Madison will host 2022 Women’s Hockey U18 World Championship after two years of cancellations

Members of the U.S. women's hockey team at the 2016 Women's U18 World Championship
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On Monday, USA Hockey announced that Madison, Wisconsin, will host the 2022 Women’s U18 World Championship from June 6-13, 2022. Games will be played at LaBahn Arena at the University of Wisconsin and Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena.

“I’m gonna be biased, but [Madison] has the best fans for women’s hockey and sports,” said three-time Olympic medalist Brianna Decker, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin and served as an assistant coach for USA Hockey’s U18 team at the last two tournaments.

“The level of hockey is incredible. Most of these girls are going to be going [division] 1 and having a huge impact on college programs within the next few years,” Decker continued. “I always talk about the young players coming up are more skilled than half the players on our national team. So it’ll be fun to watch them and fans will really appreciate the games.”

Eight teams will compete at the 2022 Women’s U18 World Championship. Pool A will feature the U.S., Canada, Finland, and Sweden, while Pool B includes the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, and Slovakia. The final tournament schedule – as well as ticket information – will be released “in the near future,” according to USA Hockey.

Recent History of the Women’s Hockey U18 World Championship

The IIHF Women’s U18 World Championship hasn’t been played since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The U.S. will enter the tournament as the defending champion, having defeated Canada 2-1 in overtime in the gold medal game on January 2, 2020.

In 2021, the Women’s U18 World Championship (typically held in January) was the only top-level IIHF World Championship event that was cancelled, even though both the men’s U18 and men’s U20 tournament (also known as World Juniors) were played.

This year’s tournament was initially slated to be played in Sweden in January, but on December 24, 2021, the IIHF announced it was cancelling all January events due to surging omicron cases.

The cancellation of the tournament for a second straight year resulted in uproar from the women’s hockey community, including from current senior-level national team players – many of whom played at U18 Worlds when they were age-eligible.

The timing was an especially bad look given that the Men’s World Junior Championship began two days later, though that tournament was also ultimately called off and rescheduled after positive COVID-19 tests resulted in quarantines and forfeited games.

“Why is it automatically a cancellation?” Canadian player Erin Ambrose asked on Twitter. “We understand the concerns regarding health and safety but why is a postponement not considered for these women as the men’s tournaments continue without hesitation?”

Ambrose wasn’t the only person asking this question. When Sweden declined to reschedule the event for later in the year, USA Hockey expressed interest.

“We were able to step into the void and pick up this event and make sure it happened,” USA Hockey Executive Director Pat Kelleher said in a press conference on Monday. “The U18 World Championships is very critical to the girls’ game, to the women’s game, and overall to the sport of hockey across the globe – and specifically here in the U.S. [with all] the programs we run.”

There is some risk involved, especially given the very tight timeline between now and June.

“When we take on these events, we receive some hosting support from the IIHF. But largely, this is an event that the host country and the organizers take on some financial risk and burden to make this happen,” Kelleher said. “We will work with partners and sponsors to help make this event as successful financially as possible.”

Kelleher also promised better visibility and access to the event, including for people who aren’t able to travel to Madison to watch the games. At the 2020 Women’s U18 World Championship in Slovakia, live stream coverage was provided via a doorbell-style camera.

A screenshot from the livestream feed of the 2019 IIHF World Women’s U18 Hockey Tournament

“It’s a World Championship. We’ve hosted multiple world championships at different levels, men’s and women’s, and every one is special. And we will treat this one as such,” Kelleher said.

When the 2022 Women’s U18 World Championship was cancelled in December, IIHF President Luc Tardif responded to the criticism by saying the cancellation was a COVID-19 issue, “not a gender issue.”

Still, gender issues clearly remain ingrained in hockey.

For starters, while the IIHF refers to every women’s tournament as a “women’s” tournament, the organization does not use the gender modifier “men’s” to describe any of the men’s world championship events at any age level. This can be seen in the logos for the competitions:

The IIHF logos for the top division (men’s) tournaments in 2022. The IIHF does not currently refer to men’s world championships as “men’s” world championships. 
Unlike the men’s logos, the IIHF women’s logos all clearly indicate that they are for “women’s” tournaments.

While the omission of the word “men’s” is not a huge issue on its own, the centering of sporting events as inherently male is generally a good indicator of more serious gender disparities. (For reference, see the NCAA basketball tournament.)

Even in its press release about the new dates and host for the Women’s U18 World Championship, the IIHF also attempted to rewrite a bit of history.

“While one year was lost in the U18 Worlds both for female and male players due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2022 edition will mark the comeback,” the release read.

While the 2020 (Men’s) U18 World Championship was technically cancelled – a decision made just as the pandemic was beginning – the juxtaposition of the two situations is disingenuous at best, especially given the hoops that were jumped through to make the 2021 (Men’s) U18 World Championship happen.

After cancelling the 2021 Women’s U18 tournament – a decision made in September 2020 – then IIHF President Rene Fasel explained the situation in an IIHF Q&A: “The IIHF Council acknowledged that we could not put the parents of under-18 players in the difficult position of signing off permission for their daughters to compete in a tournament overseas. This concern was also voiced to us by some of the participating teams already… This will be an issue also for the men’s under-18 tournaments in the spring, the only difference being that we are still quite a few months away and we can afford to continue to monitor the status of the tournament and hope for improvement.”

Come the spring, not only did the men’s U18 tournament go on, but it was moved from Michigan to Texas, where COVID-19 guidelines were less strict.

There’s also the fact that – because there are two men’s youth tournaments (U18 and U20) – male players get two chances to compete at the junior level, while female players just have one.

“Obviously, it’s an important tournament,” Decker said. “It will be the first time that a lot of these girls put on that USA uniform, and I think they’re going to do a great job representing USA Hockey, but also our country… It’s a way for them to develop. You start those rivalries against Canada and other countries when you’re 16, 17 years old, and it carries you through onto the national team.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC