Lightning U21 NRL players help Team Canada Juniors capture Gold medal at World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, News (Richmond Hill Ringette)

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National - Lightning U21 NRL players help Team Canada Juniors capture Gold medal at World Championships in Helsinki, Finland
Submitted By Jim File on Friday, January 15, 2016
Story by John Voss

From their first season on a ringette team, many young girls dream of one day playing for Team Canada. For 22 of Canada’s very best U21 players, that dream came true last month, as they donned the maple leaf and represented Canada at the World Ringette Championships in Helsinki, Finland. And they represented well, going undefeated in 8 games, and winning the gold medal and the President’s Trophy. They are the best in the world. 

Richmond Hill was also well represented. Team Canada centre Abby Richardson and defenders Chantal Gauthier, Shae-Lynn Reaman and Erica Voss all play for the Richmond Hill Lightning of the NRL. Sarah Esmail, playing in her second Worlds for her native Sweden, is a member of the RHRA Open A team. Sarah Ianni, head coach of the U12P team was a Legacy Coach on the Team Canada bench.

Team Canada players, from Alberta to New Brunswick, arrived in Helsinki on December 24, and after practices on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, they began round robin play on December 27. Parents, family and friends, about 60 altogether, made the trip in support, and the crowds were bolstered by players and families from the several Canadian ringette teams in Helsinki for tournaments during the week.  Many young Finnish players could be spotted in the crowd, even when Finland wasn’t playing, as they were keen to see the Canadians.

In international play, there are 4 quarters of 15 minutes each, with a flood at half time. The game clock counts up instead of down.

Our junior team defeated the Czech Republic, Team Sweden, Slovakia, the Swedish U20 team, and Team USA in the early round-robin games. Ringette is relatively new to the Czechs and the Slovaks and it is to their great credit that they chose to participate in the World Ringette Championships, in part to benchmark their skill level, and in part to inspire their ringette community with what may be possible for their countries in the future. Although the scores in these games were lop-sided, there were great individual displays of skill and sportsmanship. The best example was Czech goalie Veronika Hulkova who faced 112 shots in a losing effort to Canada, yet won admiration from fans of both teams for competing with determination for the full 60 minutes, making several highlight reel saves.

As the week unfolded, anticipation grew for the games against Finland. The teams met for the first time on New Year’s Day in the last game of the round robin. Canada led 5-3 at half time, and while the Finns pressed in the second half, Canada was able to close out an 8-5 win to claim first in the round robin at 6-0, with Finland second at 5-1. The two teams would play a best of 3 for gold and the President’s Trophy. Sweden (4-2) would face USA (3-3) in the best of three bronze medal round.

Canada won the first game of the medal round by a 7-5 score. After Canada opened a 5-1 lead by half time, the Finns fought back in the third quarter to narrow the score to 5-4. A couple of timely Canadian goals restored a 7-4 margin and one late reply by Finland was not enough.

The final game took place January 3 in the Helsinki Ice Hall, the same arena in which Canada’s men’s hockey team had played its World Junior Championship games that week. The junior Team Canada game started shortly after the senior Finnish team had soundly defeated senior Team Canada to retain the Sam Jacks trophy and this seemed to inspire the Finnish juniors.  They started with energy and scored first, the first time Canada had trailed all week. At the end of the quarter it was 3-1 Finland, but the teams were tied at 5-5 by half time. In the second half, Canada trailed 8-6 before 3 goals in 4 minutes made it 9-8 for Canada. The determined Finns scored again with just under 2 minutes remaining to tie the score at 9 and force overtime. Six minutes into the extra frame, Canada forced a turnover at the Finnish blue line and Sarah-Lynne Begin went in alone on the Finnish net to end the game and secure gold for Canada.

In the other round, Sarah Esmail’s Sweden prevailed over USA, two games to one, to claim bronze.

The Team Canada players had limited time and opportunity to get to know team mates and coaches from across Canada, learn new strategies and systems, how to communicate and support each other, and work together to pursue the goal. There were 22 players on the roster, but only 18 could dress for any game, so every player had to be ready to answer the call and able to absorb the disappointment if the call did not come.

The Bolts’ Abby Richardson was Canada’s points co-leader with 14 goals and 28 points, and 3 goals in the gold medal game, while the three Richmond Hill defenders were stalwarts for Canada against the Finns. On and off the ice, all of the players and coaches were exemplary representatives of Canada.

It is quite an achievement to be recognized as the best in the world in something you’ve worked long and hard at. Those 8 days in Helsinki were an experience that will never be forgotten.

For a complete photobiography, visit the Ringette Canada Flickr site

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