The Junior Flyers celebrate winning the Gold medal. Photo Credit: Australian U18 Womens Hockey Team/Facebook

The Junior Flyers had a tournament to remember in Dumfries, Great Britain as they come out on top and earn promotion to Division I-B for next year’s U18 Women’s Worlds.

High expectations met Australia’s Under-18 Women’s Ice Hockey team (nicknamed the Junior Flyers) who wanted to better its bronze medal from last year, and the side lived up to those expectations, earning the gold medal and promotion to Division I-B after winning four of their five games.

It was a tough start to the opening game against Turkey, trailing 1-0 after the first period, but the side managed to shake it off and rebound for a 3-1 win. Speaking after the game, head coach Tamra Jones was pleased but also critical of the team’s performance.

“We’re pleased to get the three points. We had 94 shots attempted across three periods of play, with only 43 reaching the goalie. So that’s an area requiring immediate improvement from the playing group to be successful against the remainder of the competition,” Jones said.

“From our experiences playing two exhibition games and today (Friday, January 21), the coaches have learned that the playing group need to concentrate more on shot execution to generate offensive opportunities and be more of a scoring threat. We have also learned that we can persevere and get the job done.”

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And persevere is exactly what the side did in the second match against the Netherlands, which the side defeated for the bronze medal last year in a 2-1 victory.

This time around it was a much more comfortable performance for the Aussies, who defeated the Dutch 4-0, which saw goalie Madison Smith get her first-ever international shutout (she had previously split a start with Olivia Last in a 5-0 victory, but due to ice hockey rules, Last gets credited for the shutout).

“I was really surprised with myself, but I’m happy and excited about how I played,” Smith said post-game.

Jones mentioned just how proud she and the rest of the coaching staff were of how the side bounced back from the game against Turkey.

“The coaching staff are very proud of how the team performed tonight for all 60 minutes. They are truly remarkable young athletes,” she said.

The side celebrates Madison Smith’s shutout win against the Netherlands. (Photo Credit: Karl Denham/IIHF)

A follow-up victorious performance against Mexico in the third game saw Australia put its fate in its own hands as a win of any kind against Latvia (who were also undefeated after three games, but two of those were in overtime) would secure Australia gold and promotion as it held the tiebreaker over Latvia.

Courtney Mahoney kicked off the scoring for the Junior Flyers on the power play in the first period and would get her second just 2:19 into the middle frame with Elana Holub scoring the third a couple of minutes later to give Aussies a 3-0 lead and put them in prime position to walk away victorious.

Mahoney took a penalty for an illegal hit just after the halfway mark of the second period. Emilija Jakovleva striked for Latvia to reduce the lead to two, and Hanna Strause would score a short-handed goal later in the period to make it a one-goal game, giving Australia plenty of work to do in the third period to secure the win.

Latvia took the game to Australia and made it tough for the Junior Flyers who were ill-disciplined and took four separate minor penalties in the third period, giving Latvia plenty of opportunities to get back in the game. But the penalty kill held strong and Australia held on for a 3-2 victory, securing the gold medal and promotion to Division I-B next year.

While the final game meant nothing towards the standings positions for Australia or the hosts Great Britain, it was a tightly fought contest as the Aussies wanted to go undefeated, and ended up on the end of a narrow defeat to Great Britain, losing 2-1.

The success of this tournament can’t be understated for Australia, as it sees the side move up at the U18 level to a higher calibre of competition against opponents (Division I-B this year saw Denmark, who got promoted to I-A, Poland, Spain, Republic of Korea, and Chinese Taipei compete) and will help these players’ development and make them better players for the future for when they age out of the under 18’s and into the senior squad, should they be selected.

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