International Ice Hockey Federation

WW Top 25 Stories: #23

WW Top 25 Stories: #23

IIHF introduces junior event for women

Published 13.03.2015 17:34 GMT+1 | Author Andrew Podnieks
WW Top 25 Stories: #23
The ceremonial face off to open the first-ever U18 Women's World Championship in 2008 between Canada captain Lauriane Rouggeau and Czech captain Tereza Stastna with Walter Bush, Directorate Chairman, Hayley Wickenheiser, Honourary Tournament Chair, and Marcel Redekop, Hockey Canada Officer. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
7 January 2008. Although women have been playing hockey in Canada almost as long as men, the international timeline for the women’s game is much more recent.

After all, it wasn’t until 1990 that the IIHF adopted the Women’s Worlds as an official event, and not until 1998 that the sport became a medal event at the Olympics.

There was no pro league for women, and no developmental system in place either. Women had to train on their own, develop skills on their own, and then meet for training camps prior to big events.

In 2008, the IIHF altered that landscape significantly by giving the women a junior medal to aspire to. The U18 for women, with its first event in Calgary, Canada, gave younger girls a first glimpse of international hockey. Teens now had a goal to strive for, and talented players could use the U18s as a means of getting to the senior level of national and international play.

The U18 helped establish continuity for women’s hockey, so that younger players learning the game at the local club level could then go on to play U18, then go to NCAA or higher national league play, and then leapfrog to the senior level. It was a steady stream of organized development and put the onus on both player and national federation to provide the means for girls to improve their skills and establish themselves for years to come.

Although there have been only eight tournaments so far, the WW18 is already the number one means for players to take that first step to the senior level. For European teams especially, the vast majority of senior players who will play in Malmo started their international careers at the U18s.

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Conversely, not many senior players got to the top without playing U18. As well, although Canada and the United States have appeared in every gold-medal game of the U18, the bronze-medal games have been contested by no fewer than five European countries. Impressively, the Czechs have played in six of eight games for third place and the Swedes five. The Germans and Russians have made two appearances and the Finns one.

Further, the U18 rivalries have been different than those at the senior level. Sweden and the Czech Republic have played each other three times for bronze, Sweden winning twice. The Germans have played the Swedes twice, Sweden wining both, and the Czechs and Russians have battled for third in the last two events in 2014 and 2015, each winning once.

The result is that the senior level can expect a surge in the coming years in the performance of countries that do well at the U18, as these players mature and dream of Women’s Worlds and Olympic glory. Prior to 2008, prior to the introduction of the U18, those dreams were more difficult and tenuous than they are today.

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of women's hockey in the IIHF, writer Andrew Podnieks is counting down the top 25 stories in women's international hockey history. One story each day will appear until the Number 1 story is unveiled the morning of the gold-medal game of the 2015 Women's Worlds in Malmo, Sweden, on April 4.

Earlier Top 25 Stories:
#24: Zorn a goalie and skater both
#25: Russia-Switzerland a dandy display in 2011


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