It was too little, too late for the Norwegians. Going into Saturday’s showdown in Dumfries, Scotland, the French knew that anything better than a loss in regulation would secure top spot and banish the memories of missing out against Denmark 12 months earlier. A first period goal from Manon le Scodan set Les Bleuettes on the way and the lead lasted until the 55th minute when Stine Kjellesvik finally solved Justine Crousy Theode to tie the game at 1-1. That set up an anxious finish for France, but Norway could not find another goal and the game eventually went to a shootout. The Scandinavians won it thanks to Marthe Brunvold’s successful attempt, but the victory was bittersweet: France topped the group by one point, Norway had to settle for silver in its bid to bounce back after relegation from Division IA last season.
French goalie Theode was the star of the tournament. The 17-year-old, a participant at the 2017 IIHF goaltending camp in Granada, was in dominant form throughout the competition. In her first three games she was flawless as France defeated China 7-0, host nation Great Britain 3-0 and Poland 4-0. Her shutout streak came to an end on 224:44 minutes when Kjellesvik got that tying goal and robbed her of a perfect week. Understudy Sabrina Roger stepped in for the last 10 minutes of the win over Poland and played the whole of a 3-0 victory over the Netherlands to claim a shutout of her own.
France wasn’t the only nation with impressive goaltending in Scotland. Norway’s bid for gold was derailed earlier in the tournament by a stunning performance from Ella Howard of Great Britain. The Romford Raiders prospect made 48 saves as her fifth-seeded team held the top seed at 0-0 over 65 minutes of action. Then she kept her nerve in the shoot-out as GB secured a memorable victory. The 15-year-old – her 16th birthday is next month – followed up by blanking China in another tight game. Howard’s excellence played a huge part in securing bronze for GB and saw her named as the top goalie. The host clinched a podium finish with a 4-2 win over the Dutch, snapping a 1-1 tie with three goals in the last 10 minutes.
Norway, too, was miserly, allowing just three goals in regulation. Mia Isdahl, of Lorenskog IK, played every minute for her country and had an SVS of 95.45% in a tournament where forwards found life difficult. Incredibly, that percentage placed her third behind Theode (98.36) and Howard (95.73). In Thea Jorgensen, Norway had the best defenceman of the tournament.
Out of the medals, Poland came fourth ahead of China. However, forward Wiktoria Sikorska finished the tournament as leading scorer with 10 (7+3) points from five games. The 15-year-old from Slavoj Cesky Tesin had a hand in all but two of her country’s 12 goals and was nominated as top forward. Le Scodan, who plays for HC74 Chamonix, was second on the list with 8 (3+5) while Jorgensen’s 4+1 was good enough for third overall and was the best result among blue liners.
The Chinese girls, many of whom will have hopes of getting into the frame for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, found life tough at this tournament. A slow start brought back-to-back losses against France and Norway before a 4-1 victory against the Dutch moved the team out of relegation danger. That narrow loss to GB ended any medal hopes and Don Strople’s charges ended with a 2-4 reverse against Poland. The Netherlands, promoted last year, lost all five games and will return to the qualification group next season.