Hockey: Canada beats U.S. for gold; elated but tired players return home

Anne Cherkowski knows what her weekend highlight was: Helping Canada win gold.

On Monday, a quartet of players with Okanagan connections returned to Kelowna after Canada defeated the U.S. to win gold at the world women’s under-18 hockey championship in Japan. In Sunday’s final, Canada won 3-2 in overtime to cap the eight-day tournament at Obihiro.

“Definitely excited,” a tired but still jubilant Cherkowski said shortly after landing.

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From Vernon, Cherkowski was one of four players from the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna to play for Team Canada. The other three were Danielle Serdachny and Stephanie Markowski of Edmonton plus Rachel Weiss of Calgary.

After landing, the four were enthusiastically greeted inside YLW. Canada had not won gold at the tournament since 2014, while the Americans were the four-time defending champions.

“I wasn’t really expecting all of our friends and my billet family and the POE family to be here, so it’s pretty exciting,” said Markowski.

“It was such an amazing experience, representing Canada with a bunch of my best friends,” said Serdachny, who finished the tournament with three goals and four assists in five games.”

Notably, Canada lost 3-2 to the U.S. in group play.

“The [United] States are obviously a really good team, but I guess we just played a complete game,” said Serdachny. “So it obviously turned out really good for us.”

The final was a back-and-forth affair, with four of the five goals scored on the power play. Canada opened the scoring at 7:44, with Serdachny pouncing on a rebound after a one-timer. From the top of the right faceoff circle, Alexie Guay smashed a shot on net. The puck was stopped, but it bounced out to the left side and Serdachny tapped the rebound into a half-empty net.

In the second, the U.S. tied the game with 2:50 left in the frame when, from the left faceoff circle, Makenna Webster snapped a wrist shot on net that beat goalie Raygan Kirk.

Six minutes into the third, the Americans went up 2-1 when Abbey Murphy slid a rebound home. That goal was the only even-strength marker of the game.

That lead wouldn’t last long, though, as Canada levelled the score five minutes later, Cherkowski with a quick shot from the low slot following a centering pass from the goal-line. Earning assists were Serdachny and Julia Gosling of London, Ont.

The overtime period didn’t last long. Just 45 seconds into the frame, Canada was granted a power play when Murphy was tagged for holding. And 49 seconds into the man advantage, Maddi Wheeler of Erinsville, Ont., skating down right wing, drove around a defender, cut to the net and put a shot on goal. The shot was stopped, but Wheeler quickly whacked at the rebound, with the puck crossing the goal-line and ending the game.

That goal, scored at 1:34, was Wheeler’s first of the tournament.

“We were both pretty excited going [into the final], but also nervous,” admitted Markowski. “A lot is expected of us, so our coaches were pretty hard on us, but we all knew we could do it; we have the team to do it.

“So we were just excited going in. We knew whatever happened that we had success at the tournament.”

“Just the support from all the fans there, all the noise in the rink just got us going, so that was really good, too,” said Cherkowski.

Serdachny was on the bench when Wheeler scored.

“I was at the gate,” she recalled, and “our equipment manager didn’t actually open the gate. So I was just kind of jumping up and down there for a couple of seconds.

“But we finally got it open. It was a pretty amazing feeling.”

Weiss said she was on the bench as well when Wheeler scored.

“We had a bit of a jumping up-and-down session,” she said. “But I honestly don’t remember the moments from hearing everyone screaming to when we were on the pile. It was crazy, it was cool.”

Canada’s roster was dominated by Ontario players (11), followed by Alberta (3) and Quebec (3). British Columbia had two players, while Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia each had one.

Team-wise, though, the Pursuit of Excellence had the most with four players hailing from its program. London, Durham West and Stoney Creek were next with two players each.

“It’s definitely pretty cool, but I think we have a really strong team this year, so it’s not that surprising,” said Cherkowski. “We have a good group of girls and a lot more could be here.”

Other Western Canadian players included Jennifer Gardiner of Surrey, Grace Shirley of Saskatoon and Kirk of Ste. Anne, Man., who was named the tournament MVP.

Canada’s roster can be found here. Tournament results can be found here.

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