It was noted earlier this week from a USA Hockey release that at least one team of Under-18 players from several different countries would be training with the U.S. U18s in Lake Placid, as part of the IIHF’s High Performance Camp. Today the IIHF announced the full details of this year’s High Performance Camp, which will see one team of international players train with the U.S. U18s and another head to Calgary to train with the Canadian U18s.
While the High Performance Camp has taken place since 2011, this type of training-directly with the North American U18 squads at their own national team camps-has never taken place before. As the IIHF article notes, the IIHF has taken action with several initiatives to improve competitiveness in the women’s game, and decided to focus on development at the U18 level in 2012. In previous years, the High Performance Camps brought in the top players from several nations, including the U.S. and Canada, and split them up evenly into different teams to practice and play against each other.
But now the Canadian and U.S. squads will remain intact and train with these two teams of IIHF all-stars. Hockey Canada general manager Melody Davidson addressed the change in format in the IIHF article:
“Coming out of last year, we realized that the countries had really bought in and they were sending their best players,” says Davidson. “Their best players were as good as any of our players on a small scale. We just had more depth than most of them.
“What we were starting to see was the challenge to the other countries’ players wasn’t quite as high because they were fitting in and, at times, they were challenging our players. So our next step was, how do we continue to grow them and get them to understand there is still another level out there yet? These are five of our best players but there’s still a whole team. So we were looking for a bit of a change.”
This new structure for the High Performance Camp marks a big step forward in the development of women’s hockey internationally. It feels like the game is constantly being criticized because of a lack of parity; the United States and Canada have dominated the world stage. The gap is closing, but other countries lack the same infrastructure, resources, and focus from their own governing bodies to jump up to that same level overnight. Bringing in the IIHF all-star teams to the North American national team camps, and integrating them into their training programs, is undoubtedly huge for those players’ development.
Not only will they be training on the ice with the U.S. and Canadian squads, they’ll also take part in off-ice training, fitness testing, and classroom sessions in order to become better athletes in every aspect. And this is happening at the U18 level, too, which means that the changes we’ll see will be for the long-term and at the foundation of their own national team programs.
Full rosters for the IIHF all-star squads, as well as the Canadian and U.S. U18 camp squads, can also be seen in that IIHF release here.