The 2019 Under-18 Women’s World Championship was a whole new experience for Minnesota Duluth women’s coach Maura Crowell.

It was her first time as head coach of the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team after being an assistant coach in 2016 and associate head coach in 2018. It was also the first time she’d ever not won gold with Team USA.

The Americans had to settle for silver after an overtime loss to Canada last year, and it was a moment that stuck with Crowell right up until last week when she and Team USA got redemption in the form of a 2-1 overtime victory over Canada in the 2020 final of the U-18 Women’s World Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Crowell said she felt “a lot of relief, to be honest,” when the U.S. goal light went on with 3:08 remaining in overtime following the game-winning goal by Kiara Zanon, who buried a backhand pass from Minnetonka’s Maggie Nicholson on a 2-on-0 breakaway during 3-on-3 play.

She was relieved that as coach she pulled all the right strings, made all the right decisions and would get to hear “The Star Spangled Banner” instead of “O Canada” again.

“That was the first one I've been a part of and lost. So that was a unique experience. I didn't even know how to line up, how that even went,” Crowell said this week on the News Tribune’s Bulldog Insider Podcast while looking back on 2019. “But I will remember forever the Canadians screaming their national anthem behind us because they were behind us on the blue line, and it was just booming through our ears. So that's been sitting with me for a year. I was happy to be able to sing this one this year.”

The U.S. went 4-1 in the tournament, dropping the one game to Canada in the preliminary round. Despite that result, Crowell said she was more nervous for the 3-0 semifinal win against Russia — who the U.S. beat in the prelims 1-0 — than the rematch with Canada for gold.

“I just felt good about our team going into the final and even into overtime,” she said.

The U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team celebrates its 2-1 overtime victory over Canada on Thursday at the 2020 Under-18 Women's World Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo courtesy of Nick Bryant
The U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team celebrates its 2-1 overtime victory over Canada on Thursday at the 2020 Under-18 Women's World Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo courtesy of Nick Bryant

Crowell was joined on staff by her director of operations at UMD, Nick Bryant, who was Team USA’s equipment manager. Three future Bulldogs suited up for the Americans — 2020-21 recruits Clara Van Wieren and Kathryn Davis and 2021-22 recruit Brenna Fuhrman.

The team arrived in Vienna, Austria on Dec. 19 and bused to a horse ranch in Pezinok, Slovakia, for a week-long, pre-tournament camp before heading to the tournament in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. They returned last Friday.

Unlike Crowell, this was Bryant’s first experience at a major tournament with USA Hockey. He joined the Bulldogs staff in 2017 and has watched the last two tournaments online. To be there in person this time around really was something special, he said.

“To not only see those girls win it in overtime against Canada, of all teams, but to be with them on the ice, celebrating that special moment was unbelievable,” Bryant said on the Bulldog Insider Podcast this week. “What got it for me, honestly, was when we all lined up there on the blue line and there goes our flag and we're singing the National Anthem. It's a moment that I'll have forever and one that I'll definitely be telling my kids about one day.”

Director of Hockey Operations Nick Bryant for Minnesota Duluth looks at the scoreboard against Minnesota State Mankato during Saturday's Minnesota Cup semifinal game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.  (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)
Director of Hockey Operations Nick Bryant for Minnesota Duluth looks at the scoreboard against Minnesota State Mankato during Saturday's Minnesota Cup semifinal game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)

Disappointing end for Sandelin

While Crowell and Bryant were in Bratislava over the holidays, UMD men’s hockey coach Scott Sandelin and equipment manager Chris Garner were 181 miles away with the U.S. National Junior Team at the 2020 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.

One of the more memorable moments for Sandelin, the head coach of Team USA, was the New Years Eve fireworks that were shot off in Ostrava.

“Woke me right up,” Sandelin said. “It was awesome, though. It was great.”

Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin speaks to members of the media last month during NCHC Media Day at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin speaks to members of the media last month during NCHC Media Day at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Unfortunately for Sandelin and Team USA, those fireworks didn’t repeat themselves a day-plus later in the quarterfinals against Finland. After averaging four-plus goals per game in the preliminary round, the U.S. was shutout 1-0 by Finland for a quick exit from the tournament.

The U.S. finished with a 3-2 record in the tournament and failed to medal for the first time since 2015 in Montreal and Toronto.

Sandelin said it was a good experience coaching the U.S. under-20 squad again, but very disappointing at the end.

“When you get down to one-game shots, that’s what can happen,” said Sandelin, the Hibbing native, who was an assistant coach last year on the U.S. team that took silver after losing to Finland in the final in Vancouver. “I didn’t think we played our best game. Unfortunately, we came home early.”

This was Sandelin’s fourth time coaching at the World Juniors, having also been an assistant in 2012 in Calgary and Edmonton and head coach in 2005 in Grand Forks.

He said Finland played to their identity and goaltender Justus Annunen, a 2018 third-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, was good. The U.S. also failed to generate enough offense inside the faceoff dots and failed to create enough second-chance scoring opportunities, as well.

“It’s a tough tournament. We had some really talented young players who learned some things,” Sandelin said. “It was a quick end to the tournament. It’s disappointing for everybody.”