The 2018 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship Division IA tournament this January featured not just exciting games between six countries vying for promotion to the top division, but outstanding contributions from three players who last all competed against each other at the 2016 Youth Winter Olympic Games.
Japan’s Sena Takenaka, Italy’s Anita Muraro, and Austria’s Theresa Schafzahl all took home medals two years ago in the Women’s Ice Hockey Skills Challenge at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. The Youth Winter Olympics, which were first held in 2012, are modelled after the Olympics, and consist of competitions for youth ages 14 to 18.
The Women’s Ice Hockey Skills Challenge, which is unique to the Youth Olympic Games, involved 16 athletes competing in six events: fastest lap, shooting accuracy, skating agility, fastest shot, passing precision, and puck control. Takenaka won the gold medal, Muraro the silver medal, and Schafzahl the bronze medal.
Since their performances at the Youth Olympic Games, these three 17 year olds have been key members of their countries’ national programs. At the 2018 U18 Women’s World Championships Division IA tournament, each of these players demonstrated their skill. Takenaka helped Japan win promotion to the top division, Muraro scored the lone goal for Italy in an important 1-0 win over Norway, and Schafzahl led Austria with six points in five games
These players are focused on continuing to improve their skills and compete at a high level. Besides playing with their national teams, both Takenaka and Muraro are currently playing in Canada, Takenaka with the Ontario Hockey Academy’s U19 Junior team and Muraro with the Oakville Hornets Midget AA and Appleby College Girls teams.
“When I was 14 years old, I wanted to travel to another country, and I wanted to be a better hockey player,” Takenaka, a defender, told the IIHF at the 2017 U18 World Championships about making the move to Canada.
Muraro, a forward, was introduced to the option of playing in Canada after attending a Canadian summer hockey camp. She joined the Oakville Hornets and Appleby College at the beginning of the 2017/18 season. Even though the Youth Olympic Games were two years ago, her success there is something that continues to motivate her.
“Competing at the Youth Olympic Games was a dream that became a reality,” said Muraro, who had dreamed about representing Italy at the Olympics ever since she first started playing at the age of 11. “After the Games I knew that all of the sacrifices that [I had made] for hockey, they were worth it.”
Muraro’s next goal is to play hockey in the NCAA. She also hopes that she will continue to be able to represent her country at international events. Along with competing with Italy’s U18 team, Muraro has competed with Italy’s Senior team at two World Championships.
“It’s exciting every single time, it’s an honour to represent my country,” Muraro said of wearing the Team Italy uniform. “I love playing with the national team.”
Schafzahl, a forward, has continued to play hockey in Austria, where she is currently playing with the Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL)’s EHV Sabres Wien. She has been a key contributor to the scoresheet so far this season, with 15 goals and 15 assists through 10 games.
“Life after the [Youth Olympic] Games has been pretty great,” said Schafzahl. “I got a lot of opportunities through hockey to experience great adventures. For example, I got the chance to visit and play in countries like Sweden, Finland and Japan. Seeing all those great athletes at the Youth Olympic Games has really been a motivation for me ever since and has made my passion to play hockey even bigger.”
Like Muraro, Schafzahl has competed not just with her country’s U18 team, but with their Senior team as well. She is planning on playing in the NCAA with the University of Vermont, and hopes to one day play in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League.
The 2018 U18 Women’s World Championships were the final U18 Worlds for these three promising skaters and they will not be eligible to compete at the 2020 Youth Winter Olympic Games. However, with their drive to continue to improve and compete at high levels, and their growth and success with their current teams, there is certainly more to come from Takenaka, Muraro and Schafzahl.
Photo courtesy of Anita Muraro.