Ashleigh Brykaliuk and Halli Krzyzaniak know the feeling of wearing gold medals around their necks, celebrating a world championship, and there’s nothing they’d love more than to experience it again.
Brandon’s Brykaliuk and Neepawa’s Krzyzaniak were members of Canada’s gold-medal winning team at last year’s World Women’s Under-18 Hockey Championship and they’ll try to replicate the feat over the next two weeks in Finland. Brykaliuk, Krzyzaniak and first-year national team member Cassidy Carels of Bruxelles leave Sunday for Toronto where they will join up with the rest of their teammates and fly to Finland later in the day.
"I’m really excited," said Brykaliuk, a forward with the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League’s Westman Wildcats. "I’ve been waiting for it for quite a while, since last year when we won it. I’ve been looking forward to this year and being a player coming back from last year, hopefully we’ll do just as good as we did last year."
Canada and the United States have been the dominant teams in the five-year history of the U-18 worlds. The countries have played in the final each time, with the Americans winning three of those meetings.
The pressure is always on Canada in the event, but Krzyzaniak said having the experience from last year should help.
"I think this year I have a little more confidence going in, but it’s always a new experience because it’s a new group of girls," said Krzyzaniak, who plays defence with the Pursuit of Excellence program in Kelowna, B.C.
"I think being Canadian you always feel that pressure for gold, but we’re just going to go in, take it game-by-game and see where it goes."
The three 17-year-olds have enjoyed a memorable 2012. Carels led the Pembina Valley Hawks to the Esso Cup Canadian midget title last spring, while all three were members of the Manitoba team that finished second in the national U-18 championship in November, with Krzyzaniak being named the tournament’s most valuable player and top defenceman. They also all agreed to NCAA Division I scholarships (Krzyzaniak with North Dakota, Brykaliuk with Minnesota-Duluth and Carels with Providence College) last month.
But Brykaliuk said winning gold for Canada tops them all.
"Just seeing the looks on everyone’s faces, the feeling of when the (clock) went down to zero, it was an unreal feeling and it was hard to explain," she said. "It was one of the greatest moments of my life."
ONE-TIMERS: Canada will hold its training camp in Finland, with it’s first tournament game set for Dec. 29 against Hungary … Also on the team is Medicine Hat, Alta., forward Eden Murray, whose parents are both from Brandon.