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U.S. U18 squad ready for redemption at worlds

03/11/2014, 11:15am EDT
By Dan Scifo - Special to USAHockey.com

Jeff Kampersal admits it.

Not a day goes by when the coach of the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team doesn’t replay the final moments of last year’s International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s U18 World Championship title game through his head.

The U.S. finished with a near two-to-one advantage in shots, including an unbelievable 20-1 margin in the first period, yet held only a narrow 1-0 lead against Canada in the closing moments of the game.

Less than two minutes later, Canada was celebrating its third gold medal.

Catherine Dubois sent the game to overtime, scoring the equalizer with 12 seconds remaining, and Karly Heffernan netted the game-winner in the first minute of the extra session.

“It stings,” Kampersal said. “There really hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about that championship game in Finland.”

Kampersal and the Americans will have their chance at redemption.

The seventh IIHF Women’s U18 World Championships begins March 23 in Budapest, Hungary, featuring Kampersal’s Americans in addition to teams from Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Russia and Sweden.

“Our expectation is to go and win the gold medal,” said Kampersal, who also coaches the Princeton University’s women’s team. “I think us and Canada are the favorites going into it, but there will be some good competition.”

The U.S. captured gold in each of the first two years of the tournament (2008, 2009) and again in 2011, but finished as the runners-up to Canada in 2010, 2012 and last year in Finland, a game Kampersal remembers vividly.

“We had a perfect tournament going into the Canada game, and we outshot them badly in the first period and got out of that period winning 1-0, though it probably should’ve been 3-0,” Kampersal said. “Their goalie played very well, and as the game went on Canada got stronger. They scored with 12 seconds left, which rattled us a little bit, and then scored in overtime.”

Kampersal has spent 17 years at the helm of the Princeton women’s hockey team, leading the squad to a best-ever ECAC second-place finish in 2006, an Ivy League title the same year and three 20-win seasons. He has also coached the U.S. U18 team since 2012.

Kampersal has nine players returning from last year’s team looking for revenge.

“We have a great group of returning players who provide leadership and great newcomers that will add a lot to this particular team,” Kampersal said. “The defense will be the strength of our team, no question. We have speed and skill up front and kids who can score goals, and in net we’re steady and solid.

“We have responsible players and passionate players who have a drive to try and win a gold medal.”

Several of those players already got a chance for an early look at Canada in August during the Women’s U18 Series, a three-game set against their biggest rivals in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“For both teams, it allows you to get a feel for what the lineup or systems might be,” Kampersal said. “We know some of the areas we didn’t do as good a job in that we’re going to hopefully fix, and I’m sure they’re doing the same.”

The three-game competition against Canada began in 2007, and the U.S. took this year’s finale 4-1 after dropping the first two games.

“The first two games opened our eyes in terms of some of the things we need to get done,” Kampersal said. “We know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from us, it’s a matter of executing on that day. It gives us a familiar feeling [more] than seeing them out of the blue and in a tournament. They remember the feeling of last year.”

That feeling burns deep inside Kampersal and the returning Americans, who look to best their rivals to the north for a gold medal if they see them again in this year’s championship.

“We’re definitely looking forward to the opportunity,” Kampersal said. “We had an amazing journey last year in Finland and came up short, but it was such a special group and it was so much fun to work with the kids that we’re trying to recapture that team chemistry and drive.

“If we get to the championship, it comes down to that one game and who performs best on that one day, and hopefully we’ll be prepared to do so.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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