U.S. captures gold in Zug
by Lucas Aykroyd|14 JAN 2024
The U.S. scored two first-period goals en route to a 5-1 gold-medal win over Czechia at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship in Zug, Switzerland.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
Kassidy Carmichael stepped up with two third-period goals as the U.S. defeated Czechia 5-1 to win the gold medal at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Zug, Switzerland.

U.S. captain Maggie Scannell and Haley Box scored first-period goals 1:14 apart to spark the Americans. Ava Thomas chipped in a goal and two assists.

"Amazing, incredible!" said Box. "I could never believe this was going to happen."

In this exciting, hard-fought affair on Sunday night, the U.S. was full value for its first gold medal since 2020. But the gutsy Czech team didn't make it easy.

Czech captain Adela Sapovalivova replied with her team-leading ninth goal on the power play. If the Czech PP had converted more frequently, this might have been a different story.

Sapovalivova analyzed the game: "I think we had a bad start, but you know, we are finalists. I'm proud of the whole team because for Czech hockey, it's the first time we made a final. It's sad, but it's so nice that we have a medal, and we won a semi-final. We have to keep going and maybe in a few years..."

Courtesy of coach Liz Keady Norton's team, the U.S. now boasts an all-time record nine gold medals. The U.S. has medaled at every U18 Women’s Worlds since the tournament began in 2008 in Calgary.

The silver medal is the greatest IIHF success ever for Czech women’s hockey, which is a rising force. Bronze medals were previously the best that either the WW18 team (2008, 2014) or WW team (2022, 2023) had achieved. So this is something truly special for coach Dusan Andrasovsky's crew.

Norton complimented the Czechs: "I think that they're an excellently coached team and they should be really proud of their efforts. That is by far the toughest opponent we faced and I wouldn't want to do it again."

Final shots favoured the U.S. 39-20. Both Czech starter Aneta Senkova and U.S. goalie Layla Hemp delivered high-quality saves.

Scannell and assistant captain Josie St. Martin are three-time U18 Women’s Worlds participants who finally take home gold after settling for silver on home ice in Wisconsin (2022) and bronze in Sweden (2023).

This was the second straight WW18 final featuring a North American team and a European team, following Canada's 10-0 win over Sweden in 2023. It was also a give-no-quarter battle for 60 minutes.

The on-ice intensity was matched by the spectators in Zug, from the chanting, drum-beating Czechs to the boisterous, flag-holding Americans.

Unmistakably, the top Czech line of Sapovalivova, Tereza Plosova, and Anezka Cabelova held the key to their team's hopes. They came out flying in the first minute, as Cabelova set up Sapovalivova right in front on the rush and Hemp made a superb save.

Czechia’s special teams have been their Achilles heel. They entered the final with the tournament’s worst power play (5 percent, 1-for-20) and second-worst penalty killing (64.7 percent, 6 goals allowed on 17 disadvantages). That trend hurt them again here.

The U.S. got the first power play at 3:56 when Plosova tripped St. Martin behind the U.S. net. Jordyn Petrie thought she’d opened the scoring, sliding a wrister through Senkova with Bella Fanale causing havoc in front. However, it was waved off for goalie interference, and the Czech bench rejoiced.

Scannell drew first blood at 10:23. With the U.S. setting up in the Czech zone, Thomas's cross-ice pass deflected off a Czech defender and Scannell banged it into the open side, pointing at the net to signal a goal for good measure.

"It was a tough one for us when the first one got called off, but we just kept pushing, and it felt great to put that one in, just for the team," said Scannell.

Box doubled the U.S. lead at 11:37, cashing in the rebound from Margaret Averill’s point shot for her fourth goal of these U18 Women's Worlds.

"I saw it and I knew I had to bury it," said Box. "I was like, 'This is gonna be a big moment and give us some momentum boost.' It went in and I was ecstatic."

The Czechs had a glorious opportunity to strike back when they had a two-player advantage for 1:06 late in the first period. But despite intense pressure, they came no closer than Veronika Hujova skimming the puck through the crease. The U.S. merited its lead with a 14-6 edge in shots through 20 minutes.

Norton hailed her players' work on the penalty kill: "I thought it was a Christmas miracle! There were some huge blocks. I thought that throughout the whole tournament, it wasn't our strongest point. And so for it to come together today is a tribute to the kids and like the rest of the staff."

Just 1:23 into the second period, Petrie was ejected with a five-minute major for boarding. Once again, the Czechs couldn't find the range. St. Martin nearly set up Alanna Devlin on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Cabelova narrowly failed to convert with a gaping net. Hemp was excellent when tested.

Czechia kept vying for chances off the rush after surviving a mid-game minor for too many players on the ice. With under four minutes left in the middle frame, Senkova made a huge glove save on Morgan McGathey after a Czech defensive zone turnover.

At 18:23, the Czech power play finally clicked. Naturally, Sapovalivova was the catalyst. Accepting the puck from Cabelova at the centre point, she zinged the puck past Hemp's glove, reenergizing her squad.

The third period got off to a rough start as top Czech blueliner Adela Fromova went off grimacing after a collision with Scannell. Standing in front, Carmichael staked the U.S. to a 3-1 lead at 4:45 with a fantastic tip on Molly Boyle's wrister.

Carmichael's second goal of the night and fourth of the tournament came at 13:05 on the power play, as she fired home a rebound.

"I couldn't have done it without my teammates," said Carmichael. "Like Haley Box, she's screening and I was able to get the goal back door."

The Czechs never gave up, with Andrasovky pulling Senkova for an extra attacker. But Thomas salted away the gold with her empty-netter with 1:49 left.

"Today wasn't our game," said Andrasovsky. "We weren't in the game the way we were the day before [against Canada] or against Sweden. We were missing a little bit with power and confidence, but we are very proud of these girls. They fought a lot. We are very happy. It's a big success for Czech women's hockey."

Historically speaking, Czechia entered this final as huge underdogs. The U.S. won all 12 previous WW18 meetings, outscoring their opponents 111-6. However, Czech optimism increased after a 4-3 shootout win over the U.S. in pre-tournament play in Kloten on 4 January – their first victory of any kind against North American national teams.

"It lit a fire under our butt to beat them and get payback," said Carmichael.

The U.S. becomes the first team to win gold with exclusively regulation-time wins since Canada in 2012 (Budapest). The Americans also had a perfect record in 2008 and 2011.