This year’s IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship was no different. It clearly told a story about how far the women’s game has come in recent years, from top to bottom, as well as the passion and dedication its participants have for it. It was a place of many thrills and give-it-your-all efforts. And although many tales of coincidence, pathways, and lessons for life could be told by surely each and every participant, we’d like to share just a tiny portion of the snapshot details and takes that helped make this year’s event – and the women’s game overall – so very special.
The Swedish Czechs who bear the torchGoaltender Viktorie Svejdova and captain Daniela Pejsova were cogs in their team’s aspirations. The two are not only friends and the pinnacle of this wave of Czech players, but also play their club hockey together for MODO Ornskoldsvik in Sweden. This not necessarily uncommon route in the world of hockey brought a unique dimension to the roles they filled for their respective team, where Pejsova ate gobs of ice time as the key defender while Svejdova allowed only two goals against on 75 shots, giving her a whopping tournament-leading 97.3 save percentage and 0.79 goals against average.
On the special meaning of having played against Sweden for fifth place
Svejdova: “Yes, this match-up was special. In our team in Sweden, we were joking all the time about playing each other. Earlier in the year in Jihlava, we played Sweden twice. We won one and they won one. So, we were beating each other up about the games, but all in good fun.”
Pejsova: “You know, it always feels kind of bad to play against your teammates. On the one hand, they know you. It’s hard to pull out the tricks, because they know them and your tendencies. They know how you play. Then, of course, you work on that bond in the club team, so they’re actually your teammates, even if they are now wearing another jersey.”
On how even and unpredictable the competition was
Pejsova: “I think just 2 or 3 years ago, it was the USA and Canada – and then everybody else. But now we’re seeing that most of the teams are at the same level. Anyone can beat anyone on any given day. So that makes it all that much better.”
Svejdova: “It was such a big difference, because some games we were so good. When we played Finland, for example, we were bad, but it was all in our heads. It’s not like we couldn’t have put up a better fight. But we allowed ourselves to think that we’re not as deep as Finland and we’re not the favourites. We don’t necessarily have any business beating them. Then injuries came into play in other games. By the time we played Sweden for 5th place, we were missing an entire line. That made things tougher. We were playing with a weaker team than we showed up with. Those were some of the challenges that made a difference.”
On the status of the gold and silver medal winners, USA and Canada
Pejsova: “I think they are the ne plus ultra of women’s hockey, so it’s natural to want to emulate them and hope to reach that level. But now it seems like Russia and Finland have caught up a bit and are able to compete more with the big two.”
Svejdova: “It’s always been our dream to compete with the North Americans and play as well as they do. Now we feel like we’re getting so close and that it’s possible. Still, what makes it tough is that our women’s league in the Czech Republic just isn’t that good. We don’t have the level of competition. So, if our girls are going to get better, like good enough to compete for a medal in these tournaments, they kind of have to go abroad. You have to go to Scandinavia or like many of our women, you have to go play in North America. This is what is holding back our progress the most. But I believe that things will one day come to be in the Czech Republic. I sure hope so.”
On what comes next after this special experience
Pejsova: “We head back to Sweden on 5th January already. Then we have some games with our club team, before the playoffs start up in February. So, we’re going straight back into the stretch run of the season.”
Svejdova: “I’m actually also going to school in Sweden, so I’m going to be there all the way up to June. I attend in Swedish, so the academic aspect means putting in a few extra hours.”
From tending the net to running the benchSwiss coach Florence Schelling is not only a former U.S. collegian and Olympic bronze medal winner and MVP; she is also the first and only woman to have played an exhibition game with a men’s pro team in Switzerland. A highly recognizable star in her native country and abroad, Schelling has since traded her goalie pads for the role as a bench boss. With a world of experience to pass along, she guided her junior women to a thrillingly successful relegation round against the host nation Slovakia, with both teams not only having laid it all out on the ice, but also in front of plethora of fan support.
On preparing her girls for the challenges of the tournament
Schelling: “Lots of learning. Lots of hard work. For example, when we were down 1-0 in the relegation round against Slovakia, they needed a wake-up call. When we were up 2-1 with just a period to go, the emphasis was on defence first and that we needed to be organized. We couldn’t afford to placing all our effort in the offensive aspects of the game. It wasn’t about winning 4-1 like in the first relegation game. It was about holding onto the lead and focusing on protecting our net. And when we’d then have an offensive rush, we’d need to play smart in the O-zone and get pucks deep and hold them there. Not take offensive risks that could lead to the opponents going the other way on an odd-man break.”
On avoiding relegation
“We want to be playing in the quarter-finals, not against relegation. For that, we have to keep working. We have to work every single day and keep it going. We’re still in the top division now and we can build on that. It’s all about going hard. There are no off days.”
On going from being an active player to a coach
“At this tournament, I didn’t have that feeling like I’d rather be on the ice than behind the bench, although I sure do know how that feels. I was able use my playing experience to know when to be compassionate with the girls and in letting them know that I’ve been in this or that situation and here’s how we handled it. They’ll know I’ve been through what they’re going through. I’ve played in relegation games. I’ve played in series where we’d win one and then lose the next one and find ourselves in an endgame.”
“I find it important to talk them at the human level. Let them know that there’s a lot to lose in a situation like ours was, what challenges would arise if we took Game 2 too lightly and would have to enter Game 3 coming off a loss. It’s all about sitting them down and making them understand the importance of the task at hand. And they showed that they did.”
On the tournament’s level of play and how daily form often separated the victor from the loser
“I can’t speak for the USA, Canada, and Russia, but I can tell from our group that everybody can beat everybody. And that’s a big improvement. A couple of years ago, you pretty much knew in advance who would likely be playing in the relegation round. Now, it could have been Sweden or it could have been the Czechs.”
“We faced Slovakia in the relegation round, but they had beaten us 3-2 in overtime in round robin play and we beat the Czechs in overtime. We only lost to Sweden 2-0, and that second goal was into an empty net, so it was effectively a 1-0 loss. With scores this close, you can see that the level of play has improved and there’s a wider field of competition – like drastically.”
On the next steps for Switzerland
“In the short-term, we’ll celebrate having avoided relegation. A few of our girls also play on the women’s national team and they’ll be preparing for the World Championship, which will be in three months. We have a couple more who will go to the Winter Youth Olympic Games, which is coming up in just about two weeks, so they’re basically going from one tournament to another. I’ve got to make sure they recover fast, because they’ll be heading right back into their daily routines.”
On the labour of love that is coaching these young women
“It’s no doubt an absolute passion of mine. I find myself being 100% into and committed to it.”
From Maryland to Shattuck St. Mary’s to the world stageGold medallist Lacey Eden’s journey from off-the-beaten-hockey-path city of Annapolis, Maryland, to leading a gold medal winning Team USA in scoring is not your every day journey. There were many small steps to take along the way and there was a great deal of hard work at every single stop. Having played at one of the premiere sites for hockey development, Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota (where once Sidney Crosby laced up his skates), Lacey has seen as many of the challenges and aspects of hockey as humanly possible for person this age. Now she’s come to see the culmination of the work. It’s a gold medal and it meant a lot sweat and skating. It also meant a seat in the penalty box twice to conclude regulation of the gold medal game against arch rival Canada.
On facing Canada for the gold medal
“We finished our semi-final against Russia real strong. It’s always a grind when we play Canada and it’s the biggest rivalry in women’s hockey. Every game against them, well, we just want to beat them so much – especially when gold is on the line.”
On chemistry among the different groups of players coming together for this tournament
“On and off the ice, our chemistry has been amazing the entire time. We do a lot of activities and games off the ice to really get to know each other, and on the ice, we’ve worked and practiced until everything clicked. We’re playing great hockey right now. And it’s the right time to be playing your best hockey.”
On her hockey roots in Annapolis, Maryland – and now living away from them
“I actually started playing hockey at the Naval Academy in Maryland. As I grew up, I loved it so much and wanted to continue my path somewhere where I was facing top competition and could really develop. I thought Shattuck would be an outstanding option to do just that, so I moved up to Minnesota and it took off from there.”
“It’s been hard at times to be away from the family, maybe more so at the beginning of my stay in Minnesota, but now I have a new family at Shattuck’s and here with this team.”
On hockey role models coming from the greater Washington DC area
“Alexander Ovechkin is a guy I’ve been watching forever. I watch his highlights all the time. He has an insane shot. He’s a pure goal scorer, for sure. But I also like how Nicklas Backstrom and Yevgeni Kuznetsov play. I try to emulate them, because they are such silky players. Being able to watch them has helped my game.”
On leading the gold medallist in scoring with two goals, five points, and a +5 rating
“Sure, it’s fun, but this is an entire team effort. It doesn’t matter what name is getting the points. We’re moving the puck well and I’m certainly glad I’ve been able to contribute, but I’ve been fortunate to be at the middle of some of our goals.”
No interest in living in her brother’s shadowSatu Teravainen is an immensely talented hockey player. Ask anyone in attendance for Finland’s playoff games at this tournament and they’ll just have to mention her number as the one that stood out. Her on-ice vision and hockey sense may only be trumped by her skating ability. Or perhaps even her passing ability as well? She is a player you can build an attack around and at 17, she’s only going to get better and better.
So, looking at that name, you’ve probably thought that hockey must run in the family. Indeed, it does! Her older brothers are Teuvo and Eetu Teravainen. Eetu, 20, is trying to break into Liiga play back home after two seasons abroad with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. But older brother Teuvo is one of the NHL’s brightest young stars. If he hadn’t completely established himself as a household name before last season, he certainly did in the course of it and throughout a huge playoff run. Well, the youngest sibling finds that good and dandy, but she’s got hockey plans of her own!
On the 4-1 loss to Canada in the semi-final
Teravainen: “It was my first game against Canada and it was tough. Very tough. I thought we played very well. We just needed a few bounces to go our way. It was also my first game of the tournament, because of a leg injury. I couldn’t join the team until later in the tournament, but I worked hard on rehabbing back home knowing that my teammates were busy getting us to the playoffs.”
On facing Russia for bronze
“I was excited about this game. I knew we’d have to play as well as we did against Canada or even better. It was a medal we had our eyes on. And I was so happy to be with my teammates again. I wanted to help make the bronze medal a reality.”
On Finland’s power play and her role
“We are confident in moving the puck and setting up teammates for prime scoring opportunities. We didn’t get the results we wanted here on the power play. It is nice that it looks good, but we didn’t have the results. Looking at all the power plays we earned, we needed to shoot more. We needed to score more. I was part of that and unfortunately many times when we did shoot, the other team’s players got feet and legs and sticks and hands in the way. We needed to be more dangerous.”
On her relationship with her oldest brother, Teuvo, of the Carolina Hurricanes and the Finnish national team
“You know, we’re not really that close. There’s just such an age difference. He’s so much older and I love to watch his games and see his progress. It’s very exciting, but it’s very far away. I can only really see the games that are maybe at 1 pm North American time, but we watch every single one.
On his success with the Hurricanes
“Oh, I’m really proud of him. It’s so great to see how much he’s developed and to see his role on the team grow. He’s such a dynamic and creative player. Since being in Carolina, his point totals have really gone up. He’s at the right place at the right time.”
“I think we have a similar style of play. I’ve naturally looked at what he does and how he manages to be successful. Maybe it runs in the family, but I see the game in a certain way and I think it’s much like he sees it.”
On visiting the USA and keeping in touch
“When he played in Chicago, I went to see him play. I was still pretty young, but I loved it. I loved seeing him play in that atmosphere and in that arena. I loved the city. It was beautiful. I am planning on visiting him in Carolina after the season.”
“Due to the time difference and our schedules, it’s hard to keep in touch. We mostly do Facetime as a family. We’re not really the types who like to write messages back and forth.”
What she’ll be working towards in the future
“This tournament, although short for me, was a step. I get to see where I stand against the direct competition. I want to keep improving and become a big part of this program. I don’t have particular plans like playing in another country or going to school somewhere else right now. I just hope to one day be part of the women’s team and participate in the Olympics. That is my big dream. That is what I’m working for.”
With the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championships now in the history books, just tune into any one of the many upcoming IIHF tournaments for stories like these and so many more.