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Canada aims to reclaim gold at under-18 women's world championship

12/28/2011 12:52 EST | Updated 02/27/2012 05:12 EST
Canada is entering the under-18 women's world championship with confidence.

The team reeled off wins in two-of-three games against the U.S. in a summer exhibition series and hopes that run of success continues against its main rival.

"(The exhibition series) was good for our confidence and it was good for the returning players," said coach Pierre Alain. "It was their first victory (over the U.S.) since last year. They lost five times before beating them once.

"It was very good for them."

Canada has faced the defending champion Americans for gold at all four under-18 world championships, losing every year but in 2010.

Alain has selected six returning players from the 2011 silver medal squad, including defenceman Erin Ambrose of Keswick, Ont., who is participating in her third world championship.

Each of those players is well aware of the challenge posed by the Americans. They beat Canada 5-2 in last year's final.

"They are individually skilled," Alain said of the U.S. team. "Their skills are very good."

Canada opens the tournament against Switzerland in Prerov, Czech Republic on Saturday. It also faces Germany and Finland before moving on to the medal round.

The other group features the U.S., Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic. The gold-medal game will be played Jan. 7.

Alain was an assistant coach at the 2010 under-18 championship in Chicago, where Canada won gold. One of the observations he took away from that experience was just how much better some of the lower-ranked countries are getting.

"Other countries are working very hard to be on top of the world too," he said.

When the Canadian players gathered together in Rockland, Ont., for a camp this summer he preached the importance of having respect for each of their opponents.

"I told the players to live in the moment," said Alain. "It's one game at a time. We expect opposition, we expect other teams to be very good and to skate and to try and beat us. They'll do whatever they need to beat us.

"We have to be ready for every game."

Alain is joined behind the bench by two assistants — former national team member Carla MacLeod and Jim Fetter.

The team flew to Europe earlier this week and has been practising ahead of the event. Laura Stacey of Kleinburg, Ont., led Canada in scoring during the summer three-game exhibition series that saw seven different players score goals.

Alain plans to roll all four of his lines during the tournament.

"Our strength is our depth," he said. "We have four very good lines, four lines that can play both ends of the ice. We have good skaters.

"We've worked a lot on the collective tactics during the summer in Rockland so our system is good."

While the team is obviously eyeing a gold medal, Alain hopes his players come away with a lot more than that. For many, it will be the first time travelling to Europe and playing in a world-class event.

"It will be an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives," said Alain. "Self confidence, I think, is for them one of the biggest things they'll get from this."

The under-18 players aren't the only women representing Canada in international hockey to start 2012. The under-22 squad opens the Meco Cup on Jan. 3 in Fussen, Germany against the host country.

Canada is the defending champion at the event, which is formerly known as the MLP Cup.

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