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Team USA Ready to Defend Gold at U18 World Championship

By Becky Olsen, 04/24/24, 12:30PM EDT


Team USA returns three from last year, including forward James Hagens

The quest for a 12th gold medal for the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship begins tomorrow in Finland.

Winning a medal at this event is something that a majority of the team has been working towards since arriving in Plymouth, Michigan, two years ago.

Forwards James Hagens (Hauppauge, N.Y.) and Teddy Stiga (Sudbury, Mass.) understand just how important this event is for their country and their teammates.

“This one is really special,” Hagens said. “This is a tournament that you want to go in and win gold. To be able to do it with the group of guys you have been here with for two years, it means more.”

Stiga explained the significance of the tournament through an NHL lens.

“This means everything to us,” he stated. “It’s our Stanley Cup and it is what we have been working for the last two years.”

This year’s U18 World Championship runs April 25-May 5 in Espoo and Vantaa, Finland. The U.S. will compete in Group A alongside Finland, Latvia, Norway and Slovakia.

Hagens — along with forward Cole Eiserman (Newburyport, Mass.) and defenseman Cole Hutson (Chicago, Ill.) — won a gold medal in 2023 as an underage player, which gives him the knowledge of knowing what it will take to reach that goal again this year.

“It’s a tournament but you still have to know that you have go in and give it your all every game,” Hagens said. “You do not have a lot of time to make mistakes and you can’t take your foot off the pedal. We're going over to win the gold medal. Everyone in room will put out their best effort. Everyone knows that is what we have to do. I’m really excited to see what we can do with it.”

In addition, Hagens can use those experiences to help out in the locker room and on the ice, when needed, especially playing in those big games in front of a sold-old arena.

“It’s definitely helpful having been able to go through [Worlds] before and the little factors that go into it,” he said. “I can definitely be someone that the guys can ask questions to or look at stuff that you are preparing for it. It goes with having that year of experience.”

For Stiga, he understands that it will be the little things that will make a difference in having success as a team.

“We need to buy in and play to our systems and really buy into our roles,” he said. “We have the team to do it, but it comes down to will and drive. We have the talent and skill. We need to buy in and play our best.”

That is really where the last two years have come into play for the U.S. Most of the roster has played for head coach Nick Fohr (Grand Forks, N.D.) and have practiced, played games, worked out and spent time together as a team. The squad has played in the USHL, in five international tournaments, and against NCAA teams. The schedule is put together with a purpose to help make players better.

Stiga believes the added competition will come in handy and the players know what has happened in past international events during this span and want to come out strong.

“Playing college games this year against the older competition really makes it more comfortable when we go down to our birth year,” he said. “We played the two international tournaments this year, and that really helps us get an idea of the other teams.”

To capture a medal at U18 Worlds, it will be a simple formula for success as players can attest to. Both Hagens and Stiga bring different experiences to the ice but they both know it takes a team effort to win.

“We have to play as a team and not play afraid,” said Stiga, who will be one of the alternate captains for the U.S. “We have to have confidence in ourselves. We need to buy in and play our game. We have to do stuff the right way and play our best game.”

Hagens remembers the gold-medal game from 2023 like it was yesterday. Down 2-0 going into the third period against Sweden, the U.S. came back to win 3-2 in overtime.  

“I’ll never forget that game, when we went into overtime after taking a penalty at the end of the third period and we were down a man,” recalled Hagens. “We rallied around each other in the locker room and there was no doubt that we were going to go out and win that game. You just had that feeling. We knew we had to bring that energy. Every player in that room could talk about that moment.

“To see the guys kills it off, and then, on the next play, go down and score the game-winning goal. It felt like an ending to a movie. It was having that confidence that we could win and there is no feeling like that at all.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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