The pace was quick and the action frantic as the National Women’s U18 Hockey Championships officially got underway in Huntsville Wednesday morning. The Canada Summit Centre was abuzz with energy as the tournament welcomed teams from across the country to the first of five days of competition showcasing Canada’s best young female hockey players.
The early games of the day featured stalwart defensive play as British Columbia edged Alberta 2-1 with Cassidy Bell scoring the opening goal for BC at 16:23 of the first period. Tyra Meropoulis would respond for Alberta, tying the game at one goal apiece until Leona Sim put British Columbia on top to stay with less than eight minutes remaining. In game two, Saskatchewan and Manitoba played a nail-biting contest that was scoreless through two-and-a-half periods before Sophie Shirley found the back of the net on the powerplay to get Saskatchewan on the board. Sheridan Oswald answered right back for Manitoba, tying the game less than a minute later and forcing an eventual shootout after neither goalie could be solved in overtime.
Shooting first for her team, Oswald beat Saskatchewan netminder Jasey Rae Book for a second time that afternoon, while Ryleigh Houston also scored to secure a win for Manitoba. Goaltender Tory Micklash stopped 16 of 17 shots in regulation as well as both skaters she faced in the shootout to record her first win of the tournament, while at the other end of the ice Book made 35 saves in an incredible performance that earned her team a point in the standings.
Game three of the day saw team Ontario Blue defeat Atlantic by a score of 4-1 in an offense-heavy matchup that again featured great goaltending by both teams. Ontario Blue scored four unanswered goals – two in the first, one in the second, and one in the third – before Altantic was able to reply, ending netminder Nicole Cece’s bid for a shutout halfway through the final frame. Despite the lopsided score, the shot margin between the teams was the closest of any matchup so far, with Ontario Blue having the edge 28-26.
The fourth and final game on Wednesday saw the much anticipated matchup between Ontario Red and Quebec, long time tournament rivals with Ontario Red having won the gold medal in eight of nine years of the U18 National Championships, while Quebec has brought home the silver medal six times and the bronze once. The game certainly lived up to the billing, with both teams racking up the penalty minutes as each side refused to yield any ice to their opponent.
Ontario Red dominated in shots and scoring chances while Quebec relied heavily on the brilliant performance of Player of the Game goalie Édith D’Astous-Moreau, who made 49 saves to keep things close. Ontario Red got on the board halfway through the first period with back-to-back goals 26 seconds apart from Saroya Tinker and Annie Berg to take a 2-0 lead. Pushing hard for the all-important third goal of the game, Ontario instead took several costly trips to the penalty box, leaving the door open for a Quebec comeback in the third period.
True to form, Kristina Shanahan got things started 1:35 into the final frame by stripping the puck from a defender and walking out in front to beat Stephanie Neatby over the shoulder, cutting the deficit to 2-1. A boisterous cheering section from Quebec made their presence known with bells and whistles after the goal, and indeed it looked like the girls from La Belle Province would find a way to tie things up if it weren’t for the play of Neatby, who made several clutch saves late in the game to preserve the win for her team.
Another day of intense competition starts tomorrow with British Columbia squaring off against Atlantic at 10:30 am while Manitoba will play host to Quebec at 1:30 pm. Saskatchewan will play Ontario Red (4:30 pm) while Alberta takes on Ontario Blue (7:30 pm) in the evening match-ups. Single-day and tournament ticket packages are still available for purchase at the door.