The U-18 Women’s World Championship takes center stage — Nick Garcia talks supporting IIHF tournaments — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with Anne Tokarski, June 10, 2022

Welcome back to Hockey Friday! It’s the most wonderful time of the year…kind of? The holiday season might be long gone and the temperatures outside might have warmed up and the typical hockey season might have ended when the Secret and Isobel Cups were awarded and the national championship handed out, but that doesn’t mean that hockey is really over. The U-18 Women’s World Championship kicked off on Monday in Madison, Wisconsin, and it has not disappointed.

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The preliminary round ended last night with Sweden’s upset of Finland (box score), Team USA’s dominant win over their biggest rivals (Canada) (box score), the Czechs’ shutout of Switzerland (box score), and Team Slovakia trouncing Germany (box score).

As the elimination rounds approach, I feel like it might be time to talk a little bit about how we got here.

Just two weeks before the original event was set to kick off in Sweden, rumors started to circulate online that the IIHF had cancelled the tournament. Many U-18 alumnae took to Twitter and Instagram to express their outrage at the fact that their tournament was cancelled…while the men’s U-20 tournament (aka “World Juniors,” of which their is no women’s equivalent) played on.

(Of course, that tournament would be cancelled days after it started due to COVID-19 concerns)

2022 national runner-up and graduate of Sweden’s U-18 team Emma Söderberg shared in the frustration, expressing that without the opportunity to play at the U-18 tournament, she might never have gotten scouted or been able to play in the NCAA.

I could go on. And on. And on.

Somewhere along the way, though, USA Hockey stepped up. As did the University of Wisconsin and the city of Madison. And, well, here we are, five(-ish) months later, watching elite hockey players compete on the international stage in the month of June. Watching more than a hundred young female hockey players compete and perform in front of nearly every coach in the NCAA, in front of members of their countries’ senior teams, and in front of hundreds of fans. Just like they deserve.

(You can read more about those efforts and all of the incredible people who have made this event a success so far in Lori Nickel’s piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.)

And while there’s still so much further for us to go, I think I’m going to leave it at that this week. Because these athletes and their organizations have fought so hard to get to this point. They deserve the spotlight right now.

You can catch the quarterfinals on ESPN+ if you’re in the United States, with the semifinal and bronze medal game coverage still to be determined. The gold medal game will be aired live on NHL Network in the U.S. Meanwhile, you can catch all the rest of the action (quarters, semis, and medal games) on TSN if you’re in Canada.

This Week in Women’s Hockey

Madison-area trio steps up to host U18 Women’s World Championship (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Allie Thunstrom’s exceptional season accentuated by Foundation Award (Women’s Hockey Life)

First Nation women’s hockey player expands legacy (Indian Country Today)

Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Caitrin Lonergan joins the PHF (Connecticut Whale)

Around the Rink in the PHF: No June Swoon (The Ice Garden)

USA’s Laila Edwards an early standout at U-18 Worlds (The Ice Garden)

Five at The IX: Nick Garcia

Whether you’re a newcomer or you’ve been following women’s hockey on the international stage for a while now, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen Nick Garcia around on Twitter — or, as he’s more well-known online, Nick the IIHF Fan (you can follow him here). We sat down with Nick to chat about the U-18s and his passion for international hockey.

Question: Talk to me a little bit about your passion for international hockey and what drew you to those annual competitions over the more mainstream domestic leagues (NHL, PWHPA/PHF, U SPORTS, NCAA). 

Nick Garcia: The first international hockey tournaments I remember consciously watching were the 2002 Men’s and Women’s Olympic tournaments (I was an excited-about-everything 9 year old, and the Team Canada ads were EVERYWHERE). But that’s not when my passion took off, mostly because I didn’t really pay as much attention in 2006 as I did in 2002. It was the 2010 Olympics that set my interest into motion. 

Little did we know that it was just the beginning for Marie-Philip Poulin… 

Fast forward to Boxing Day 2010. While flipping channels, I stumbled upon the 2011 World Juniors, where TSN was airing Canada-Russia. Hey, this looks interesting, why not, I thought.

I watched the entire game – Canada won 6-3 – and they immediately showed promos of upcoming Canada games, and other games they were airing. I ended up watching every game they aired. At the time, it wasn’t the whole tournament, but it was still enough to keep me hooked.

The other tournaments followed. I found the Men’s U-18s and Worlds later that same year, got into the Women’s Worlds the next year (2012), then found the U-18 Women’s Worlds in 2015. 

As for what drew me to these tournaments over the domestic leagues… even though there’s plenty of overlap of players, I can’t really think of any reason other than the fact that I never ended up getting into them in the same way. (And I include the NHL in that – which one might find surprising considering I live in what is pretty much the heart of Leafs territory!)

Also, during most domestic leagues’ seasons, most of my attention is usually turned towards the end of baseball season, and U Sports/NCAA football and men’s and women’s basketball. 

Q: You’ve given the women’s tournaments — from the U-18s to senior Worlds to the Olympics — the same coverage you’ve given to the men’s tournaments, even when so many mainstream media outlets refuse to. Why do you think it’s so important to cover women’s tournaments?

Garcia: First: The players deserve it. These women have put in just as much work as the men have, to earn their places on their national teams, and a chance to compete on the big stage. They should be getting the same recognition / respect from fans and the media. 

Second: Growth of the game itself. I don’t believe it’s fair to compare where women’s tournaments are now, with where men’s tournaments are now. We often forget that those men’s tournaments weren’t exactly full of parity in their early years, either (seriously, look up results from those early years of the Men’s World Championships and Olympics). But over time, they improved, just like the women’s game is improving now.

You don’t need to look far back at all to see countries not named Canada or USA making strides in the women’s game, even compared to just a few years ago. Just to rattle off a few very recent ones… Germany upsetting a then-top 4 team in Russia in 2017. Sweden in the gold medal game at the 2018 U-18s. Finland upsetting Canada to get to the final at the 2019 Worlds. Czechia/Denmark making it to the Olympics for the very first time in 2022. Hungary going from Division 2A in 2013, to the main Worlds in 2020 (well, 2021, but would have been 2020 if not for COVID). Growth of the game in those (and other) countries made all of these possible, and more parity is well on its way. But it’s also important…

Third: …from a fan perspective. You never know who is watching these games, and as a result, will either become a new fan or perhaps get inspired to start playing themselves. If you cover more women’s games, a little kid* in one of those countries could be watching their country’s women’s team for the very first time, and it will have an impact on them in some way or another. As fans we might not see it now, but we definitely will.

(* I say “little kid” instead of “little girl” because I don’t believe that a kid’s heroes should be limited to only their gender)

Fourth: … it’s just great hockey. 

Q: You’ve been an advocate for change and equity between the men’s and women’s tournaments for a while now. How have you watched coverage of the tournaments evolve from media outlets and from the IIHF?

My answers are based on TSN’s coverage in Canada.

In terms of all five tournaments, the biggest jump – at least in Canada – has been as a result of TSN expanding from two channels to five. This allowed more games across all tournaments to be aired.  Because of this year, the tournament that has made most progress is without a doubt the women’s U-18s. We’ve gone from commentary-less streams on the IIHF site, to full TV coverage in multiple countries. It wasn’t long ago that fans had to deal with the fisheye camera back in 2020 (especially after a fantastic quality stream in 2019). They’ve gone from that to full TV coverage. 

In general (Men’s Worlds, World Juniors, and now the Women’s Worlds), they’ve slowly gone from only showing Canada’s games, to Canada’s games plus the medal round, to showing many more games if not the entire tournament.

The tournament with the least amount of progress, in my opinion, has actually been the men’s U-18s. In 2011 (the first year I watched) they mostly only showed Canada’s games and the quarterfinals onward. That… hasn’t changed.

Q: Can we expect to see you at any major women’s tournaments in the future?

Garcia: If location / finances allow it, then yes! In fact, the most recent international hockey game I attended in person was a women’s game – Game 2 of the 2019 Canada-USA Rivalry Series, which was held in Toronto. 

I actually had plans to make a trip to Halifax to catch at least some of the 2020 Women’s Worlds, before it got cancelled due to the pandemic.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Anne Tokarski