” says Murphy.
“We’ve all been through worlds underage. Going into this tournament with that experience, knowing we were in the position of the young girls and we could lead them. in whatever they need help with, really helpful.”
Canada has won six gold medals in the tournament’s 14-year history.
Two-thirds of the Olympic team that won gold medals last year in Beijing were alumni under-18s, including captains Marie Philip-Poulin and Natalie Spooner, who played in the inaugural world championships in 2008. in Calgary.
The players born in 2005 and 2006 in the 2023 edition for the first time in their careers traveled to Europe to represent Canada in international hockey.
“It’s certainly like a whole new experience, flying through time change and being in an area we’re not familiar with,” says Murphy.
The coaching staff of the under-18 women’s team brought a total of 183 international experience matches between them.
Birchard-Kessel has appeared in three of Canada’s women’s world hockey championships and won a gold medal in 2012.
Married to Blake Kessel, the 33-year-old from Mississauga is the sister-in-law of NHL player Phil and USA women’s forward Amanda.
Birchard-Kessel and assistants Stefanie McKeough and 2014 Olympic gold medalist Tara Watchorn were teammates under 22 at the 2011 MLP Cup in Switzerland.
“Being able to stand side by side and coach, it was incredible,” says Birchard-Kessel. “I really think it’s special to have Steph and Tara by my side.”
She will make her head coach debut in an international tournament, but Birchard-Kessel steered the majority of her players in Sweden to a 3-0 win in the summer series against underdogs. their 18 years old in the United States last August.
“We were successful against the Americans, but this is a new tournament right?” she speaks. “It’s been five months. At this stage, there’s been a lot of development going on in those months. Other countries are also working hard and focusing on this.
“I think we’re very skilled. We have a great group of returnees, seven of the returnees have excelled in Wisconsin and won gold medals. I think having that experience is what matters. very important to their leadership here with us.”
Canada, USA, Finland and Sweden are in Group A, while Czechia, Japan, Slovakia and Switzerland are in Group B.
After Sunday’s opening game against Finland, Canada meets Sweden on Monday and the US on Wednesday in the preliminary round.
Canada lost 4-3 to Finland in a pre-tournament match on Thursday.
TSN and RDS will broadcast 13 matches from the Oestersund Arena, including knockouts capped by the January 15 final.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 6, 2023.