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2016 Women's World Junior Championships Preview

The boys have had their fun, now the women play for their countries pride.

The road to Olympic gold starts here
The road to Olympic gold starts here
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The big New Year’s tradition has come and gone. Canada’s best male players under 20 went to Finland looking for gold and found it…around the necks of the Finns. Now, it’s the women’s turn as the 9th IIHF Women’s Under-18 World Championships kicks off this week at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ontario. For brevity’s sake, from here on out it’s the Women’s World Juniors, or WWJ.

The Basics

When: January 8-15, 2016
Where: St. Catharines, ON
Venues: Meridian Centre - Capacity: 5,300 - Home of the Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Seymor-Hannah Sports & Entertainment Centre - Capacity: 1,500 - Home of the Brock Badgers (CIS)
Participants: Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, France, Switzerland, Czech Republic
TV: TSN2 will show the Championship game on Friday January 15th at 7:30PM
Streaming: Hockey Canada will stream all Canada games at

The tournament is played under the same rules as the Women's World Championship:

(via clrkatkin correcting me)

Pool A of USA, Canada, Russian and Czech Republic are the teams that finished 1st-4th at last year’s event. Pool B is Finland (5th), Sweden (6th), Switzerland (7th) and France (promoted).

After the round robin, 3rd and 4th from Pool B play a best 2-of-3 relegation series.

2nd place from Pool B plays 3rd place from Pool A in a quarterfinal, and 4th place from Pool A plays 1st place from Pool B in the other quarterfinal.

The losers play a 5th place game.

The winners advance to the semi-finals against the 1st and 2nd place teams from Pool A (Canada and USA, likely).

Also: The rules of play are essentially the same as the men's with one key difference: body checking. Checking was allowed in the first world championship but has been assessed as a minor penalty since.

Tournament History

The WWJ’s was first held in Calgary, Alberta in January of 2008. The inaugural tournament was played by eight teams split into two groups and took place over 10 days. Five teams have participated in all 8 tournaments; Canada, United States, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Finland. The other countries who have participated are: Russia (7 times), Germany (6), Switzerland (5), Japan (4), Hungary (2), and this year we see a newcomer in France.

Only two teams have captured gold & silver medals, Canada and the United States (4 each), and 4 more have been able to grab bronze medals (Sweden (4), Czech Republic (2), Finland & Russia (1). It’s not surprising that Canada and the United States have owned this tournament, they have tended to do that at the over 18 Women’s level in the past as well.

2016 Competing Teams

France is competing in the main group for the first time. At last year’s Division 1 tournament they won the gold medal to secure their spot in this year’s tournament. The Division 1 tournament is played as a total points round robin and France defeated Norway 2-1 in a shootout on opening day. This win would serve as the tie breaker since it gave France a 4-1-0-0 record versus Norway’s 3-1-1-0 record. This is the first time either of France’s national women’s teams have played in the main group since 2000, when the National Women’s Team finished 13th at the Women’s World Championships. This team is made up of half of that Div1 team so there's lots of room for new players to shine and help keep the team from being relegated.
Player to watch: Chloé Aurard is in her third U18 tournament (she also played for the national team last year in Div1A, 1G, 1A in 5GP) and helped lead the team to this level by scoring 3 goals and 5 assists last year.

This is Switzerland’s 5th time in the main group (they missed out in 2014, 2013, and 2010). The Swiss have seen their placement finish in 7th at best. This year they will be fighting to keep from relegation again if they can't score goals again. They had a 0 goal differential and that sent them to the relegation round after a tie break with Finland (+2 GD).
Player to watch: Alina Müller scored 5 goals last year for Switzerland and returns for one more kick at the can. She's playing for Kloten U17 and has 11 points in 22 games.

The reigning bronze medalists are in their 8th tournament and are looking to add to their medal count. That was Russia's first medal in the tournament and will want to build off of that achievement. 
Player to watch: Fanuza Kadirova Scored 8 points in 6 games last year, and will return again this year. She has also played 6 games for the national women's team and currently plays for Ukhta State Technical University where she has 31 points (14G, 17A) in 16 games.

Czech Republic
The Czechs have played in every WWJ to date and have two bronze medals to show for it. After letting Russia take the bronze in 2014 the Czechs are looking to medal once more but have some tough competition in the way.
Player to watch: Noemi Neubauerová is the highest scoring returnee for this years tournament. in 2015 she had 1 goal, and 2 assists in 6 games.

This year began with gold for Finland as the men's U20 team won their championship, with a 4-3 victory over Russia. It's now the women's turn to take junior gold, but they have a much harder path with few of the top players from lat year returning. Finland has only won a single bronze medal in this tournament, and that came in 2011. Since then they have lost in the quarter finals each year. 
Player to watch: Sara Säkkinen is playing in her third tournament this year. She's currently Captain of Team Kuortane which plays in an Finnish women's developmental league. On defence she has 2 goals, and 11 assists in 19 games.

Sweden has won half of the bronze medals given out so far, but haven't been to the medal round in two years. Last year they were in a three way points tie in their group with Finland and Switzerland, but won on a tie breaker by scoring one more goal than the Finns.
Player to watch: Hanna Olsson wore the "A" in last years tournament and had 5 points (3G, 2A) in 5 games. She played a total of 11 games for Sweden's U18 team and had 10 points, As well she played 11 games for the national team and had 4 points. She currently plays for Djurgårdens IF and has 32 points in 21 games.

United States
Team USA won the gold on home ice last year in Buffalo vs Canada in overtime and want to keep it. Ending Canada’s 3 year streak of gold, we see a majority of last year’s team ready to take to the ice once again and defend their championship. The USA women's program has grown exponentially in the past few years, and with the NWHL making it's debut there's more incentive than ever for girls to lace up the skates.
Player to Watch: Rebecca Gilmore was the top scorer in last years tournament to return - 9 points total, 2G, 7A - she tied with Canada's Sarah Potomak who is now playing for University of Minnesota. Gilmore is in her third tournament and has a career total of 13 points in 10 games, and only 8 penalty minutes.

Canada wants to win on home ice, it's as easy as that. Last year they won the Mens Jr's on home ice. in 2010 Men and Women won gold on home ice. There's nothing sweeter than winning it all in front of your fans. There was lots of turnover from last years team to this years, so it's a younger, hungrier team.
Player to watch: #13 Kayla Friesen scored two goals against The CWHL's Montreal Canadiennes in a pre-tournament exhibition game (Canada lost 5-4). Taking on the top tier of women's hockey in Canada and scoring two is impressive.

Tournament Alumni

Many now famous women's players have played in the tournament, and went on to the NCAA, Olympic Games, NWHL, and the CWHL:

Kendall Coyne - The American is the all-time points leader for the U18's. From 2008-2010 she played 15 games and has 33 points. She has played on the 2014 Olympic team (2G, 4A), and is in her fifth year with Northeastern University (totals: 115GP, 207P), where she is captain.

Marie-Philip Poulin - The former Boston University captain (111GP, 181P) played in two tournaments in 2008 & 2009 and scored 26 points in 10 games. She's also won two Olympic gold medals, and was the hero in 2014 after she tied the game vs the USA then scored the winner in overtime. She's now playing with Les Canadiennes de Montreal where she has 22 points in 10 games.

Amanda Kessel - Only 3 points behind Coyne on the leaders list, Kessel played 10 games in the 08/09 tournaments and scored 30 points (10G, 20A). Kessel last played in the 2014 Olympics, winning a silver medal while scoring 3 goals, and 3 assists.

Cecilia Östberg - The top European scorer from the tournament played in 2008 & 2009 and scored 11 goals and 10 assists in 10 games. Östberg  would play in two Olympic Games for Sweden and retired in 2015 after 7 seasons with Leksands IF (151GP, 201P).

Natalie Spooner - After helping Canada win gold in the initial WWJ tournament (3G, 8A, 11P) Spooner would add to her medal count with 1 Olympic gold (2014), 1 World Championships gold (2012), and many silver medals with Team Canada in various tournaments. After 4 years at Ohio State (128GP - 163P) Spooner has been a staple for the Toronto Furies with 62 points in 61 CWHL games played.

There are lots of players this year that have the chance to become the next Olympic hero, or CWHL/NWHL all-star. Some are here for the first time, others are about to age out of the tournament. What they have right now is a chance to show themselves, their families, and their supporters that all of the time, energy, and effort is about to pay off. This is the biggest stage for them right now, and it's their time in the spotlight.