Team USA Wins Women’s Under-18 Gold at HARBORcenter


The construction of HARBORcenter has already made a great impact on the area surrounding Canalside in downtown Buffalo. The building itself opened several months ago and has hosted multiple tournaments, Buffalo Jr. Sabres games, Canisius College games, as well as other open skates and hockey practices for teams around the region.

This past week, HARBORcenter hosted its first big event, putting the new building on the international stage as the 2015 IIHF U-18 Women’s World Championships came to Buffalo.

Eight teams from around the world converged on Buffalo for the tournament, which began Jan. 5 and wrapped up Jan. 12 at HARBORcenter. Games were played on both rinks in the new building, which is part of the only three-rink complex in the National Hockey League. (Thanks to the pedestrian bridge that connects HARBORcenter to First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres.)

Now, there may be some readers out there who are asking: “Who cares about women’s hockey?” or “Why would I want to see some teenage girls play hockey?”

The fact is: these girls are the best of the best. Teams came from Japan, Switzerland, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Canada and the United States for this tournament.

Photo: Melissa Kania

These were some of the top U-18 women hockey players from around the globe, all converging on Buffalo for a week. The women’s hockey argument is one best saved for another time, and anyone claiming that “girls can’t play hockey” can simply stop reading here.

It was an intense, hard-fought tournament. Both of the match-ups between the United States and Canada sold out, including the gold medal game. Overall, this year’s tournament was the second-best attended in the history of the U-18 Women’s World Championships; over 13,000 people were in attendance for the games at HARBORcenter over the week-long span.

Among those in attendance: Buffalo Sabres forwards Cody Hodgson and Zemgus Girgensons, former Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres head coach Ron Rolston (who has USA Hockey connections), and current Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan.

Overall, the United States had a spectacular tournament, capped off with captain Jincy Dunne’s gold-medal overtime-winning goal.

Dunne, a defenseman, had six goals and two assists in five games in the tournament, but it was actually Rebecca Gilmore who lead Team USA with nine points (2-7). Melissa Samoskevich also had eight points on the tournament (6-2), including a hat trick in a 7-1 victory over Russia.

Dunne was named best defenseman of the tournament, while Canada’s Sarah Potomak was named best forward. Russia’s Valeria Tarakanova was named best goaltender. Dunne was also named one of the three best players of the team and was named a media all-star. Potomak led Canada with nine points (5-4) in five games, while Elizabeth Giguere had seven points (3-4). Potomak was named one of the top three players for Canada, was named a media all-star and was overall named the most valuable player of the tournament.

It should come as no surprise if at least a handful of these players get the chance to represent their countries at the next Olympics.

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  • To speak for just a minute here on my personal experience in the tournament — I wasn’t able to attend all of the games, as many were matinee performances held when I had to be at work. But I did attend nearly every evening games, as well as the weekend games. Most of the games I attended were on Rink 1 at HARBORcenter, which is the larger of the two rinks. I did manage to watch some of the Finland vs. Sweden game at Rink 2 one evening, but that was the extent of my experience on that rink.

    This was my first real experience watching any sort of women’s hockey, just to give that disclaimer.

    The greatest atmospheres of the tournament came in the games between the United States and Canada. Of course, this is no surprise. A sizeable contingent of Canadians fans showed up to support their team – including some attendees who were very clearly family of the players on the ice. But there were also many USA fans, including a lot of Buffalonians decked out in flag-themed memorabilia or apparel from the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships that were held across the street from HARBORcenter. There was even a fan in a Rochester Americans jersey complete with Captain America mask at nearly every game I attended.

    The showing of support was outstanding, the atmosphere was electric, and just like any other time the United States and Canada are pitted against each other in hockey — fans were relentless in their national pride.

    Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the tournament was seeing members of the other teams at games.

    Japan and Switzerland faced each other in the relegation round; the Swiss won out in the end, which means Japan gets relegated to D-1 for next year’s tournament, and France steps up to participate in the 2016 IIHF U-18 Women’s World Championships.

    Despite this, both the Swiss and Japan teams were sitting together for the gold medal game, starting chants and singing together. That showing of sportsmanship and international camaraderie is exactly what a tournament like this is about.

    (Photo: Melissa Kania)

    This tournament only furthered the attention that HARBORcenter is getting. It helped promote the Canalside district in Buffalo, and is also just a spectacular event for women’s hockey overall. A Winterfest at Canalside was held in conjunction with the event. Fans visited (716) Food and Sport and were able to visit the new Ice at Canalside, too. It brought people into Buffalo from around the WORLD, both physically (for fans and players attending the games) and virtually (as the games were all broadcast online via FASTHockey.)

    Buffalo was graced with the opportunity to host such an event — and history was literally made.

    When the United States won the gold medal over Canada on January 12, it was a night for the record books. That win marked the first time in the tournament’s history that a team won the gold medal on home ice. The tournament had been held in the United States once before – in Chicago – and Canada won gold that time.

    This also marked the United States’ first gold medal in the tournament since 2011.

    Overall – this was a spectacular event. Props to all who were involved in setting up the tournament at HARBORcenter, including the folks at USA Hockey, the International Ice Hockey Federation, staff, volunteers, officials, players and fans.

    This event just further proved that the city of Buffalo is more than capable of hosting such a big event and proved it even more deserving of the title “Hockey Heaven.”