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Veteran Trio Hoping for Third U18 Women’s Worlds Title Together

01/01/2018, 7:15am EST
By Gary R. Blockus

U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team led by three two-time medalists

For Taylor Heise (Lake City, Minn.), Gracie Ostertag (Shakopee, Minn.) and Madeline Wethington (Edina, Minn.), two moments are indelibly etched into their memories.

Those moments came while singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” after being awarded the gold medals for winning the last two International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championships.

“We don’t stand on podiums, we stand on the blue line,” Wethington said, referencing the lining up ceremony for medals at the world championships. “The first year, we were on beat, but last year we were so far ahead we finished before the music was done. We’re hockey players, not singers.”

The U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team is a proven finisher by winning the gold medal the last three years. Heise, Ostertag and Wethington have been part of the U18 women for the last two world championships, and lead the team into the 2018 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship that runs Jan. 6-13 in Dmitrov, Russia.

Heise, Ostertag and Wethington, all 17, have a chance to join current Olympic hopeful Cayla Barnes — who played on last year’s U18 world championship team— as the only U.S. women to win three U18 world championships.

Counting them, only 12 U.S. women have played for the U18 world title three times.

The trio of University of Minnesota recruits provides the core leadership among a group of seven returning players on the 23-player roster. 

“It’s such a great opportunity age to experience so many things at such a young age,” Heise said. “To play for the gold medal the past two years has been amazing, and I think this year I’m really going to take advantage of the chance I’ve been given because I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people. I’m able to experience this with two other people — Gracie and Maddie — that I’ve been around with forever, and that’s super special.”

Ostertag, from Shakopee, and Wethington, from Edina, grew up about 20 minutes from each other. Heise grew up about two hours away in Lake City, but they frequently played against each other in 10U and 12U play, and took part in USA Hockey Player Development Camps together.

“Being able to share this with them is an experience I will never forget,” Ostertag said. “I even get to play college hockey with these girls!”

“I’ve known both of them since we were eight or nine years old,” Wethington said. “We’re super competitive against each other and with each other. We all want to be the best we can be, but we support each other. This whole process is bigger than ourselves.”

As the veterans and already two-time world champions, Heise, Ostertag and Wethington must not only lead the other four returning gold medalists from last season, but a group of 16 new players who will compete at worlds for the very first time.

Team USA is currently holding training camp in Wesley Chapel, Florida, before leaving for Russia on Jan.2 after ringing in the New Year in The Sunshine State.

The three third-year players have plenty of experience to share to help keep their teammates motivated during the tournament. They remember veteran players taking them under their wing that first year in 2016 in St. Catharines, Ontario.

“It was really a thrill to play against Canada in Canada going into overtime, getting one of the assists on the game-winning goal.” Wethington said. “I passed it to Cayla Barnes, and she shot it on net and Natalie Snodgrass put it in; I’ll never forget that play.”

“I’m super excited and feel more comfortable than I have in years past with more confidence going for that gold medal,” Ostertag said.

“All of us have a pretty good hockey sense, a really strong hockey IQ,” Ostertag said. “We can read each other on ice. It takes those first two practices to click. I’m extremely confident with this team.”

Heise said that she’s looking forward to offering advice and getting to know all the new players during the bonding that comes from living and working together in a different country.

“I soaked in every single thing I could that first year,” she remembered. “You never know if you’ll get back. This is an opportunity not to be taken for granted. Take advantage of everything, of playing with and against players at a higher level.”

That higher level is something the U18s have excelled at reaching, making the finals against Canada all 10 years of the tournament. Heise, Ostertag and Wethington want to create some indelible moments for the other women of this year’s world championship contender.

Team USA will play in Group A along with Canada, Russia and Sweden. The preliminary round begins against Sweden at 11:30 a.m. ET on Jan. 6, followed by Russia at 7:30 a.m. ET on Jan. 7 before round-robin play concludes against Canada at 7:30 a.m. ET on Jan. 9. Semifinals take place on Jan. 12 and the medal games follow on Jan. 13. 

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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U.S. Schedule

Date Opponent Location Result U.S. Player of the Game
Sat., Jan. 6 Sweden
Preliminary Round
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W (OT), 2-1 Makenna Webster
Sun., Jan. 7 Russia
Preliminary Round
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W, 5-3 Britta Curl
Tues., Jan. 9 Canada
Preliminary Round
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W, 6-2 Taylor Heise
Fri., Jan. 12 Canada
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W (SO), 4-3 Casey O'Brien
Sat., Jan. 13 Sweden
Gold-Medal Game
Ice Palace
Dmitrov, Russia
W, 9-3 Dominique Petrie

2018 U18 Women's Worlds News

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