Raring to go
by Erin Brown|06 JUN 2022
After a one-year absence the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship is back. Pictured are Switzerland's Sinja Leemann and Sweden's Vilma Nilsson in the 2020 edition.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
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A thousand miles from comfort, having traveled land and sea, the young women preparing for their first IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship after a one-year absence due to Covid-19 agree on one thing: There's no place they'd rather be.

After Team Canada wrapped its practice Sunday afternoon, players kept the light, upbeat mood echoing through the hallways at LaBahn Arena in Madison, Wisconsin, blasting Clean Bandit's 2014 hit "Rather Be" in the locker room.

"There's been a big blackout period for them, right?" Team Canada coach Howie Draper said. "They're very excited to be here. They're very excited to be represent their country."

The Canadians are not alone. As the eight teams in town for the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championships took care of team photos and final on-ice preparations, they made sure to have fun along the way.

While their coaches changed out of formal wear from the team photo, members of the Swiss team took advantage of an empty sheet of ice to snap selfies with teammates in front of tournament signage. The Germans, meanwhile, used the downtime while photographers prepared to mug for the camera.

"It's really special," German defender Charlott Schaffrath said. "We're looking to play our best hockey and represent Germany."

Added United States Head Coach Katie Lachapelle: "For the world these young women live in, for every country, for them to have this back is important."

There were team chants and songs to be sung, laughs to be had and smiles abound. Consider it a long overdue release after a roller coaster of emotion following tournament cancellation in 2021 and the 2022 postponed from January in Sweden to the United States in June due to Covid-19.

As Draper noted, fans can expect to see a higher level of play because players are "champing at the bit to do great things at the international level."

"They were pretty low when we told them," Draper said of the tournament's cancellation in December. "You could sense the vibe over the Internet, the virtual feed, that everyone was quite disappointed. I think what we're seeing now is this tremendous amount of energy resulting from that period of being away."

American Laila Edwards described her emotions during the last year as ranging from "being crushed" to surreal, but definitely an opportunity to not pass up once the tournament was rescheduled. In fact, the assistant captain skipped her high school graduation on Friday to be here.

"You look forward to graduation the day you get (to high school), but this is a great reason to miss it," said Edwards.

For Slovakia, their presence is doubly cherished. Relegated to Division I at the 2020 event on home ice, the Slovaks were promoted to the top level after the suspension of Russia.

"It was a real big surprise for us because we were preparing the whole season for the Division I Championship," Slovakia Head Coach Gabriela Sabolova said. "We would like to take (advantage of) the opportunity and stay here."

Slovakia, among others, may get a chance to deliver an upset. With so much turnover on teams in the last two years, few know what to expect of their opponents.

"Nobody knows anybody," Lachapelle said. "We have two returners and a couple teams only have one or two as well. Some might not have any. So it's going to be neat to see. You haven't seen anybody play. I think we're all excited to just get out there and compete."

The tournament itself will be thrust into the spotlight as well. For the first time, the event will have the backing of major broadcasters in multiple countries.

TSN will air games in Canada, while NHL Network and ESPN+ will show the games in the United States. Building on an initiative to grow the women's game over the next eight years, SVT will air contests in Sweden and Discovery in Finland. Games not broadcast in a country can be watched on the HockeyTV.com stream. Click here for broadcast information.

Hosting the tournament at the University of Wisconsin, which has produced six championship teams in women's ice hockey, is sure to raise the bar and inspire national organizations to push for additional resources.

"I think what's happening with how it is being televised is huge. That's obviously going to bring a lot of attention," Lachapelle said. "It's really important everywhere we go there's a standard how these young women are treated, what the buzz is and the experience they have. That's what it's about."

"The development of women's ice hockey over the past five years has been enormous," Switzerland assistant coach Colin Muller said. "For us it's good. We've been able to set up an academy for the girls and they train a bit more than they used to. It's getting better and better and it's really important we're back playing a world championship again."