The IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championships might be all I've talked about for the past couple of weeks (with a little dash of the Spengler Cup thrown in), and while it's understandable, I do want to provide a bit of insight into the other tournaments going on, particularly a relatively new official IIHF tournament going on in Stockholm right now.
Women's hockey gets absolutely zero coverage outside of a brief mention once a year with the World Championships, and of course the Olympics, where everyone complains about the lack of competition. So I think it's important to look into the World Women's U18 Championships, or the WW18s for short. I have yet to do anything comprehensive like do a ranking of the junior hockey women's programs of the world, but now with this in its fourth year I think it might be time to start taking notice. I'm no expert at this, I'll admit, but here's to a good old college try.
The Canadians and Americans are still the class of this event, so much so that both teams ended up perfect in their group with a goal differential of +21 for Canada and +27 for the USA in only three games. Their scores were lopsided enough so that even the second place teams in each group ended up with negative goal differential.
For the other teams, the games against each other are more important as a result. Winning bronze is kind of like a mini-gold medal. Sweden and Germany finished second in their groups, and drew the third place teams in the other groups, Finland and the Czech Republic respectively. The third place teams ended up winning out in the quarterfinals, so on Friday we'll be seeing Canada take on Finland and the Americans taking on the Czechs. Sweden will play Germany in the fifth place game as well, and there will be the second relegation round game between Switzerland and Japan. Relegation is done through a best of 3 series, and the Swiss won the first game 4-0, so another Swiss win will allow them to stay with the top group this year. Switzerland was the team that won the Division 1 tournament in 2010.
|Rank||2008 (Calgary)||2009 (Füssen)||2010 (Chicago)|
As you can see, these are new heights for the Finnish women, reaching the bronze medal game. Finland is actually probably the most dedicated European nation when it comes to developing the women's game, but for some reason they haven't been able to reach the podium yet. The Czech Republic, not known to be that competitive at the senior level, has done fairly well at the juniors, and have bounced back from a down year in 2010 with a strong 2011 performance. Russia, Switzerland, and Japan appear to be the swing teams, while Germany looks like they should be on the way up internationally as well.
Germany is ranked 11th in the Women's World Ranking, while the Czechs are down in 13th, so if you're looking at who might be in the mix for Sochi in 2014, those two countries would make a good bet.
One name you don't see on this list is China, despite being ranked 7th in the world. China doesn't bother with this tournament, so it's really difficult to see where their program is heading to the casual eye. I suppose that will be something to try and take a look at for a future date. There is only a Division 1 level of this event, with six participants, so the tournament is in its baby stages. Russia will host the Division 1 event in late March to early April, and Austria, France, Kazakhstan, Norway and Slovakia are the other teams participating.
Leading scorers in the current tournament include Amanda Pelkey (8 points), Alex Carpenter (7 points), Hannah Brandt and Emily Field (6 points each) for the USA, and Nicole Kosta and Meghan Dufault leading the way for Canada with six points each. The top non-North American scorers are Katerina Solnickova and Katerina Kaplanova of the Czech Repbulic with four points each, as well as Swiss defender Lara Stalder.
The semifinals run today, with the finals tomorrow. The games are currently being played in small rinks in Stockholm, with attendance in the hundreds. Here's the IIHF website, and games are being streamed live here.