Team Finland’s U18 women will look to break their six-year medal drought at the upcoming IIHF World Women's U18 Championship in the Czech Republic. The team last medaled in 2011, winning bronze, but have landed in 5th or 6th place each year since.
Out of 23 players named to the roster, 12 are members of Team Kuortane at Finland's multi-sport Olympic Training Center, under the care of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association (FIHA). Starting with athletes at age 15, the FIHA works to recruit talent to Kuortane while keeping an eye on other promising players across the country.
As a member of the eight-team Naisten SM-Sarja, Kuortane sees regular competition and currently sits third in the league with 44 points over 22 games played. The comfort and pre-developed chemistry of having more than half a team already accustomed to playing regularly with each other could prove beneficial, so long as they’re able to expand it to include the others.
Eight out of the U18 team’s twelve forwards are Kuortane, including Petra Nieminen, age 17. She's enjoying a good season; Nieminen is an alternate captain and leads Kuortane in points with 22 (13 goals, nine assists). She last represented Finland at the Four Nations Cup in November, winning bronze.
Also on the team are Nieminen’s Kuortane teammates and Naisten SM-Sarja rookies Kiia Nousiainen and Emilia Vesa, who are tied for third in the league for rookie scoring with 14 points each. Vesa, 16, will be making her U18 WWC debut.
The defense corps is less Kuortane-heavy; four of the eight play on other teams. Nelli Laitanen is one of the team's youngest members at 14 years old and has been named an alternate captain with HAKI in her rookie season. Camille Kahra, 15, is the only player on the squad to play outside of Finland; she's currently a member of the Little Caesars AAA 16U Hockey Club in Michigan, where she has three points in six games this season. This is her second trip to the U18 WWC.
Three goaltenders were named to the roster: Johanna Oksman of Oulun Kärpät, Jenna Silvonen of Espoo United, and Sanni Ahola of IHK. Ahola is the youngest of the netminding trio at 16 years old. Oksman leads the Naisten SM-Sarja with a .941 save percentage, while Silvonen is fourth at .933.
Team Finland plays their first game of the tournament on Saturday, January 7.