NEWS
01/07/2016 16:00 EST | Updated 01/07/2017 00:12 EST

Canada's under-18 women chase world hockey championship gold on home ice

Lindsay Agnew wants to be the one celebrating hockey gold on home ice this year.

The 17-year-old from Oakville, Ont., remembers how heartbroken she felt watching the U.S. celebrate a 3-2 overtime win over her Canadian team in the final of the 2015 women's world under-18 hockey championship in Buffalo, N.Y.

Agnew, Kristin O'Neill of Oakville and Winnipeg's Ryleigh Houston are returning forwards on this year's Canadian team that's intent on claiming gold when the tournament starts Friday in St. Catharines, Ont.

"I just never want to feel the feeling of failure this year in 2016," Agnew told The Canadian Press.

"Coming that close in overtime and not coming out with a gold medal was something super-tough for me, Kristin and Ryleigh Houston as well. I think the three of us are just super-motivated to come out here and bring the gold medal back to Canada hopefully."

The women's world under-18 championship returns to Canada for the first time since the inaugural tournament in Calgary in 2008. The Americans beat Canada 5-2 in the final that year.

Canada and the U.S. have each won four titles in the tournament's history.

The host country opens the preliminary round Friday against Russia, followed by the Czech Republic on Sunday and the defending champion U.S. on Monday at the 5,300-seat Meridian Centre.

Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and France round out the field. The final is Jan. 15.

Canada will be coached by Lisa Haley, who was an assistant on the Canadian Olympic team that came from behind to beat the U.S. in overtime for gold in Sochi, Russia.

The coach of Ryerson University's Rams knows her under-18 team wants a moment they can remember for the rest of their lives too.

"We haven't won a gold medal on home soil," Haley said. "We're really hungry to do that and hopefully the pieces can fall into place to get us into that game and see if we can make that happen."

The majority of the Canadian team went 2-1 against the U.S. in a three-game summer series in Lake Placid, N.Y. 

Forward Celine Frappier of Tecumseh, Ont., is the lone player making her Canadian debut in St. Catharines. Eleven of the 23 players on the Canadian team are from Ontario.

There are also a half-dozen players born in 1999 sprinkled among the 1998s on the Canadian team "which is a little bit young, but I think offensively we're pretty deep," Haley said.

"When you're selecting a team for the world championship you're looking for the right chemistry and mix. Age is not the top priority. The '99s that are here are very skilled and talented and they belong in the group. We felt each of them had something they could bring that will make a difference for us."

Canada is coming off a weeklong training camp that included a 3-1 exhibition win over Sweden and a 5-4 shootout loss to the Montreal Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women's Hockey League.

"We've come as far as we could with the time that we've had," Haley said. "We certainly would not take anything for granted.

"Winning a gold medal, I think there's a lot that goes into it. There's eight teams here that all want the same. For us, we have Russia, the Czech Republic and then the U.S.A in the round robin. They'll all test us in different ways. We have to be ready for each game."

O'Neill is looking forward to having fans at the arena cheering for her team this year.

"I definitely think it will be an advantage for us," she said. "It's an easier place for my friends and family to all come. The support there is going to be really beneficial for our team."

Former national team players Jayna Hefford, Gillian Apps and Catherine Ward will be honoured during Canada's game Sunday against the Czech Republic.

The three women, who won multiple gold medals in world championships and Olympic Games, announced their retirements in September.

The Canadian women's under-22 team won gold Thursday in the six-team Nations Cup in Fussen, Germany. Ottawa's Jamie Lee Rattray scored the overtime winner to beat Finland 4-3 in the final.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press