SPORTS

Canada chases third straight women's under-18 hockey championship

03/20/2014 02:08 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT
Months before Marie-Philip Poulin's heroics at the Sochi Olympics, another Canadian women's hockey team pulled off an improbable comeback against the United States.

With just 12 seconds remaining in last year's world under-18 championship final, forward Catherine Dubois scored to tie the game 1-1 and Karly Heffernan struck again 58 seconds into overtime to rescue the gold medal.

So as Heffernan watched the Canadian women score twice in the final four minutes and Poulin score the overtime winner in last month's Olympic final in Sochi, she knew what that felt like.

"It was identical. It was crazy," Heffernan said. "It brought back so many memories when I watched that game."

The 18-year-old forward from Sherwood Park, Alta., and Vancouver forward Hannah Miller are two returning players from the victorious under-18 squad who will suit up for Canada again at the 2014 world championship starting Sunday in Budapest, Hungary.

Canada has won three of six, including two in a row, since the first IIHF world under-18 women's championship was held in Calgary in 2008. The U.S. has claimed the other three titles.

The national under-18 team is where future Olympians get their first taste of international women's hockey.

Half a dozen players on Canada's Olympic team in Sochi played on that first under-18 team in 2008: Tara Watchorn, Laura Fortino, Lauriane Rougeau, Brianne Jenner, Natalie Spooner and Poulin.

It was Jenner who kicked off Canada's gold-medal comeback at 16:34 of the third. Poulin scored the equalizer with less than a minute left and the overtime winner at 8:10

After pulling out the world under-18 win in similar fashion in Finland last year, Heffernan feels ready for those defining moments of a game whether they happen in Budapest or on a distant Olympic stage.

"It's important for us to keep proving that it's Canada's game and no matter what, we're going to keep battling to the end," Heffernan said. "We showed that in Sochi and in Finland last year."

Canada opens the eight-team, under-18 championship Sunday against Japan. Finland, the Czech Republic, the U.S., Sweden, Russia and host Hungary round out the field.

Canada will be coached by Laura Schuler, a former national team player who won silver in 1998 when women's hockey made its Olympic debut.

Schuler is an assistant coach of the University of Minnesota-Duluth women's team and was an assistant on the Canadian under-18 team last year.

Regina's Jackie Friesen, Winnipeg's Dwayne Gylywoychuk and Cassandra Turner of Campbellford, Ont., will be Schuler's assistants in Budapest.

They along with Melody Davidson, Hockey Canada's female scout, chose the 22-player roster for the under-18 tournament.

"I think we're quite strong up front," Davidson said. "We've got some real solid lines. I would say probably the most offence we've had since the Poulin-Jenner years, those first couple of years of the under-18 worlds.

"The front end is definitely our strength, our back end is solid, but inexperienced. We have no returning defencemen. Our goaltenders too are unproven. They're solid, but they're going to have to be consistent for us for sure."

Canada's under-18 team faces the U.S. in a three-game exhibition series every summer. All but one player on this under-18 roster won two of three games against the Americans last August in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Heffernan, Miller and Ottawa's Rebecca Leslie were a dominant line in Lake Placid. Heffernan, who is bound for Harvard University next season, says she and Miller intend to lead their team through the tense moments in Budapest.

"It's really important to relate this year to last year, but at the end of the day it's a new group of girls," Heffernan said. "Hannah and I saw what went on in the dressing room in between the second and third period and between the third and overtime.

"We can use that to help bring our team up this year."

MORE:cpSports