The Danish women’s under-18 hockey team is returning to Division I Group A for the second time after a sound 2-0 win over France to earn first place in the round-robin standings of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group B in Katowice, Poland, on Friday.
The Danes finished with a perfect 5-0 record while France lost only the last game in an otherwise impressive tournament. Last year, the Danes lost to Italy, 4-1, on the final day of competition to finish in second place and remain in I-B while the Italians moved up. This year, Denmark vowed to do things differently, and thanks to the determination of 13 returning players, they did.
“We’re really happy now,” enthused Sophie Damgaard. “A lot of the girls played together last year. We knew what went wrong last year. We were too nervous at the start, and we didn’t get into the game in the beginning. This year we focused on what went wrong last year and tried to make it better this year. And it worked!”
The French, meanwhile, remain in Division IB another year. They were demoted only last year, for the second time in a row, after competing in the top level in 2016.
“As a team, I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished,” said Marguerite Lafitte, who plays in England during the year. “All the hard work we put into the game. Of course, the end result today wasn’t what we wished for, but we’re still happy with the silver medal. We have quite a young team, so I’m excited to see what the younger girls are going to do next year. I wish them all the best.”
Signe Jensen gave the Danes exactly the start they needed. Her bad angle shot to the short side of Justine Crousy Theode found the net at 4:25.
“It was a very big relief to get the first goal, which was the most important for the game,” Damgaard noted. “It came fast, which was good for us.”
The Danes had the better of play in the period and made it 2-0 late on a power play. This time, a great pass from the point by Kristine Melberg found Julie Oksbjerg to the back side, and her shot also to the short side at 17:50 proved to be a huge goal.
The French came out with greater purpose in the second but couldn’t get on the board. Early on Faustine Bauer hit the crossbar, and later captain Margot Desvignes made a couple of fine rushes but couldn’t beat Martine Terrida.
“We were nervous because the pressure was great,” Lafitte explained of the team’s slow start. “It wasn’t just another game. This was the first time we had a chance to move up to the next division, but we knew Denmark was good. They scored a lot more goals than us this tournament.”
The third period was a contract is ambitions. The French had to press for two goals and the Danes wanted only to kill the clock. The result was some tense moments for Denmark. Led by Desvignes, France had 10 of its 22 shots in the final period, but Terrida held the fort in goal.
“In the third period we got a little nervous,” Damgaard admitted. “We focused on the defence because we didn’t need any more goals; we just had to prevent them from scoring.”
Even a late power play with Crousy Theode on the bench couldn’t give France the offense needed, and the game ended 2-0.
“Poland and France played yesterday evening and a lot of us stayed to watch the game,” Damgaard revealed. “So today in the pre-game meeting we focused on how they played and their system, so we were ready and knew how they’d play.”
“We were sloppy and undisciplined in the first period,” Lafitte summarized. “We gave Denmark too many chances, and they scored, which gave them confidence. After that, we pumped ourselves up and we were more motivated. We gave it everything we had. It’s disappointing, but we’re still proud.”
Denmark finished with the top five scorers in the tournament, not surprising given it scored 30 goals and allowed only three, both tops among the six teams. Amanda Refsgaard led the way with four goals and ten points while Oksbjerg was second with eight points.
The French were second in both offence and defence, scoring 16 and allowing only 6 goals.
The final match of the tournament saw hosts Poland shut out Great Britain, 2-0, to finish in third place with three wins and two losses. China finished in fourth and Great Britain fifth.
Australia finished in last place. It managed only one point, that after taking China to overtime before losing yesterday. The Aussies are new to women’s U18 hockey, though, having first competed in the qualification event in 2016 and 2017, winning last year to earn one of the six spots in I-B this year. They will now be relegated for 2019, though.
Almost immediately, the Danes have a new goal, a new ambition. “This year we’re going to lose a lot of players, so the team will be a lot different next year, but we’re going to do our best to stay up in that division,” Damgaard promised.