The U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team capped off a perfect 6-0 record at the 2024 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship with a 5-1 win over Czechia on Sunday night in Zug, Switzerland, to earn the United States its ninth gold medal and first since 2020.
The win was a massive relief for the seven women on the U.S. roster who took home a bronze medal from the 2023 tournament in Sweden. They used that disappointing finish to help motivate their next year of play. But for two of those players, the need for redemption goes back even further.
Captain Maggie Scannell and assistant captain Josie St. Martin played in their third U18 World Championship this year in Zug. They were part of a team in 2022 that first had their tournament canceled and then pushed back several months and relocated to Madison, Wisconsin, from Linköping and Mjölby, Sweden.
When the tournament finally took place, a stacked U.S. team bulldozed through their preliminary-round games, including a 7-0 drubbing of Canada. But by the time the gold-medal game came around, Canada got its revenge, and the U.S. team went home with silver.
Add in the semifinal loss and eventual bronze medal in Östersund last January and it’s easy to see why Scannell and St. Martin said this year’s win felt like it was a long-time coming.
“It's just surreal,” St. Martin said. “We've just been dreaming of this moment since our first year on this team together and it’s an amazing feeling.
“It’s a dream come true to be World Champions.”
Scannell and St. Martin tied with Ava Thomas for the team lead in points in the tournament, with nine, and St. Martin led the group with six goals. But it was Scannell who put the Americans on the board first in the gold-medal game.
After Jordyn Petrie’s power-play goal was reviewed and taken off the board for goalie interference, the Americans ratcheted up the intensity as they looked to get the goal back. Prepared to be on the lookout for rebounds, they broke through when Scannell buried a loose puck off a shot from Thomas.
The usually reserved Scannell couldn’t help herself and pointed to the back of the net in celebration to indicate this was a good goal. The move fired up the American bench.
"I just wanted to get the team going. I'm not one to celebrate, it just kind of happened,” Scannell said.
The Americans built momentum off their stellar penalty kill, dispatching a 5-on-3 late in the first and a five-minute major early in the second. Coach Liz Keady Norton felt like it was a miracle that Czechia did not score through that stretch and credited the work her team did in blocking shots and disrupting play.
“There were some huge blocks,” Keady Norton said. “I thought that throughout the whole tournament, (our) penalty kill wasn't our strongest point. And so for it to come together today is a tribute to the kids and the rest of the staff.”
Despite holding a 28-12 shot advantage through the first two periods, the U.S. couldn’t find an insurance goal and Czechia made things interesting late in the second with a power-play goal to make it 2-1.
In the third, Kassidy Carmichael quickly ended any hopes of a Czechia comeback by batting a Molly Boyle shot down and past the goalkeeper. She later used the same rebound strategy, burying the puck on the power play to make it 4-1. Thomas added an empty netter to secure the 5-1 win and gold medal for the United States.
One of the U.S. coaching staffs’ mantras for the tournament was “Earn everything, give away nothing.”
Keady Norton said Scannell and St. Martin embraced that philosophy and modeled the behavior for the rest of the squad.
“Their experience and their leadership and everything that they learned from the coaches and the experiences before me, it showed up,” Keady Norton said. “We get the end result of that, which is them winning and they earned it.
“When you're going to do something special with a group like this, you need your best players to show up and be the best players in every game, and that's exactly what they did.”
St. Martin said not a day went by over the past year that she didn’t think about losing the semifinal to Sweden in 2023. The elusive gold medal drove her through every tough workout to get to this point.
"You learn from the games you lose,” she said. “It really motivated us, feeling that last year. We just put our heads down and got to work over this last year.”
The motivation grew stronger the closer the U.S. got to their goal. St. Martin said it was driving her on every back check and every shift when her legs were burning. Before the gold-medal game, St. Martin said she and Scannell told their teammates to leave it all out on the ice.
“Everything we did over the last year for preparation, days in the work out room, days on the ice, the amount of hours we spent, let's go make it worth it out here,” she said.
For Keady Norton, it felt like her leaders had done all the work to get to this point and deserved to be rewarded. She was thrilled that the outcome matched up with her hopes for the team.
“They're winners,” she said. “They wanted to win. They are competitive and they were willing to do whatever it took. As a coach, you can't ask for anything more than that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.