Dutch Delight

Netherlands ends Mexican girls’ dream, move up

05.02.2018
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The players from the Netherlands’ U18 women’s national team celebrate with the trophy after the closing ceremony. The country won in its first-ever participation in this category ahead of a surprising Mexican team.

The Netherlands u18 women’s national team took first place in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group B Qualification after winning all four games in Mexico City.

The Dutch, which entered its first ever U18 women’s team this year, overcame Spain, Turkey, Kazakhstan and host nation Mexico to finish with a perfect record and claim promotion to next year’s Division IB. It made for a fine start to the international coaching career of Alf Philppen, a 39-year-old former Smoke Eaters player who made a handful of junior international appearances in the 1997 World U20 C Pool.

Saturday’s showdown with the host nation proved decisive. Going into the match-up, both nations boasted 100% records, and the victor was assured of top spot regardless of the outcome of Mexico’s game against Turkey on the Sunday.

The host had good grounds for optimism: its opening game brought a historic victory over Kazakhstan, edging the central Asian hockey nation 4-3 despite trailing 0-3 at the first intermission. Joanna Rojas converted a penalty shot late in the third to snatch the win after having scored the game-tying goal. Then Mexico defeated Spain 4-1, improving on a tight 2-3 loss to the same opponent 12 months earlier in San Sebastian. With home advantage at the Mexico City Ice Dome, there were hopes that this might be the year for Mexico’s girls to advance.

But Dutch goalie Emma Fondse shattered those dreams. She made 41 saves on the night, shutting out the Mexican offence and backstopping the Netherlands to a 4-0 victory. The Nijmegen Devils netminder was one of the youngest players in the competition, celebrating her 15th birthday today when the team will travel back but produced a fine performance to frustrate the host nation.

At the other end, a Netherlands attack that had exploded in an earlier 12-1 demolition of Turkey delivered what was needed. Late in the first period, having absorbed the pressure from the home team, the Dutch took the lead when Stevie van Onna converted a power play chance. Subsequently, it was the Isabelle Schollaardt show. The alternate captain, who plays her hockey for the Hijs Hokij Wolves, had a hand in all three remaining goals. She got an assist as defender Merel Slopsema doubled the lead in the middle frame, then potted her fifth of the tournament at the start of the third. Finally, Schollaardt put up another assist as captain Maree Dijkema joined her on five goals for the competition. All the while, Fondse kept making the saves as Mexico enjoyed a big lead on the shot count but was unable to get on the board.

Dijkema, of the Geleen Smoke Eaters, finished the tournament with 12 (5+7) points to lead the Dutch scoring ahead of Schollaardt (5+6). The pair attributed their, and their team’s, success to ‘hard work’ in an interview on the Dutch federation’s website after the 5-2 victory over Kazakhstan. Larissa Haverkorn was third in scoring and the top goal scorer with 6+3 points.

Fondse shared the goaltending duties for the tournament with Wolves’ netminder Eline Gabriele, and allowed just one goal in 120 minutes, making 50 saves in total. Both led the tournament in save percentage with 98.04% and 94.29% respectively. Fondse was named best goaltender while Romy Brouwers won the award as best defender of the tournament.

Despite its disappointment against the Dutch, Mexico still took second place in the tournament. The host won its final game against Turkey 3-1, wrapping up a difficult week for the Turks with a fourth loss.

Kazakhstan, relegated from Division IB a year ago, struggled in its bid to make a swift return. Sunday night’s 3-1 defeat against Spain left the central Asian nation down in fourth place, with only a 14-1 hammering of Turkey to celebrate.

Dijkema, Schollaardt and Haverkorn led the individual scoring for the tournament, but two Kazakh players produced noteworthy performances as well. Yekaterina Kutsenko had 8 (4+4) points in the 14-1 victory over Turkey, while Alexandra Golotvina managed 3+4 in the same game. They didn’t add points from the other games and ended up fourth and fifth in scoring before Joanna Rojas, who won the best forward award.

Click here for scores and stats.

ANDY POTTS

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