On a 2-on-0 break with captain Maggie Nichiolson, the native of Fairport, New York got the 2-1 winner in the gold medal game versus Canada at 16:52 of overtime in Bratislava, Slovakia on 2 January 2020 (23:10 local time). It feels like a long time ago.
Now, at last, the Americans will look to defend their title on home ice after the U18 Women’s Worlds, originally slated for Sweden in 2021 and 2022, was relocated to Madison and Middleton, Wisconsin (6 to 13 June).
Although COVID-19 concerns wiped out the 2021 tournament and all eight participating teams have seen significant roster turnover since 2020, the thrill of representing your country remains as sharp and strong for this year’s players as it was at the original 2008 U18 Women’s Worlds in Calgary, Canada.
Let’s take a closer look at the history, rosters, and expectations for these eight elite nations.
Clearly, the U.S. and Canada enter this tournament as co-favourites in Group A at LaBahn Ice Arena. The North American archrivals have squared off in 12 of the 13 gold medal medal games to date, and the smart money says they’ll do it again.
However, the host nation has an edge based on its track record. The Americans have won five of the last six tournaments (2015-18, 2020), albeit by razor-thin margins when facing Canada in the final. The U.S. claimed 3-2 overtime wins in 2015 and 2016 and a 3-1 victory in 2017 that included an empty-netter with five seconds left.
2018 was the anomaly. The Canadians did themselves no favours when host Russia upset them 3-2 in the opener, an historic first. Canada’s subsequent 6-2 group stage loss to the Americans led to another collision between the archrivals in the semi-finals, and the U.S. edged Canada 4-3 with shootout goals from Makenna Webster and Britta Curl. The gold medal was a 9-3 U.S. romp over Sweden, which made more history with its silver medal.
This year, the U.S. hopes to maintain its winning tradition under first-time U18 head coach Katie Lachapelle, who served as an assistant coach from 2014 to 2017. One of Lachapelle’s assistant coaches is 24-year-old U.S. forward Sydney Brodt. The former Minnesota-Duluth captain owns gold medals from both the U18 (2016) and Women’s Worlds (2019) and finished second in SDHL scoring after Swiss superstar Lara Stalder in 2021-22.
The Americans feature two returning forwards from the 2020 championship team, Danielle Burgen (Minnesota Tradition White) and Kirsten Simms (Little Caesars). Interestingly, Simms is one of three forwards– along with Elyssa Biederman and Cassie Hall – from the Detroit-based, pizza-sponsored program overseen by former Canadian goalie Manon Rheaume, which won the 19U title in 2022.
The high-scoring Burgen has been named captain and Simms will join Laila Edwards (Selects Hockey Academy) as an assistant captain. The 188-cm, 84-kg Edwards is making her USA Hockey debut and will join her sister Chayla Edwards here at the University of Wisconsin in 2022-23, along with Simms and Claire Enright.
With size and speed on defence and strong goaltending, the Americans will be tough to dislodge from their throne.
Canada, under third-time head coach Howie Draper, will pose a stiff challenge for the Americans. It starts with key experience behind the bench. The assistant coaches are former Olympic gold medalists Vicky Sunohara and Tara Watchorn.
In net, goaltender Hailey MacLeod is coming off an excellent season as the Canadian Sport School Hockey League’s top goalie in the CSSHL’s female U18 prep division. She’s part of a strong NCAA-bound trio of goalies with Lucy Phillips (Halifax Western Capitals) and Mari Pietersen (Etobicoke Dolphins). MacLeod’s Delta Hockey Academy teammate Tova Henderson – named top defender in the CSSHL – joins a British Columbia-heavy blue line that also features high-scoring standouts Sara Swiderski and Brooke Disher (RHA Kelowna). Disher, 17, will serve as the captain.
Up front, the BC theme continues with Jade Iginla (RHA Kelowna), following in the IIHF tradition of her Hockey Hall of Fame father Jarome Iginla. She added to her reputation with 28 points in 22 games this season. Meanwhile, fellow forward Jordan Baxter (Delta Hockey Academy) dazzled with 27 goals in 27 games. Naturally, there’s also a strong vein of Ontario talent. Like the U.S., the Canadians will be tough to handle at both ends.
How about Finland? Despite consistently winning bronze medals at the Olympic and Women’s Worlds levels, the Finns have just two bronze medals all-time at the U18 Women’s Worlds. One came under new senior national team coach Juuso Toivola in 2011. Ex-Naisleijonat goalie Mira Kuisma – returning for her third go-round as U18 head coach – masterminded the last bronze in 2019 with Nelli Laitinen, who was named Best Defender, as her captain.
Forward Sanni Vanhanen, still just 16, remarkably joined Laitinen on the third-place teams at both the 2021 Women’s Worlds and 2022 Olympics. The gifted Tappara attacker, who got the second-period winner when Finland edged Czechia 1-0 in the Women’s Worlds quarter-final in Calgary, will be a go-to player offensively.
Captain Anna-Kaisa Antti-Roiko blossomed during the Naisten Liiga playoffs. The league's 2021 rookie of the year, in her third season with Karpat Oulu, notched a team-leading six goals and 10 points en route to a 2022 bronze-medal domestic finish. In the regular season, her Karpat teammates Oona Havana (27 points) and Tilli Keranen (26 points) placed 14th and 15th respectively in Naisten Liiga scoring. And on defence, Siiri Yrjola notched nine points in 19 regular-season games with 2022 champion Kiekko-Espoo.
The Finns have 11 players from the youth development-focused Team Kuortane, which should aid with built-in team chemistry. But they cannot afford to take anything for granted.
None of Sweden’s U18 players are old enough to remember the Damkronorna’s “Mirakel” at the 2006 Olympics. There, Sweden ousted the U.S. in a 3-2 semi-final shootout and went on to the silver medal. However, the legacy certainly lives on with this coaching staff, which has deep roots in the SDHL’s Linkoping organization.
Retired forward Pernilla Winberg, who got that famous 2006 shootout winner at (appropriately here!) age 16, makes her debut behind the bench as an assistant to head coach Madeleine Ostling. Goalie legend Kim Martin Hasson, whose 37-save performance in the semi-final sealed the upset, is now the U18 video coach.
With Djurgarden, 18-year-old Swedish forward Nicole Hall tied Hannah Miller (Le Mi to fans of the Chinese national team) for the club lead in goals with 12, although she played 36 games to Miller’s 25. Mira Jungaker stepped up this season as HV71’s top scorer among defenders (6+15=21 in 35 games).
Intriguingly, this Swedish team has three 2006-born players, including 15-year-old blueliner Jenna Raunio, who had six goals and 14 points on HV71 this season, and 15-year-old Ebba Hedqvist, who put up four goals and 10 assists with MoDo Hockey.
Unlike the Finns, the Swedes do not have any carry-over from their Olympic and Women’s Worlds rosters here. It will be a challenge to add to their all-time medal haul, which included five bronze medals (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016) prior to the surprising 2018 silver medal. But it’s certainly not out of the question.
The Group B teams competing at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena will be looking for growth and valuable experience, but could also provide some surprises of their own.
Take Czechia. On the one hand, they’ve placed sixth at three of the last four tournaments (2017, 2018, 2020), coming seventh in 2019. More recently, however, they won the inaugural women’s hockey tournament at the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival in Vuokatti, Finland. The field included fellow Wisconsin foes Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Slovakia.
If Adela Sapovalivova, who led the Czechs with four points in Vuokkati, brings a hot hand and her mates step up with a solid two-way effort, a quarter-final upset could take place. The Czechs have two bronze medals to their credit (2008, 2014).
With the Swiss, who have never medaled, keep an eye on 18-year-old forward Alina Marti. She suited up at both the last Olympics and Women’s Worlds. Although she did not register a point at those tournaments, in Wisconsin she’ll likely exceed the two goals she scored at her previous U18 Women’s Worlds. That would boost head coach Melanie Hafliger’s squad as it vies to improve on Switzerland’s previous peak (sixth place in 2019).
Slovakia and Germany round out the Group B field. The Slovaks are appearing in their second consecutive U18 Women’s Worlds. They came eighth in their tournament debut in 2020. Meanwhile, Germany returns to the top group. Its last go-round was in 2018 (eighth place), and 2022 marks just the second German appearance in eight tournaments at this level. So there’s lots of work to do.
Indeed, all these young women will have to go full tilt to achieve success at this tournament. It’ll go by quickly, lasting a maximum of 22 games. But all eight teams are living out their dream. It’s just a matter of who shines the brightest.