2024 IIHF Women's U18 Worlds: Quarterfinals Preview
- 7 min read

2024 IIHF Women's U18 Worlds: Quarterfinals Preview

2024 IIHF Women's U18 Worlds: Quarterfinals Preview by Zoë Hayden

Group play has concluded and the quarterfinals are set in Zug, Switzerland. The new tournament format being used this year has every team playing in a quarterfinal matchup – previously, the two round-robin groups were tiered, and the top 2 teams in Group A got a bye to the semifinals. Now, the groups each consist of both higher-ranked and lower-ranked teams, and everyone needs to play a game to advance.

The Bracket

Matchups for the quarterfinals are as follows, with the number referring to the team's final group play ranking and the letter referring to which group they are from.

  • 1A vs. 4B - Canada vs. Switzerland
  • 1B vs. 4A - USA vs. Germany
  • 2A vs. 3B - Finland vs. Slovakia
  • 2B vs. 3A - Sweden vs. Czechia

Sweden vs. Czechia - 4:00 AM Eastern (TSN4)

These two teams last met at U18s in 2022, with Sweden edging Czechia 2-1 in the quarterfinals. Two players who scored in that game – Jenna Raunio for Sweden and Tereza Plosová for Czechia – return in this game. Both sides have to be feeling pretty good about their offense coming into these quarterfinals, as they've each got at least one dominant performance under their belts. Czechia was upset by Finland in the opening game of the tournament, and lost 8-1 to Canada, but bounced back with a 6-1 win over Germany. Sweden opened their tournament against hosts Switzerland, dominating 6-1, and played a closely-contested matchup with Slovakia before pulling away in the third period to capture the 6-3 win. They then faced Team USA and lost 4-0.

The point is: both of these teams are coming into this game with the mindset that they can win and advance, and it should be a close contest. Sweden may have the edge in goaltending and in their special teams execution, though, which could be a difference-maker. Maja Helge has been solid if not spectacular, and has looked more poised between the pipes than her counterpart Aneta Šenková. Sweden also has the best power play in the tournament, having converted on 4 of 11 chances, and Czechia has the worst penalty kill, allowing goals on 5 of 12 opportunities.

Sweden's Hilda Svensson is picking up right where she left off in last year's tournaments (both U18 and senior) with 4 goals and 3 assists; Mira Hallin has 3 goals and 3 assists of her own. Ebba Hedqvist has quietly amassed 6 assists herself to add to her 1 goal. While the gap between these two offenses doesn't look so wide on paper, Sweden has gotten more production from different skaters and has had some more puck luck. Czechia has heavily relied on Adéla Šapovalivová. But several Czech players – Plosová among them – have generated many quality scoring chances without actually burying the puck. The margins are really, really thin between these two teams overall, and while my instinct is to say that Sweden pulls ahead at some point and shuts down Czechia's offense, I wouldn't count them out, either. It should be a thrilling matchup between two teams who are very close at this level.

Finland vs. Slovakia - 7:30 AM Eastern (TSN4)

Slovakia has come into this tournament looking like a team that has grown and changed since last year, and in a good way. Goaltender Livia Debnarova has played very well for them, facing the most shots of any goaltender so far this tournament, and maintaining an 0.918 save percentage. While the team around her hasn't scored at an incredible clip, they've played with a ton of confidence and hung around in extremely close games against higher-ranked teams. They've been tough and physical along the boards and have supported the puck extremely well. Their OT victory against Switzerland that locked in this matchup for them was the product of their speed in transition, and phenom Nela Lopušanová led the way, setting up Hana Krákorová perfectly for the OT winner. Despite 7-1 and 6-3 losses to the United States and Sweden, both of those games were closer than the final score line suggests, and Slovakia seems poised for greater things in the near future.

Finland started their tournament strong with 3-2 and 6-0 victories over Czechia and Germany, respectively, before falling 10-0 to Canada. Emma Ekoluoma's 6 goals (scored by pulling off hat tricks in two consecutive games) puts her behind only Caitlin Kraemer headed into the quarterfinals. Four of those goals came on the power play. The key for Finland will be defense, special teams, and goal support for Kerttu Kuja-Halkola, who has been a bit shaky at times in terms of reacting to medium-distance shots from strong shooters.

I feel like Slovakia has a huge chance of winning here, especially considering the level of goaltending they've been getting from Debnarova and the way I anticipate their offense can work against Kuja-Halkola. But Finland does have a top line that is really clicking, and if Ekoluoma and Abigail Byskata get on a roll, that would be a big difference-maker – especially if Slovakia finds themselves in the box. Slovakia will want to keep this game 5-on-5 and just put pucks on net and force Kuja-Halkola to make saves. Finland will want to draw penalties, play physical, and create chaos for Debnarova.

It sucks so badly that both of the closer matchups will be so early for North American viewers, but I wouldn't want to miss either of them.

Canada vs. Switzerland - 11:00 AM Eastern (TSN4)

In the final round robin game versus Slovakia and Switzerland, the motivation to win was huge, since the loser would have to play Team Canada – one of the most dominant squads to ever play a U18 women's tournament, buoyed by both all-around talent and generational performances. Defender Chloe Primerano and forward Caitlin Kraemer are having historic offensive runs in the tournament, and the team has also gotten strong goaltending along the way from Hannah Clark and Rhyah Stewart.

Sienna D'Alessandro and Morgan Jackson also have 5 goals and 4 goals in the tournament so far, respectively, which you may not have even heard about thanks to the hype around Primerano and Kraemer. The team is getting contributions from all around the lineup. Abby Stonehouse is creating offense on penalty kills. This is a fun team to watch, with tons of detailed skill work on display every time they take the ice.

Canada's accomplishments are highlighted by how much the gap continues to close at the U18 level. They've had to battle, withstand offensive pressure, shake off mistakes, and play real defense. The goal of any team meeting them in the quarterfinals is to make them work hard for every inch.

Switzerland has the unlucky hand in drawing this matchup, though. They're coming off of an OT heartbreaker loss against Slovakia on their home ice. Still, they have a lot to be proud of in terms of how they have played as a team and kept up with the physicality and pace of the tournament. Several players have left a strong impression in the group stage. Sonja Inkamp has shown great vision from the blueline and a leadership ability beyond her years. Ivana Wey has shown strong puck handling capability under pressure. The seeds are being sown in this tournament for future of Swiss ice hockey, and the future could be very bright – but probably not up against this Canadian squad, at least not on the scoresheet.

The game plan for Switzerland? Limit Canadian opportunities and try to capitalize on any mistakes they can force. Run a simple, responsible power play when given the chance. Block shots. Have fun. It's not on its face a fun game to play, but it's still a game they can learn a lot from and build confidence from as long as they have realistic expectations.

USA vs. Germany - 2:30 PM Eastern (TSN4, NHL Network)

Team USA has been having a hell of a tournament in their own right, despite most of the hype being around Canada. They've won 7-1, 8-1, and 4-0. Goaltender Layla Hemp has played all of their minutes in net and has made 51 saves on 53 shots in 3 games, good for an 0.962 save percentage. After a lackluster start to their game against Slovakia, the Americans bounced back and have shown themselves to be a dominant squad who are also getting offense from all around the depth chart. Captain Maggie Scannell leads the way with six points (2G, 4A), but four other forwards have 5 points in 3 games (Josie St. Martin, Mary Derrenbacher, Ava Thomas, Morgan McGathey). Defender Ellie DiMatos has 4 assists. Only two players in the lineup have been held without a point, and their minutes have been significantly limited.

On the German side, Hannah Loist has been one of the busiest goaltenders in the tournament. Her 0.857 save percentage is more an indication of Germany's defense than her own capability; she's impressed with her glove hand and has shown a lot of confidence in managing her often-busy crease. Loist can expect to be under assault again, but should also have a chance to show off some of her quickness and movement to frustrate American shooters. German defender Hanna Hoppe has the team's only goal of the tournament so far and the blueliners will be the key to any offense Germany gets going against Team USA – point shots, deflections, screens, and traffic will be the most effective path for them as a team that has had trouble generating shots on goal, mustering only 20 in 3 games.

Similar to Switzerland against Canada, Germany can go out for this quarterfinal with the goal of learning from the experience and making the Americans work hard against them. It should be educational for a young team that will likely have many returning players next year, whether in the top division or in Division IA.

If tomorrow's slate of games goes the way they are expected to go, Switzerland and Germany will find themselves in a placement game to determine who stays in the top division and who is relegated to Division IA in 2025. Both teams are already likely thinking ahead to this matchup as they stare down Team USA and Team Canada. But they have to get through their quarterfinals first, and will be wanting to conserve energy and ensure a healthy complement of players heading into this much more consequential matchup. Switzerland would seem to have the edge – they've found more offense, have kept pace with higher-ranked teams, and will be in front of a home crowd. But nothing can be taken for granted in this division, and it's not out of the question for Germany to think they can play spoiler and make Switzerland work hard to keep their spot.

The Division IA tournament is currently underway in Egna (Neumarkt), Italy, and the final game on January 12, between Italy and Japan, will determine who advances to the top division in 2025. Italy has never been to the top division at U18s; Japan would return after being relegated in 2023.

(Photo: Nicole Haase)