Norway’s girls step up
by Andy Potts|09 JAN 2020
The Norwegian players celebrate their gold medal win at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group B.
photo: Michal Chwieduk
Norway pipped Austria to top spot in the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group B thanks to a tight 2-1 victory when the teams met on the final morning of the competition in Katowice.

The Austrians had the edge going into Wednesday’s match-up and boasted a goalie in stellar form. Selma Luggin, a 17-year-old who plays her club hockey with the Sabres Vienna, allowed just one goal in the first four games of the tournament. But Norway scored on her twice to claim a 2-1 verdict, joining Austria on 11 points and sneaking into first place by virtue of that head-to-head victory.

Luggin finished the tournament with hugely impressive stats: she stopped 97.3% of the 111 shots she faced and had a GAA of just 0.6. She even stopped a Norwegian penalty shot in the first period, denying captain Lotte Pedersen. But it wasn’t enough to take gold.

Instead, Silje Gunderson twice found a way past Luggin to give her team enough to win, while Kaja Ekle made 26 saves to secure a 2-1 verdict. Austria’s goal came from Lena Daubock; she and Gunderson led the tournament scoring charts with the Norwegian finishing with 7 (3+4) points to her Austrian rival’s 6 (5+1). Both will likely be back next year; the Stavanger Oilers forward is just 15 while Daubock, already part of the Austrian senior women’s set-up, is 16. 

Gunderson opened the scoring against Austria in the 24th minute, advancing down the left channel before ripping a wrister past Luggin. She got her second on 46 minutes after Eirin Stendhal chased down a lost cause behind the Austrian net. Mari Pederson fed the puck back to the point where Gunderson was waiting to unleash a thunderous slap shot that whistled over Luggin’s shoulder and into the net. The local commentator described it as the ‘goal of the tournament’ and, fittingly, it proved decisive in the game and the competition. Daubock pulled one back for Austria, getting away from two Norwegian defencemen before beating Ekle to give her team hope of saving the game, but it wasn’t enough to deny Norway the gold.

Promotion sees Norway return to Division IA, from which it was relegated in 2018. It’s a return to the second tier of U18 Women’s World Championship play, a level Norway held from its first season in 2008/09 until that demotion two seasons ago. Austria narrowly missed out on an immediate return to the Division IA following its relegation last year.

With promotion settled in nerve-jangling fashion on the final morning, the relegation question would be decided in the last game of the tournament. Host nation Poland needed to defeat Great Britain in regulation time to claw back a three-point deficit in the standings and preserve its position in Division IB.

The Brits had their chances but struggled to find a way past Helena Grzybowska in the Polish net. And two goals in the second period from Wiktoria Sikorska gave the home team a lead that it would not relinquish. Julia Zielinska added a power play goal early in the third before Kaitlyn Morrison gave Britain a glimmer of hope. That was swiftly extinguished: Vanessa Patla and Iga Schramm added two more goals just 12 seconds apart to wrap up a convincing victory. Poland survived, GB paid the price for a lack of firepower and went down after scoring just five goals in five games.

Third place in the group went to China, a point behind the leaders. With the country preparing to ice a team at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, this was encouraging news for a national program looking to build depth behind the players gaining experience at KRS Vanke Rays in the Russian Women’s Hockey League. China won four of its five games here, including an overtime win against the Norwegians. A 4-2 success against Korea on Wednesday secured the bronze.
2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship Division I Division B