The US women’s U18 team faced off in a pre-tournament exhibition game against arch-rival Canada on Thursday afternoon at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota before heading off to Madison, Wisconsin to begin play in the 2022 World U18 championships, set to begin next Monday.
As exhibition games go, there was quite a bit of anticipation for this one. With the Covid pandemic wiping out the 2021 iteration of the tournament, and the Delta variant postponing the 2022 tournament in January, it had been almost two-and-a-half years since the US U18 team has played. Technically, two players from the 2020 team that won gold still remain eligible for the US, but otherwise, the US and Canada have two completely different teams with the overwhelming majority never having played each other internationally. So there was the feeling of Thursday’s game being a bit of a measuring stick for the two programs coming out of the pandemic to see where each was at heading into next week’s tournament.
As expected any time the US and Canada meet internationally, it was a close contest, but the US prevailed with a 3-1 victory over the Canadians to win the pre-tourney warm-up.
It was a slow start for the Americans with Canada controlling play in the early portions of the game. But goalie Annelies Bergmann, who played the first period with each of the team’s three goalies getting one period of action, made several solid stops to keep the game scoreless. After the first few shifts, the US began to settle into their game and slowly, the tide began to turn.
The US scored first when a wrister from the left point by defender Emma Peschel beat the Canadian goalie to give the US a 1-0 lead. They would continue that momentum from the end of the first period into the second period, where they largely controlled play. Canada held an 8-3 shots on goal advantage prior to Peschel’s goal, but the US led 21-14 in shots towards the end of the period.
Late in the second period, that heavy US pressure would finally lead to a goal when defender Sydney Morrow cut in towards the net from the blue line, drawing the attention of multiple Canadian defenders, allowing her to slip a pass to a wide open Kelly Gorbatenko on the back door for a tap-in goal and a 2-0 lead.
It was a fairly uneventful first half of the third period, but in the back half of the third frame, the Canadians would put together their heaviest press of the game trying to equalize the score. They got on the board when a wrist shot from the point by defender Tova Henderson found the upper corner of the net with about five minutes to play. But they could get no closer. Ava Lindsay scored a wraparound goal into an empty net with just over a minute to play to seal a 3-1 victory for the United States.
In preparation for the international tournament, the two teams also played a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime, in which neither team scored, and a shootout, which the United States won 3-1.
It’s just an exhibition game. Both teams were more interested in rolling their lines and getting everyone some experience in their first international action than riding their top lines. And it will certainly be different under the pressure of the medal round. But for a first exhibition game, there was a lot to be excited about for the US team. Aside from some early defensive miscues, they did an excellent job at limiting high-quality scoring chances and all three goalies looked very capable. And at their best, they showed they were capable of out-skating the Canadian team.
Preliminary round play begins for the Americans begins Monday June 6 against Sweden, followed by a match against Finland the next day, before an off day, and then a prelim round match against Canada on June 9th.