The 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship has officially come to a close. Hosted in Östersund Sweden, eight teams; Canada, United States, Finland, Japan, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia, and host country Sweden, battled it out between January 8th – 15th. While the top four seeding teams – Canada, USA, Finland and Sweden fought for the Gold Medal Status in Group A, teams Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland and recently-promoted Japan, brought a strong competitive nature to the preliminary round for Group B.
Sweden was awarded the hosting of the event in May by the 2022 IIHF Annual Congress after the event had to be cancelled in Sweden in 2021 and relocated to the U.S. in 2022 due to Covid-19.
“There is something special about Ostersund. The contrast between city and mountains makes the city a unique and magnificent winter destination. We in Ostersund are very keen on outdoor life and it is easy to try out our winter activities … In Ostersund you find one of Europe’s finest facilities for cross country skiing and biathlon and most of Sweden´s leading sport athletes live and train here, Said IIHF Organizing Committee.
This winter Ostersund will also host, except from the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women´s World Championships a number of international events such as the European Curling Championships, Biathlon World Cup and Para World Championships in cross country skiing and biathlon.”
The Czech’s captured Group B with a final six to three win against team Slovakia in the Placement Round, finishing 5th overall in the tournament.
Worth noting was Adela Sapovalivova’s record breaking goal for team Czech Republic. Just 10 seconds into the game against team Slovakia, Adela rushed up ice after a crisp passing from the opening faceoff and unleashed a wrist shot from the right circle for a 1-0 lead.
Erin Brown writes, “Czechia’s opening goal is the fastest scored from the start of a game in U18 Women’s World Championship history, beating the tally by Canada’s Brigette Lacquette 17 seconds into a contest against Czechia in 2009. It also topped marks set in Olympic and Women’s World Championship history, both 13 seconds. Finland’s Mari Pehkonen achieved the feat at the 2006 Olympics vs. the United States. Germany’s Maren Valenti did it at the 1994 Women’s Worlds against the Swiss.”
A player also worth mentioning is number 12 for team Slovakia, Nela Lopusanova. Not only did Nela lead the U18 Women’s World’s in points, finishing with nine goals and twelve points overall, but the 14 year old has become the FIRST female player at the IIHF level to score a Michigan goal. Lopusanova was also named the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), and the tournament All-Star Team, as voted by the members of the media present at the tournament.
During Regulation, the Swiss defeated Japan, 2-1 and swept a three-game relegation series to remain in the top division at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship.
“The Japanese are a very tough team, very persistent. They go all the time,” Switzerland coach Melanie Haefliger said.
The Swiss, who faced relegation for the second consecutive year, had extra incentive to win the series. They will host the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship in 2024.
Although the results were not in team Japan’s favour, the Japanese were excited to be playing again in the top division.
In Group A, host team Sweden captured a two to one win against the United States in the semi-finals for a spot in the gold medal game. Canada also secured a spot for a chance at gold in the semi-finals, with a three to two win against team Finland.
Both games were nail biters. Sweden, a team that showed its strength earlier in the tournament also had a sold-out arena behind them. Cheered on by a loud home crowd, Team Sweden advanced to the U18 Women’s Worlds final as Astrid Lindeberg scored the game-winner during the semi-finals against team USA. Canada’s spot in the gold medal game also did not come easy, fans were at the edge of their seats as the game was taken into overtime. With only two and a half minutes remaining in OT, Canada took the three to two win over Finland.
During the bronze medal game on January 15th, the United States came out blazing, outshooting Finland 16-3 in the first period. Nine different players tallied points, and goaltender Annelies Bergmann made 23 saves to lift the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team to a 5-0 shutout win.
Team Canada also came out on fire during the finals. Despite host team Sweden having the home crowd advantage, Canada swept everyone off their feet during the gold medal game with their 10-0 win. Canada’s shutout for gold, made it their second consecutive IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship win and their seventh gold medal at this event, one shy of the United States’ all-time record.
Another player worth highlighting is 16 year old Canadian, Caitlin Kraemer who turned heads throughout the tournament and especially during the battle for gold. Overall Caitlin finished the tournament with 10 goals and 11 points, finishing just behind 14 year old Nela Lopusanova for team Slovakia.
During the gold medal game Kraemer scored a total of four goals and set not one, but two new records. The centre scored the fastest hat trick at this event, as well as set a new Canadian record for most goals in a single U18 tournament.
Erin Brown at the IIHF writes, “Kraemer gave Canada a 2-0 lead in a span of 35 seconds just under six minutes into the opening period. She completed the hat trick at the 12-minute mark. Her three goals in 6:44 eclipses the previous U18 record by seven seconds, previously set by the United States’ Kendall Coyne in 2010. The performance also gave her a total of 10 for the tournament, which bested the Canadian record held by Marie-Philip Poulin who recorded eight in 2008.”
“It’s pretty incredible,” Kramer said. “You grow up looking up to those big names. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without this team behind me.”
It goes without saying that the future of women’s hockey will be beaming with an incredible amount of talent as these young ladies skills continue to develop and the game continues to grow around the world.