A First Ever International Medal – A Massive Leap for Women’s Hockey
Story By: Tanner Wilson / Follow Tanner on Twitter @TexSR_Tanner1
It could not only be a historic gold medal for Frisco’s Allyson Simpson and Coppell’s Hannah Bilka, but it could be what is needed to see major growth in women’s hockey in the southwestern United States.
From January 6th through 13th, both Bilka and Simpson were part of the USA’s U18 Women’s National Team that competed at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) U18 Women’s World Championship in the Moscow suburb of Dmitrov, Russia.
Without so much as an exhibition game to prepare for the tournament, the atmosphere going into the opening game against Sweden was quite disconcerting according to Team USA forward, Hannah Bilka. “The first game against Sweden was our first game playing with this group,” said Bilka. “So I think we were trying to get used to each other and find out what lines and combinations worked.”
The game between USA and Sweden was a close one but the Americans prevailed with a 2 – 1 win in overtime. “Although it was a score going into overtime,” said Bilka, “we pulled the win in the ending.”
The entire team felt that it was during the second game against Russia when the team really came together and the hopes of winning a fourth straight IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship gold medal really came into focus. “The Russian game was a great team win,” said Bilka. “I think that what contributed to our success was team chemistry we had on the ice.”
The USA defensemen and Frisco resident, Hannah Simpson, described the team’s demeanor going into their second group game against Russia. “The atmosphere in the locker room was amazing,” said Simpson, “We came out with a fire and hunger to win and we prepared to do so.”
What a fire it lite under the USA team. The USA went up 2-0 within the first five minutes. Including a goal from Coppell’s Hannah Bilka at the 15:59 mark of the first period. They went on to win that game, 5-3, over Russia and finish at 2-0 in Group A.
According to Simpson, the win against Russia led to the beneficial boost in confidence experienced by the team. “The game was such a fun one to play in because of the enthusiasm in the rink.’ Simpson said. “We played with more confidence as a team and I think it showed throughout the game.”
To finish the group stage, the USA played their arch rival, Canada. In the vast majority of games throughout the USA/Canada rivalry in both the senior and U18 levels, nearly every game has been in a tense nail biter. However, a rare one-sided scenario arose in the final game of Group A with a four goal second period. Roughly six minutes into that second period a goal from Allyson Simpson contributed to the 3-1 advantage allowing the USA to pull away from Canada. The Americans then won 6-2 and finished the group stage with a perfect 3-0 record.
Following the group stage and a quarterfinal round bye, it was on to a rematch with Canada in the semifinals. Going into the third period, Canada led 3-1 and it looked like the USA freight train was coming to a halt. However, the third period saw a major change where the Americans scored twice in a 3:14 timespan. The game went into overtime and then a shootout where the USA won 2-1 in the shootout and won the game 4-3.
Following back-to-back wins over Canada, it was a rematch against Sweden in the gold medal game. One of the biggest obstacles the USA faced in that game was Swedish goalie, Anna Amholt. Throughout the tournament, she had experienced an amazing run and going into the final, her goals against average was an amazing 0.98 goals per game.
Prior to the gold medal game, Simpson described one of the biggest changes the USA made since the first game against Sweden. “The biggest change we made was attacking the net quick,” said Simpson. “Instead of possessing the puck around the perimeter, we tried to attack right away.”
The change would eventually bring an offensive explosion for the Americans. Despite going down, 1-0 from an early goal from Thea Johansson, the Americans attacked back quickly with an offensive fury, scoring three unanswered in the first period.
The gold medal was secured for good in the second period with a five goal explosion in the first five minutes of the second period. By the 5:38 mark for the second period, the Americans were leading 8-1. It was more than enough for the Americans to hold on as they went on to win in a 9-3 blowout to win their fourth straight IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship gold medal.
Following the medal ceremony, Allyson Simpson took some time to discuss what she learned from the experience that she will take with her into the second half of the season with Shattuck St. Mary’s Girls Prep Team in Fairbault, Minnesota. “I think the experience of being able to play in the U18 Women’s World Championship gave us more confidence as players,” said Simpson. “Being a part of this team helped me grow not just as a hockey player, but as a person.”
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