After getting canceled in 2021, the women’s U-18 World Championship are back.
The event kicks off in Madison, Wisconsin today, with eight teams battling it out for gold from June 6-13.
In 2020, it was Team USA winning gold, defeating Canada 2-1 in overtime. Since 2015, the United States has won gold five times, with Canada winning omce in 2019. Once again, expect these two teams to be the favorites.
While traditionally lopsided toward North American teams, Finland and Sweden have improved, and with most European nations experiencing shorter gaps in play during the pandemic, it will be interesting to see if more ground has been gained.
Representing Canada, a pair of standout defenders are expected to serve as the backbone of the roster. Sara Swiderski and Brooke Disher both played this season at Rink Hockey Academy in Kelowna, British Columbia. Each scored well over a point per game from the point and they both scored 10 points in five playoff games. Next season, both will move to the NCAA with Swiderski headed to Clarkson and Disher, who will serve as Canada’s captain, to Boston University.
Up front, Canada features a well-balanced and dynamic group. Alex Law and Karel Préfontaine are likely to play top-six roles and provide scoring. Law and Madison Chantler were two of the top scorers in Ontario’s U-22 Elite league, with Law scoring 33 points in 25 games, and Chantler collecting 19 goals and 38 points in 30 contests. West coast products Jordan Baxter and Jade Iginla also had strong offensive seasons for their respective teams, also collecting more than a point per game, with Baxter scoring 27 goals in 27 games for Delta Hockey Academy.
The United States will play in front of a home crowd, and despite the gap in time, they return two players from the 2020 gold medal-winning team - Kirsten Simms and Danielle Burgen. Both forwards appeared in all five games for the USA in 2020 with the goal of gaining experience for later years. Simms is headed to the University of Wisconsin next season while Burgen will join the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Newcomers to Team USA include multiple members of the national champion Little Caesars team, a program directed by hockey legend Manon Rhéaume. Simms was the star of this team scoring 10 points in 6 games at nationals, while Cassie Hall and Elyssa Biederman, also members of Team USA, scored more than a point per game in the tournament. Another name to watch is Tessa Janecke, who recorded an incredible 120 points in 78 games for the North American Hockey Academy this year.
The bulk of Sweden’s roster is already playing professionally in the SDHL. In particular, the Swedes feature three young players who will lead this club, not only this year but into future U-18 tournaments as well. 15-year-olds Ebba Hedqvist and Jenna Raunio each had 14 points this season in the SDHL with Modo and HV71 respectively. On the blueline, 16-year-old Mira Jungåker was the team’s top scorer in the SDHL. She compiled 21 points in 35 games and will be relied upon heavily to help drive possession for the Swedes.
For Finland, a pair of Karpat teammates will be looked to for scoring. Oona Havana and Tilli Keränenboth played for Finland at the 2020 U18 World Championships, and return this year as better than point-per-game players in Finland’s Naisten Liiga. Keränen had 26 points in 22 games, while Havana notched 27 in 25. Finland enters the tournament with the most returning players to the U=18 competition, a group that includes the likes of Siiri Yrjölä, Pauliina Salonen, and Anna-Kaisa Antti-Roiko. That experience could help early on in the tournament.
Below this top grouping, four other nations - Czechia, Germany, Slovakia, and Switzerland - will fight it out for two spots in the quarterfinals.