A bunch of Canadian teenagers are abuzz about their immediate and distant hockey futures.
Canada’s team in Zug, Switzerland, is attempting their country’s first three-peat at the women’s world under-18 hockey championship in a decade. The defending champions open the 2024 tournament Saturday against Germany.
The young women also watched the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s first game Monday from their pre-tournament camp in Lugano, Italy. It sank in then what the new league means for their hockey futures.
“All of us are talking a lot about it because it’s just so historical,” said 17-year-old defender Chloe Primerano. “For all of us to be able to have a league that we could potentially go to and play in, it’s pretty special.”
Primerano, of North Vancouver, B.C., has committed to playing NCAA Division 1 women’s hockey for the University of Minnesota starting in 2025-26.
“It’s really cool to be able to have something that we can do after university and be able to make money,” she said.
For Canada’s coach Tara Watchorn, who won an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2014 and played in previous women’s leagues, seeing young players get excited about the prospect of making a living in hockey was meaningful to her.
“I’ve always felt that the girls at this age, without a professional league, they feel the pressure to have success at such a young age,” said the 33-year-old from Newcastle, Ont. “The cool thing is now they can play long careers and hopefully not feel that pressure.
“It was really special in how I got to experience it, seeing the next generation take it in, and knowing that I was a part of the growth of our leagues. Then also to see the amazing women that I used to play with still there. I know how hard they fought.”
Canada last won three straight women’s world under-18 titles between 2012 and 2014. Canada has won seven gold and the United States eight in the tournament’s 15-year history.
Canada starts the eight-country tournament with back-to-back games Saturday against Germany and Sunday versus Czechia. Finland rounds out Canada’s pool.
The United States, host Switzerland, Sweden and Slovakia comprise Pool B. Slovakia’s roster features Nela Lopusanova, who had 12 points in five games at the age of 14 in Ostersund, Sweden, last year.
TSN will broadcast all Canada, U.S., and Slovakia preliminary-round games and all medal-round games in Zug. The final is Jan. 14.
Canada’s path to gold in 2023 in Ostersund featured tense moments. Alex Law’s overtime winner in a 3-2 semifinal win over Finland propelled the Canadians to the championship game.
After a stunning 2-1 semifinal upset of the United States, the host Swedes lost the gold-medal game 10-0 to Canada. Caitlin Kraemer of Waterloo, Ont., scored four goals in the final.
She’s among nine returning players on Canada’s roster alongside Mackenzie Alexander, Hannah Clark, Gracie Graham, Morgan Jackson, Avery Pickering, Charlotte Pieckenhagen, Abby Stonehouse and Emma Venusio.
“We know a lot of eyes are on us, so just be able to help these rookies out. We had a great team atmosphere last year, great team culture so just bringing that back here,” said Kraemer, who is headed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth next season.
“We know it’s going to be a tough tournament, we know it’s not going to be easy, so just taking everything in stride and do doing it together as a team.”
Among players making their international debut for Canada is Primerano, who was the first female skater to be selected in a Canadian Hockey League prospects draft when the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants made her their 268th pick in the 13th round in 2022.
“It’s a pretty crazy feeling being able to put on the jersey for the first time in an international tournament,” Primerano said. “Coming all the way to Switzerland for this, it’s pretty cool. This is such a special group so I’m proud to be able to represent my country.”