Not only did the U.S. cities of Madison and Middleton step up on short notice to host this rescheduled tournament in world-class style (6 to 13 June), but many of the young women who donned the jerseys of the eight participating national teams also made special contributions with their skill and resilience.
So let’s dive into IIHF.com’s picks for the best of the U18 Women’s Worlds – in some fun and distinctive categories.
Best Statement Shutout
Finland has showed it’s capable of beating Canada at many levels of IIHF competition. Yet the nation whose men are reigning Olympic and world champions also achieved a new U18 Women’s Worlds milestone in 2022 – thanks largely to goalie Emilia Kyrkko.
With so much competition between the pipes, it’s hard to say when we’ll see Kyrkko – named Best Goalie and an all-star – make an impact with the senior Finnish team. To illustrate, Anni Keisala played her first U18 Women’s Worlds in 2014 and didn’t become the Naisleijonat’s starter until her 2021 Best Goalie run in Calgary.
But Kyrkko has made a good start, carving out her own slice of history.
Best Solo Scoring Effort
Objectively speaking, U.S. centre Tessa Janecke’s most remarkable statistic was her faceoff percentage. Janecke, 18, went 54-for-75 at the dot for a tournament-leading 72.0 percent success rate. However, the native of Orangeville, Illinois also showed off her puck skills with a jaw-dropping goal to make it 2-0 versus Finland.
Best Player Comeback
The Hockey Canada press release on 6 June had a disappointing air of finality: “Forward Jade Iginla (Lake Country, B.C./RHA Kelowna, CSSHL) will miss the 2022 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship with an upper-body injury.” Fortunately for Canadian hockey fans, the gritty daughter of Hockey Hall of Famer had other ideas.
Canada struggled to find its game in the group stage, all of which Iginla missed. But she proved to be a difference-maker when she came back for the 7-0 quarter-final win over Slovakia, registering an assist and showing great hustle.
Best Team Performance-Preliminary Round
Slovakia wasn’t even supposed to be in the top division of this year’s U18 Women’s Worlds until the recent exclusion of Russia. Regardless, the Slovaks took a shoot-first mentality into their last round-robin game with Germany, and it paid dividends with a miraculous 6-2 upset. They needed that four-goal margin of victory to make the quarter-finals for the first time in history.
Captain Hana Fancicova stepped up with a pair of goals and an assist.
Best Breakthrough Performance
Sanni Vanhanen was like a dam waiting to burst. At age 16, the talented forward already owned bronze medals from the 2021 Women’s Worlds in Calgary and the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
However, despite totalling three assists, Vanhanen didn’t have a single goal heading into the bronze medal game against Sweden in Madison. The Nokia native’s frustration was visible, and U18 coach Mira Kuisma acknowledged the “mental pain” she was going through.
“I like to win," said a happy Vanhanen afterwards. “But I would like to have silver or gold next time.”
Best Young Duo
Heading into this tournament, only once had two players from the same non-medal-winning team finished 1-2 in the scoring race. Switzerland’s Lisa Ruedi (11 points) and Rahel Enzler (9 points) led the way in 2018. However, in Wisconsin, Czechia’s Tereza Plosova (10 points) and Adela Sapovalivova (9 points) pulled off this feat despite being just 15 and 16 years old respectively.
Best Hilary Knight Impression
Ian Kennedy of The Hockey News had high praise for tournament MVP Laila Edwards: “It is her ability to slow the play down, find passing lanes, and unleash the strength behind her shot that has Edwards destined to make noise with the USA’s senior national team in the future.”
For anyone who saw the 188-cm, 84-kg Edwards dominating the competition with both size and skill, that assessment hit the mark. She led the Americans in scoring (4+4=8), and when she got a head of steam toward the net – like Hilary Knight – she was virtually impossible to stop.
With Edwards, fans of both the University of Wisconsin and the Stars and Stripes are in for a treat over the next few years.
Best Late Rally
When the St. Louis Blues led the NHL in January with 14 comeback wins, veteran forward Brayden Schenn explained their approach:
“You play to the final whistle, you don’t give up, you’re never out of a game. I think that’s the mentality we have in our locker room.”
Those words could just as well have come out of the mouths of Swedish coach Madeleine Ostling and her U18 players in Madison. Trailing Finland 3-2 in the third period of their round-robin finale, Ostling pulled her goalie for the extra attacker with four minutes left. It paid off dramatically. Emma Pfeffer potted the equalizer at 17:50, and then Jenna Raunio put Sweden ahead with just eight seconds remaining.
Best Sensational Stickhandler
The U.S.’s Kirsten Simms uncharacteristically went goalless at these U18 Worlds, although she did pick up five assists in the silver-medal run. The Little Caesars product made an indelible impression on anyone who watched her dancing with the puck, often while looping around the opposition’s zone in search of the perfect set-up. Simms had magical chemistry with linemates Tessa Janecke and Laila Edwards.
Best Show of Sportswomanship
Let’s be real: we’ve all seen hockey games where a blowout score results in angry words and cheap shots at the final buzzer.
And then, you’ve got Slovakia and Czechia in Middleton.