Family members, coaches and players of the London, Ont., Devilettes Girls Hockey Association are cheering on five teammates competing in Sweden.
The women's world under-18 (U18) hockey championship opened on Sunday in Oestersund. Canada has won six gold medals in the 14-year history of the tournament. Emmalee Pais, Jocelyn Amos, Keira Hurry, Abby Stonehouse and Shelby Laidlaw — all hailing from the London area — helped Canada to defend its title against Finland 8-0 that day and again on Monday with a 4-2 victory over Sweden.
It's the first time so many players from the London Devilettes junior hockey team have traveled to the tournament at once, said head coach Ted Brown.
"When we think back, they are oh-fives, which means they were born in, you know, 2005 and it was a very strong team," said Brown during a Monday night Devilettes practice at the London Sports Park.
"We knew that that team had exceptional talent and we knew that basically they were on track to get to where they are now, and they're leaders on our team, both on and off the ice."
Teammates in London have been keeping a close eye on the tournament so far, said Brown. On Monday, they saw Pais take over as captain after Amos suffered a minor shoulder injury, at least until Canada makes the medal round.
'Stronger and better at their craft'
Pais has been training for this challenge extensively, said her mother, Heather. Her 17-year-old daughter has been playing with the Devilettes for 12 years and continued to practise through the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when her father built an outdoor skating rink in the family's backyard.
"I think those kids that really persevered during that difficult time are the ones that came out on the other side stronger and better at their craft," said Heather, also crediting London for offering strong coaching and hockey development programs for players at all levels to hone their skills.
Pais and Amos are returning to the championship after first joining Canada's gold medal winning team last June, defeating the United States 3-2 in Madison, Wis.
The 2022 tournament had been originally scheduled for Sweden in January and was relocated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 women's U18 championship was cancelled altogether.
Canada faces off against the U.S. once more on Wednesday.
"They all have worked hard," said Devilette Bridget Stevenson, "and some of them were on the championship team last year winning gold, so I think they all have good work ethic and that they have a good chance this year of winning it."
It's amazing, said Devilette Taya MacDonald, to see her teammates play on TV.
"They want to win, they want to beat you, and I think that makes you want to get better, too," she said. "And just playing alongside them, you're going to work hard because they always give 100 per cent, and you have 100 per cent, too, and they always push each other past their limits."
The Canada-U.S. showdown begins at 2 p.m. on Jan. 11. TSN and RDS are broadcasting the games from Oestersund Arena, including playoffs capped by the Jan. 15 final.