Hicks helps Canada bounce back
by Lucas Aykroyd|07 JUN 2022
Canada celebrates after a late first-period goal by Rhea Hicks (#5) in Tuesday's Group A win over Sweden at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Canada is back. Coach Howie Draper's squad rebounded from its opening-day U18 Women’s Worlds loss to Finland with a solid 3-1 win over Sweden on Tuesday. Rhea Hicks led the way with two goals.

"I liked our energy," said Hicks. "I know we talked a lot about it before the game, coming out hungry and strong. I thought we were all taking our battles really personally and just coming out with the puck, which was really nice."

Reichen Kirchmair also scored for Canada. Goalie Mari Pietersen won her IIHF debut with a 33-save performance.

Kirchmair praised Pietersen: "She's an amazing goalie. I've played with her all year in Etobicoke and she's done some incredible saves. She's always on her game, and she's one of the best goalies."

The Canadians will battle the host Americans on Thursday in Group A’s most eagerly anticipated matchup. The U.S. edged Canada 2-1 in overtime in the 2020 gold medal game.

"I cannot wait!" said Kirchmair. "You know, they got us in our exhibition game [a 3-1 U.S. win]. But we're coming back hungrier and stronger, and we're looking to take the win this time."

Coach Madeleine Ostling's Swedes have lost two straight games and will look to jockey for playoff seeding against Finland in their final Group A game on Thursday.

Versus Canada, Tuva Kandell scored for Sweden.

"I said yesterday after the game against USA, we wanted to play quick with the puck," said Ostling. "And I think we did that today. We skated a little bit more. And it started yesterday. It's a process for us during the tournament, but I feel that we're playing better in each game and also each period of the game."

The Swedes are excited about confronting their traditional Nordic rivals from Finland. The Finns stunned the hockey world with their historic 2-0 win over Canada on Monday.

"They're a good team," said Ostling. "They skate a lot. So we need to come up, skate a lot and play with the puck. I think we're a good team when we have the puck. We need to believe that we can play with the puck. But I know Finland is also very, very strong on the puck. They're good at winning battles. And that's something we've been talking about in these two games: to compete every time, every faceoff, every 50-50 puck. That's going to be important for the game against Finland."

Canada outshot the Swedes 56-34.

"We're really trying to focus on getting those scoring chances and managing the puck, all the intangibles that go into getting those shots," said Canadian assistant coach Tara Watchorn. "I was really proud of the girls for how we pulled together."

This is the first time the U18 Women’s Worlds have taken place – due to the COVID-19 pandemic – since January 2020. But these teams are making up for lost time with their skill, grit, and heart. The glow of natural light on the ice through the LaBahn Arena's windows at times added to the ambience in this game.

Against the U.S., the Swedes struggled to contain their opponents’ speed and skill, conceding four goals in the first period. They did better on Tuesday, but still fell behind early.

Kirchmair drew first blood at 2:28 to end Canada’s scoreless drought at this tournament. Following up on Ava Murphy’s shot from the high slot, the Etobicoke Dolphins attacker shoveled in the rebound as Swedish goalie Lisa Jonsson fell back into the net haplessly.

The Canadians continued to storm the Swedish net, despite not capitaling on their first power play with Stella Lindell off for holding. Jonsson stymied a great left-wing dash by Emmalee Pais. Jordan Baxter’s release from the shot nicked off the goalie and hit the left post. With less than seven minutes left in the first period, a wild goalmouth scramble saw Jonsson frantically lunging to cover the puck before the Canadians could tuck it home.

A good defensive play yielded Canada’s 2-0 goal at 19:03. At the tail end of Sweden’s first power play, Baxter blocked a shot and sent the puck ahead to Alexia Aubin, creating a 2-on-0 break, with the Swedes unable to catch up. Aubin slipped the disc left to Hicks in close, and the Brampton-born forward buried it inside the near post.

First-period shots favoured Canada 21-14.

"It's never easy," said Ostling about falling behind in the first period. "But it also strengthens the team to not just hang our heads, but keep on going. We can also score and we showed that."

The teams traded exciting chances near the midway point. Pietersen foiled Moa Gustafsson on a partial breakaway. Canada went right back down, and Madison Chantler drew a penalty when she nearly got in cold and Swedish blueliner Olivia Sohrner brought her down. Canada couldn't capitalize, but Chantler continued to look dangerous, forcing Jonsson to make a good glove grab after the power play expired.

Hicks potted her second of the game when she took an offensive zone faceoff and the puck squirted free in front of Jonsson. Hicks pounced and popped it between the Swedish goalie's legs at 14:52.

"I saw no one around the puck right in front of the net and just thought I'd try and jump right through to it!" said Hicks. "And I got rewarded, which was nice."

In the 6-1 opening loss to the host U.S., Sweden’s lone goal came on the power play, courtesy of 2006-born Ebba Hedqvist. Similarly, Sweden cut the deficit to 3-1 here on a 5-on-4 at 16:45.

Canadian defender Sara Swiderski was sent off for cross-checking Swedish captain Nicole Hall behind Pietersen's net. Off the ensuing faceoff, Kandell got the puck at the right point, and the Leksands If rearguard fired a high wrister past the goalie through traffic.

"We won the draw and I just took a shot and it went in," Kandell said.

In the third period, the Swedes had another chance to get within striking range when Alex Law was sent off early for elbowing, but Canada's aggressive penalty kill said no. The Canadians gave Sweden a 5-on-3 for 1:18 near the midpoint of the third. Still nothing doing. Canada totalled four minors in the third but escaped unscathed, clamping down with its checking in the dying stages.

"I think it was great practice for our PK," said Watchorn. "So we'll definitely take that and run with it. But I think we learned about getting used to the refs here internationally and moving forward."

The tournament format guarantees both Canada and Sweden playoff berths as Group A teams. The top two Group A teams get a bye to the semi-finals, while the third- and fourth-place teams meet the top two Group B teams in the quarter-finals.

The Canadians were clearly determined to not lose a second consecutive game. They have only lost two games in regulation in the group stage once, at the 2018 tournament in Dmitrov, where they fell 3-2 to Russia in the opener and 6-2 to the Americans. That year, Canada would settle for bronze after falling 4-3 in overtime to the U.S. in the semi-finals.

Dating back to 2009, the Swedes have won five bronze medals and a surprising silver medal (2018). Another medal isn't out of the question, despite this tough start.

Canada has won all 10 U18 Women’s Worlds games it has played against Sweden with a 55-9 total goal difference.
Canada vs Sweden - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship
CAN SWE 08 JUN 2022
Canada vs Sweden - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship