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‘You take away the gold medal and you have that forever’: A look back at Canada’s 2012 Women’s Under-18 team

The story of a team that turned a five-game losing streak against their biggest rival into a dominating performance.

Courtesy Erin Ambrose

The IIHF World Women’s Under-18 tournament is the women’s hockey equivalent to the World Junior Hockey Championship on the men’s side. There’s no true best-on-best Under-20 on the women’s side, so scanning through past U-18 rosters provides you with a who’s who of women’s hockey’s biggest stars.

Marie-Philip Poulin, Brianne Jenner, Natalie Spooner, and pretty much every women’s hockey star born in 1991 or later - the first women’s Under-18 tournament was in 2008 - has played in the tournament. But perhaps no team was as dominant as the 2012 version, and it’s a team that’s still coming of age.

The 2012 Canadian team at the Under-18 World Championships has two Olympians, and 14 players with North American professional experience. Two others have played professionally in Europe. Eleven of those are currently on professional rosters for the 2018-19 season, and five of them were at the 2019 CWHL All Star game. Four were on Team Canada at the most recent Rivalry Series. Four are representing Canada at the upcoming World Championships. Seven will be playing in the CWHL playoffs. Basically, if you follow women’s hockey, you’ve heard of several players on this team.

Planting the seeds

The 2012 Under-18 World Championships performance from Team Canada was one of the most dominating performances you’ll ever see in recent hockey history. Canada outscored their opponents 36-1 en route to a gold medal. They didn’t allow a goal in their four last games, including a 3-0 win in the final against the United States.

But it wasn’t a journey that was always smooth. After a gold medal win at the 2010 Under-18 world championship against the United States, Canada was on a losing streak against their biggest rivals. They were swept in the three-game summer series in 2010, then lost the gold medal game at the 2011 Under-18 World Championship.

They lost the first game in the 2011 summer series, 3-2. The series that year was held in Rockland, Ontario. And seven members of that team suffered every one of those five losses. Six of them had yet to beat the United States (Erin Ambrose was on the 2010 World Championship team that won gold).

Emerance Maschmeyer (G, Les Canadiennes): I remember coming in with a clean slate being ‘We’re going to beat the U.S. I don’t even know why this is even a conversation.’ And then we lost the first game and that was a tough one to swallow.

Canada was trailing 2-1 entering the third period of the second game of the series, but they scored two goals in the third period to finally break the losing streak.

Cydney Roesler (D, Connecticut Whale): I was with the team before when we got swept in the series and then we lost to the U.S in the gold medal game of the World Championships so we had never beaten the U.S. I remember that camp because it was just outside of Ottawa which is my hometown so it was fun because I got to play in front of a lot of friends and family of mine.

Erin Ambrose (D, Les Canadiennes, Team Captain): That team, it was really good. It goes back to the summer series against the U.S. The year before, we got swept and I just remember the second game [when we] beat the U.S. It was some of the girls’ first time ever beating the States. And just the excitement that was around. And I think that honestly carried over all the way to Worlds.

Laura Stacey (F, Markham Thunder): My first year with the Under-18 team we lost to the U.S. in the series and then we lost to them the one time at Worlds. So we didn’t beat them my whole first year and so the first win at the series, my second year as part of the Under-18 program was 100 percent probably the moment in Team Canada that I’ll never forget.

Maschmeyer: When we beat the U.S. I remember some girls were crying in the locker room they were so excited about it.

Elaine Chuli (G, Toronto Furies): Emerance started the first game and then I had the nod the second game and we won. I remember all of the girls being so excited. That is the first time I’ve played in a game against the U.S. but for a lot of the returning players from the Worlds the year before and the series the year before... [it] didn’t go so well. So I think getting that win in that series was huge for us going into Worlds that year.

Stacey: I’ve never celebrated so much in my entire life. Our team was going crazy in the locker room... It was an amazing feeling. It was the first time that that core senior unit of that U18 team had beat the U.S. and honestly it still gives me shivers thinking about that moment.

Halli Krzyzaniak (D, Calgary Inferno): We still talk about that. The emotion that they had after that game it was really something because we hadn’t even experienced playing the US before. It was my first US games and they were going crazy to win that game.

Maschmeyer: We were dancing around. It was a pretty significant moment.

Pierre Alain (Head Coach, Carleton University): They were so happy and they started believing that we could beat the US.

Courtesy Erin Ambrose

The turning point

The team featured Morgan Richardson, and her parents Luke and Stephanie opened their home to the team. The Richardson home was just outside of Rockland, where the summer series was taking place and provided the backdrop for what many around the team consider the turning point. The night after the big win, the team got together for a dinner.

Alain: It was a great get together. It was a great bonding experience.

Maschmeyer: It was kind of the turning point. It was a great night and we came together.

Roesler: The dinner at [the] Richardson’s house... That was a real special moment. I’m still close to the Richardson family and Morgan is one of my best friends so it was really special that we were going through that together and the dinner was fun to just get away from the rink and spend it with our families all in one area.

Krzyzaniak: Spending time at the Richardson’s house away from the rink, away from hockey and just bond as a team and get to know each other on a different level than you would on the ice, or in the dressing room I think that’s definitely something that helped us move forward.

Alexis Crossley-Miller (D, Worcester Blades): That was amazing. [The Richardson’s] are such awesome people. Morgan Richardson is a great friend of mine and her family has done amazing things for women’s hockey.

Taylor Woods (F, Markham Thunder): You meet for a week or two and then having a chance to get away from the rink and actually be human and socialize a little bit is good. I think it was a necessary point for us.

The next day, the Canadian team beat the United States to win the three game series. Suddenly the losing streak became a winning streak. And after the series in August, the team had to wait until December to get back together.

Roesler: The team itself had this confidence that we never had the year before and we all kind of knew this was the year we could do it. We ended up beating them and it was unbelievable because it just gave us this confidence going into the World Championships. It was pretty impressive because the series was in August and the World Championships weren’t until end of December, beginning of January but that confidence never wavered. It was something we kept with us the whole time. It was a pretty indescribable feeling.

The road to glory

When the team reconvened and the roster of players who were heading to the Czech Republic was named, it wasn’t exactly the same team that took part in the Summer series. Sarah Lefort, Kristyn Capizzano, and Catherine Dubois were among new players to the roster.

Sarah Lefort (F, Les Canadiennes): That Summer I wasn’t able to attend all the camps because I was injured so I was walking on the team but I hadn’t really had the experience with them [...] We had a great group that fit really well right away. And no matter what I think we were determined to get gold there in that tournament.

Catherine Dubois (F, University of Montreal): When you’re selected by Hockey Canada, you’re not only a great player but you’re also a great person and they were great with me.

Kristyn Capizzano (F, Toronto Furies): I never felt like I didn’t belong. We were very confident in ourselves that we could win the gold medal.

Lefort: For most of us it was our first trip overseas where we were actually competing and not just there to visit. So dealing with change, dealing with those different challenges that we all had to go through brought us closer together.

Canada opened the tournament against Switzerland. Taylor Woods opened the scoring to give Canada a 1-0 lead, but Switzerland would tie the game up just 32 seconds later on a power play. Canada eventually won the game 13-1. It was the only goal they would give up in the entire tournament.

Maschmeyer: I remember it being a pretty weak goal, I was a little bit nervous but excited to be playing.

Stacey: I think at the time it was game by game. We wanted to go in there and show everybody that this was our time. We were going to win the tournament. And I think we focused on coming to the rink every day and attacking every team like it like it was the U.S. and like it was our very last game together. I think that’s why we ended up being so successful.

Krzyzaniak: The whole tournament we were so focused on every single game and I think that week and a half we dominated every game.

Canada would keep rolling. They defeated Germany 6-0 (Chuli in goal), and Finland 7-0 (Maschmeyer) in the preliminary round before beating Sweden 7-0 (Chuli) in the semi final. That set up a battle with the United States and Pierre Alain had a decision ahead of him. Who would start in goal?

Maschmeyer: [Elaine] and I got along from the start. I remember my first camp with Team Canada just at fitness testing, we got along right away. Obviously as goalies you meet each other quickly because there’s not many goalies at camp. I remember the night before the final game they were about to tell us who was going to be playing and then we kind of looked at each other and both said whoever it is we’re going to support each other and we’re going to do it for each other and for the team and not be selfish or be mad about who is playing.

Alain: It’s a feel. We sat together, the coaches, and we agreed and we went with Emerance in the final. It’s in the moment. They were both so good you just go with your gut.

Going for gold

Aside from going for their first gold medal in two years, Canada had another challenge ahead of them. They played their initial games in Prerov in the Czech Republic. But the semi final and the gold medal were played in Zlin - where the United States called home.

Krzyzaniak: That was my first tournament in Europe and I think [Prerov] was the best fan support I’ve ever had in Europe. They had these drums and these singers and they were so crazy about Canada.

Lefort: We had a lot of supporters over there in Czech Republic for the Canadian team which is kind of awesome being so far away from home so we weren’t sure what the fan base was going to be. And as soon as we walked in, right away even before puck drop we knew that it was heavily weighted toward the Americans. So that was interesting to see the difference between both rinks and in such a short amount of time.

Stacey: I remember in the first rink, the fans were crazy. They loved Canada. The interviewers talked to almost all of our teammates and asked us questions about the games but also Canada in general. They had huge drums and it was packed and we were so excited to be there. That was the first time that we had played in a relatively big crowd so that was awesome and then it was definitely tough going to the finals and going to the U.S.’s home rink in a sense.

Alain: We had practice the day before and when we walked into the building, it was our championship building.

Krzyzaniak: It gave us that feeling of being the underdog. Even though we had beaten them and we were having all that success, it made us realize that we still had work to do, and we’re not there yet so it helped us in a way.

Maschmeyer: Everyone was pro USA. So we said let’s use that as motivation to prove everyone wrong that we’re going to win this.

Once they got over the crowd and the new surroundings, the focus became on the game and their toughest test to date.

Lefort: I just remember like warming up everybody is working together very ready for that final game. Everybody knew their role. Everybody knew what they had to do to come up with a win. That game was exceptional. Everybody was working hard everybody was positive and we knew it was going to be tough game. We knew we were playing the States and that’s what we’re there to do.

Capizzano: That was the first time I played the U.S. It was my first international experience so I was definitely quite nervous but not too nervous. Just tried to stay level-headed. Some nerves are good nerves.

When the game finally got underway, it was Crossley-Miller who opened the scoring for Canada 9:04 into the first period.

Crossley-Miller: To this day it’s still one of my favourite hockey memories. Anytime you get to wear the maple leaf on your chest is extra special and to be able to contribute in that way there’s no words to describe that. To this day I still remember everything about that play, everything about that game, and everything about my teammates.

Canada opened up a 2-0 lead when Lefort scored five minutes later. Canada went into the intermission up 2-0 despite being outshot 9-3 after 20 minutes. Roesler would score in the third period to make it 3-0 securing the win for Canada. Maschmeyer made 28 saves for the shutout. The Canadians had 16 shots.

Ashleigh Brykaliuk: In that final game against the U.S. Masch played one of her best games ever which was cool to see.

Chuli: Emerance shut it down and in the gold medal game.

Capizzano: I remember just jumping off the bench and skating towards Emerance Maschmeyer. Jumping in that pile was an unforgettable moment.

When everything was said and done, Canada finished the tournament allowing one goal - in that 13-1 opener against Switzerland - outscoring their opponents 36-1.

Roesler: I kind of forgot that. Now it’s coming back to me like how could I let that slip my mind. But it was really an unbelievable accomplishment. Defence is something we preached the whole time because we knew we had to be good defensively in order to beat the US. We did so well against the other countries that it carried over to the gold medal game.

Lefort: Overall I think it was one of the most exciting games that I’ve played throughout my hockey career. Just being able to play against the States is always a memorable time. But that one probably goes up for the game that would go into the highlights.

Alain: Defensively they were really good, as a team. They were working so hard and all together when you allow one goal in the whole tournament and no goals to the U.S., it’s pretty remarkable.

Courtesy Erin Ambrose

Ambrose: We never really thought about it the whole tournament until we kind of got to the end. One of the parents kind of mentioned it at the end. I’m sure Masch was fully aware of that. Chuli was a great part of that as well and she played well.

Maschmeyer: Having that goals against average is very special. But I was more excited about winning gold. You know it’s something that you always dreamed about. So you forget about the stats. It’s special for sure. But we were way more excited to take home the gold medal.

Dubois: Every time you represent all of Canada you feel a sense of pride. And then to win that medal, you just fill up with pride.

Cayley Mercer (F, Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays): Any time you wear the red and white for Team Canada it’s something special so just having that opportunity being able to represent our country in a positive way is something I’ll never forget.

Crossley-Miller: Anytime that you’re playing the U.S., anytime that you win coming out of that game is the best feeling ever. It’s the greatest rivalry in sports and anytime you come out on top you count your blessings and realize how much all the training you have done really paid off.

The championship bond

Perhaps the most striking thing as a lot of these players continue to represent Canada or play in the CWHL or NWHL is the bond that they have with each other. Every CWHL game features at least two players facing off from that team.

Mercer: You have to come together as a team in a short period of time so you’re doing a lot. You’re living in hotels with them, traveling with them, practicing with them so you’re around each other a ton and then it’s just nice to know that you’re making friends from all over the country and when you go to school and that sort of stuff and later in life you always have those friends.

Taylor Woods (F, Markham Thunder): You have that connection. But there’s also a little bit of competitiveness on the ice. Because it’s like ’I know you’re at that level, and I want to beat you. I don’t want you to beat me’.

Krzyzaniak: That bond after you win gold for your country that doesn’t go away and you always have that connection. Whether you’re playing with them or against them that’s always in the back of your mind that you shared that together.

Stacey: It creates memories that we’re all never going to forget and being able to do that with people or women that are your age that you’re going to continually see throughout your hockey career is awesome. Seeing all the girls that I played with being so successful whether it is in hockey or just in life... I think it really is remarkable and it’s cool to see that the growth that we can have and we can see each other.

Roesler: It’s unfortunate that me being in the NWHL I don’t get to see those girls as much or play against them but playing against them in college, you catch up with them quickly before you get on the bus but even now through social media you can see what they’re up to. Every once in a while you reach out and check in so I think that bond that we have and that we created from that experience is something I’m hopeful will stay with us forever and always look back and say we went through that forever. We may not see each other very much or talk very much but when we do it’s like we’re in the Czech Republic. We still have that friendship.

Stacey: I think sometimes in the sport we get heated or things happen where you’re like ‘wow I don’t know if I meant to do that’ but at the end the day we all respect each other and it doesn’t affect those friendships or those relationships that we’ve felt. And I think that me and Erin is a perfect example. In college I couldn’t stand playing against her. We would fight out on the ice all the time. There’s pictures of us like hitting and yelling at each other and it just happened in the heat of the moment. But I respect her a ton. We’re really best friends and we got along so well when we’re on the same team together. But it just happens in the game of hockey.

Roesler: Now having played so many years of hockey, that was not only one of the best not just moment of my life but one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of. [...] It was a really, really unique team to be a part of and I can’t say I’ve really been part of a team that’s really matched that until maybe my senior year in college at Quinnipiac but it’s very rare and there was something special and now that we have that championship it keeps us together and creates a bond. It’s really special to have that.

Maschmeyer: There have been a couple days where Erin, Sarah, and I we talk about how back then we had no idea that we’d be playing the same team here in Montreal. We had a laugh about it a little bit. I mean it’s pretty amazing that we have these memories that we can share. That was my first world championship and for a lot of girls it was too so it’s really memorable. It’s a group that I could probably name every single person on that team. Just because it’s that memorable.

Ambrose: Especially at such a young age you know for a lot of the girls the first time ever representing their country. You can’t you can’t take that away no matter if you win the tournament or you lose the tournament, the first time getting to represent your country and one thing and then obviously the first time winning a World Championship for a lot of people is another thing that’s just an incredible thing to think back on.

Woods: Looking back at how much talent was on that team and how many like superstars came through those ranks... There’s at least one or two on each team. It’s just amazing how they’ve grown as players.

Brykaliuk: I remember being in those camps and our camp coaches and some of the girls were working with us they said to us ‘You don’t realize it now but when you look back on this tournament and this team and this time of your life it’s going to be one of your favourite teams to play on’ and now that I’m looking back on that it’s a pretty cool experience being younger but having the opportunity to play with those players and represent Team Canada... It was so much fun.

Capizzano: When you come together for that week and a half, you’re there to accomplish something huge but you’re also there to be a family and I think that whole family component was what helped us win that gold medal. It’s something that we will never forget and will always unite us.