The original tournament, which was scheduled for early January in Sweden, was canceled by the IIHF due to COVID, the day before the team was set to meet in New Jersey for pre-camp.
The team, while understandably devastated, leaned on each other to help and support one another as they pushed to get another opportunity to play. That opportunity came in mid-February when USA Hockey announced they would now be hosting the championship in Madison, Wisconsin in June.
“On the day I found out we were going to be able to play again, I was with my family,” defender Ava Svejkovsky (Point Roberts, Wash.) said. “I was sitting in my kitchen and I think the team had a sense that it was coming, but just having that confirmation, it was incredible. I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was so excited and so thankful. It was kind of like the day I found out I was on the team all over again.”
Six months after the original competition was set to take place, Team USA is geared up and ready to take on the world, competing at the Under-18 Women’s World Championship on home soil for the first time since 2015.
This year’s tournament is the first in two years, following the U.S.’ gold medal-winning performance in Slovakia in 2020. The two-year hiatus puts this team in a unique position, as for 21 of the 23 players, this will be their first opportunity to represent the U.S. on the international stage. Only Kirsten Simms (Plymouth, Mich.) and Danielle Burgen (Lindstrom, Minn.) return from the 2020 team.
The team has used this unique opportunity to help build a foundation that will hopefully lead them to reach their goals.
“We’re continuing to build the tight-knit group that we have right now and hopefully that will take us all the way to our ultimate goal, a gold medal,” Svejkovsky said.
The team, which includes players from 11 different states, has been preparing in Blaine, Minnesota for the week leading up to the tournament. They are channeling the excitement and anticipation of the last few months to help prepare.
“Lots of preparation has gone into these last few weeks and months,” Svejkovsky said when asked about the team’s preparation over the last few months. “It’s just been making sure we are all in shape getting here and learning and perfecting the system. It’s been really good though. We’ve had some high-tempo practices and it was a great experience playing the exhibition against Canada. I think that prepared us for what we’re going to be going in to and how high-level and fast the game is going to be. I think we’re all just excited to get there.”
This year’s tournament features eight teams divided into two groups of four. Team USA will be competing in Group A alongside, Canada, Finland and Sweden. Group B includes Czechia, Switzerland, Germany and Slovakia.
All four teams from Group A and the top two teams from Group B advance to the playoff rounds, with the two top teams in Group A receiving a bye through the quarterfinals round.
The U.S. opens preliminary-round play against Sweden on Monday at 8 p.m. CT, followed by a Tuesday meeting with Finland and Thursday tilt with rival Canada, both at 8 p.m. CT. All Team USA preliminary games will be streamed live on ESPN+ and broadcast on NHL Network on a tape delay.