Young stars take to the ice

U18 Women's Worlds kicks off in Finland

PSG Arena Zlin  Czech Republic

Team USA is the leader in gold medals won at the Women's U18 World Championship. Will Canada defend its 2012 gold, or can a European team rise up and stake a claim for the title? Photo: Phillip MacCallum / HHOF-IIHF Images

VIERUMÄKI/HEINOLA – For the first time ever, Finland will serve as host for the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, and with women’s hockey’s popularity soaring around the globe, not a moment too soon.

Although they are new to the women's U18s, the Finns have a wealth of experience in staging senior women’s world championships. Women have competed for World Championship medals at the senior level on Finnish ice beginning in Tampere (1992), then in Espoo (1999) and Hämeenlinna (2009). The first two tournaments were won by Canada, the last by the United States.

The 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship will be staged in Vierumäki and Heinola, running from 29 December 2012 to 5 January 2013. The Championship brings together eight countries: Canada, USA, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Czech, Russia and Hungary to compete for World Championship medals.

The official slogan of the 2013 IIHF WWU18 Championship is Light up a Star! This slogan encourages the young athletes to aim to achieve their very highest level of performance. It also invites the audience to cheer for the teams and to also bring kids to watch and get excited about the sport of ice hockey.

It will be the sixth edition in the history of the tournament, held for girls age of 18 years and under to compete for a World Championship title. The championship was held for the very first time in Calgary, Canada in 2008. Since then the host cities have been Füssen, Germany (2009), Chicago, USA (2012), Stockholm, Sweden (2011) and Zlin & Prerov, Czech Republic (2012).

The U.S. has had the most success in the tournament’s history, having won three World Championships. Canada is right behind them with two gold medals, the most recent coming last year. Finland has won a championship medal once, a bronze in the 2011 championship.

In 2013 the competition will again be interesting. Team Hungary will be competing at the top level for the very first time in the history of ice hockey, while other nations like Sweden, Russia, Switzerland, and the host Finns will once again test their mettle against the favourites Canada and USA.

Interest in girls’ and women’s ice hockey is growing within the northern Scandinavian nation. In Finland during the years 2006-2010 the sport almost doubled its numbers when the number of licensed players grew from 2,500 to 4,700. In Canada girls and women’s program are still one of the main target groups, with the number of players approaching close to 80,000.

The results are showing at the World Championship. The gold medal game in the first U18 women’s tournament in Calgary Canada drew a crowd of 2,156 spectators. In 2012 Zlin & Prerov experienced a girl’s hockey invasion, bringing in a total crowd of 17,480 spectators to the arenas.

With the 2013 championship in Vierumäki and Heinola, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association hopes to draw a crowd total of 15,000 spectators to the arenas to the 22 games in the championship.

The city of Heinola, a city of 20,200 inhabitants just a two-hour drive from Helsinki, serves as a host city for the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship. The Sport Institute of Finland, located at Vierumäki, a residential area of Heinola, will serve as the second competition venue as well as the practice and accommodation facilities to the teams.

Heinola is a small but active city. Ice Hockey is the most popular sport, with Mestis club Heinolan Peliitat playing at the second-highest level in the Finnish League. The surrounding region of Häme is known as one of the hotbeds for girls’ and women’s hockey in Finland. In 2013 the Häme region has 13 clubs participating in the Girls Hockey Day event. Regional pro teams like Ilves Tampere and HPK Hämeenlinna regularly contend for the Finnish Women’s Championship League.

The tournament kicks off Saturday, with a noon game between Sweden and the Czech Republic. The opening ceremony will take place later on, when the Finns host Germany in the afternoon.

Click here for the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship page 

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