After a disappointing, and perhaps unexpected performance in preliminary round play, Canada's National Under-18 Team rebounded brilliantly at this year's world championship held in Madison, Wisconsin, from June 6 to 13. Going undefeated in the elimination round, following a dismal 1-2-0 start in Group A competition, and compounded by a pair of shutout losses, the Canadian contingent enjoyed a highly emotional 3-2 triumph in the gold medal game at the 2022 IIHF Women's World Under-18 Championship.
Facing off against archrival the United States for gold, after suffering a visceral 7-0 defeat in the preliminary round, Canada jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in the gold medal match-up Monday, June 13. Despite a pair of American goals in less than 10 seconds, quickly reducing the Canadian lead, Mari Pietersen, an Ontario Women's Hockey Association (OWHA) champion with the Etobicoke Dolphins, shut the door on any hopes of a comeback.
Undoubtedly, the U.S. entered the tournament with high hopes. Serving as host country, a quick 3-0 start resulted in a first-place finish in Group A for the Americans following preliminary play. Considering that the last time that the U.S. contingent was in the role of the host country in Buffalo, N.Y., back in 2015, that event finished in favour of the Americans, who celebrated gold in front of a home-country crowd.
Renewing rivalries in Wisconsin, the Canadians aspired for their sixth gold medal in tournament history. Having last captured the gold medal in 2019, Team Canada, led by head coach Howie Draper, a multiple Golden Path Trophy Winner with the University of Alberta, enjoyed an undefeated mark in elimination round play.
Pietersen, also the starter for Canada in the semifinal victory against Finland, recorded 10 saves in the first period, stifling the U.S. offence. Alexia Aubin of Lévis, Québ. provided the only goal of the first. Taking advantage of a power-play opportunity at 5:35, placing the puck past goaltender Annelies Bergmann, Canada attempted to add to its lead, but a goal was disallowed.
Four goals scored in the second period provided a plethora of excitement, with Ava Murphy and Jocelyn Amos, both Ontario residents, scoring for Canada, but yet an unexpected 3-0 advantage did not deter the hosts.
With Jordan Baxter serving a penalty for an illegal hit, the U.S. capitalized, mounting their comeback. Finley McCarthy found the back of the net at the 38:23 mark of the second, the local fan base rejuvenated by her goal. Merely seven seconds later, Claire Enright provided the U.S. with their second goal, instilling hope that a gold medal remained within reach. As Bergmann denied Canada on a power-play near the end of the second, confidence remained high heading into the third.
As the U.S. applied pressure, outshooting Canada in the third period, Pietersen proved impossible to solve. With less than five minutes, a power-play opportunity for the U.S. enabled them their last good opportunity to force overtime. Pietersen shone between the pipes, forcing the U.S. to remove Bergmann from the crease, strategically opting for an extra skater. Despite their best efforts, a gold medal on home soil was not meant to be, as Canada grabbed its sixth gold in tournament history.
Recording 29 saves, this year's world championship marked the finest hour of Pietersen’s promising career. Finishing with a 1.32 Goals Against Average, including a 7-0 shutout win versus Slovakia in the opening game of the elimination round, she ranked third in tournament play with a .937 save percentage.
Ava Murphy, a member of the Oakville Hornets, finished as Canada’s leading scorer, ranking tenth overall among all skaters. Alexia Aubin and Madison Chantler, a Quinnipiac University commit, placed among the top 20 scorers. Blueliner Sara Swiderski, a native of Burnaby, B.C., and commit to Clarkson University, was the lone Canadian named to the Tournament All-Star Team.