Home Womens jersey After a long wait, the ‘relentless’ American team is ready to play

After a long wait, the ‘relentless’ American team is ready to play

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Ahead of the 2022 U18 Women’s Ice Hockey World Championship (June 6-13) in Madison, Wisconsin, On Her Turf caught up with two members of this year’s Team USA: alternate captains Kirsten Simms (Plymouth, Michigan) and Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio).

This week’s tournament will mark the first IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Simms was a member of the 2020 gold medal-winning USA team, while Edwards is making his U18 World Championship debut. Both players have just completed their senior year of high school — and are missing their graduation ceremonies because of the tournament — and will continue their hockey careers as teammates at the University of Wisconsin.

This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.


On Home Territory: What does it mean for you two to be on the USA roster for this year’s U18 Women’s World Championship?

Kirsten Simms: It’s a huge honor to be part of this team, especially with the tournament being held in Madison. I’m super excited to start.

Laila Edwards: Playing in this tournament is a dream that doesn’t seem real yet. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s finally here.

On its territory: Kirsten, you are one of the two players (with Danielle Burgen) of this American team which also participated in the U18 Worlds in 2020. How did you live this experience?

Simms: Being on this team two years ago was obviously a huge honor, especially being so young. It was such a good experience to play with girls older than me and girls I’ve looked up to all my life… It’s a little different now, being one of the older ones, but it’s still cool to know what’s going on and to be able to help other people.

On Her Turf: What advice do you give to teammates who have never played this tournament before?

Simms: (Don’t) let the nerves get to you. Take all of this into account, knowing that you are at a huge event. But at the end of the day, it’s just hockey and there’s nothing to worry about. Just play your game.

On his territory: Laila, you mentioned that playing at the U18 Worlds is a “dream that doesn’t seem real yet”. I’m curious: when did the dream of competing at this level start for you?

Edwards: Let’s see… I came to Selects Academy when I was 13. And that’s when the older girls were trying out for the team (U18). And my sister (chayla) also played; she’s three years older than me, so my dad was talking about her going to these camps… (Once I found out more), I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do that one day,’ and this dream has become bigger every year.

On Her Territory: How about you, Kirsten?

Simms: When I was very little, looking up to Olympic players at the national team level, you said to yourself, “This is what I want to do. It’s every little girl’s dream, I guess. But (it became more of a reality) when I made the jump to women’s hockey. I started looking at the level (U18) and that’s when I understood what it was. Each year (the goal) only grew and grew and grew and it started to become a reality as I attended other camps.

On her turf: You mentioned being inspired by the Olympic and national team players… How did you feel when those same players were some of the loudest after the initial cancellation of that U18 tournament in December? I know a lot of them were talking and saying, ‘Hey, why was this canceled? Is there a way to reprogram it?

Simms: That meant the whole world saw them reposting everything. The amount of backlash the IIHF was getting when it was initially canceled was super cool. Even though these players are older than us, even though they are part of this national team, they want to see us achieve what they managed to do when they were (our) age.

Edwards: I thought it was really cool how they pleaded for us because they could have just been through their days. (The cancellation) didn’t really affect them, necessarily. But as Kirsten said, they wanted us to have the opportunity to continue developing the game. It has to be done one step at a time and I think they’re committed to that.

On its territory: in anticipation of this week’s tournament. You start with group matches against Sweden, Finland and Canada. What are the team’s expectations and objectives ahead of these first three games?

Edwards: We have three words we focus on: proud, relentless and together. So no matter the opponent, we’re just going to do our best to show that we can do these three (things) well.

On his turf: For people watching this week – whether in person at LaBahn Arena or at home on TV – what do you want them to know about your teammates?

Edwards: I think our teammates play with a lot of heart. It takes a lot of courage and should earn the respect of viewers. It’s a big thing.

Simms: I think the love of the game that our team has and how close we are as a group really shows on the ice. And the speed and skill of our team is just on another level.

On Home Territory: I know the team has been in a training camp environment for about a week, but did you know everyone on the team well enough before that or are there any teammates that you just met for the first time?

Simms: We’ve known each other for a while, actually. After last August’s camp, (the roster) was whittled down to almost the group we have now. So even when the tournament was canceled in December, we all stayed connected and just hoped it was going to be rescheduled.

Edwards: We also know each other from traveling and playing against each other. Kirsten’s team actually finished my team’s season this year. So it’s a bit of bad blood there, but we’re trying to get past it.

Sims: (Laughs)

On His Territory: Oh, I want to hear this story. In which lap did this happen?

Edwards: It was literally Game 1 of the playoffs. It was the quarter-finals.

On his territory: what was the final score?

Edwards: It was 3 or 4 to 1, I don’t remember.

Simms: I think it was 3-1, plus an empty net (goal).

On his territory: At least you two will be teammates together next season in Wisconsin. What are you looking forward to most from your transition to college hockey?

Edwards: I’m excited because I think it’s going to force me to find some extra gear to keep up with, I’ll learn new things from my teammates, and maybe even my opponents.

Simms: For me, it’s just kind of a speed transition. It’s going to be a faster game, faster games, faster puck movement… So I’m super excited to play at this next level and play with girls who are three years older than me. You have to step up their game. You don’t get that in youth hockey, where you play with girls (the same age).

On home turf: I know you’re obviously focused on this U18 World Championship and then your college careers afterwards…but there’s also been a lot of momentum in women’s professional hockey recently, especially with the players of the US National Team Kendall Coyne Schofield and Hilary. Knight helping run the PWHPA. Have you been following these developments as they could impact you once you graduate from college and reach this stage of your hockey career?

Edwards: Well, personally, I don’t know too much about the pro league (situation), but I do know that they’ve taken bigger steps lately, like Mikyla Grant-Mentis (signing for an $80,000 salary) and stuff like that. And I think it will continue to grow, which is good for us.

Simms: I’ve been following what the PWHPA is trying to do. I think it would be pretty cool if it could (become) a huge league or whatever because all the national team players are there. So yeah, I really hope they can keep growing so we have a place to play after college.

On His Territory: I think that’s all my questions. Something I should have asked but didn’t?

Edwards: I think it’s super cool to be able to play (U18 Worlds) at LaBahn Arena, where we’ll be playing for the next four years. It’s definitely unique…you wouldn’t think your first game (on this ice) wouldn’t be (for Wisconsin).

Simms: Or in an American jersey.

On His Territory: So, is this your first time skating on LaBahn ice?

Sims: Yeah…

Edwards: No, we did Camp Badger, Kirsten!

Sims: Oh, yeah. True. Sorry!

On Her Territory: I love fact-checking, Laila.

Edwards: But it’s been years, like five or six years.

On his territory: I saw a photo of the new ice on Twitter, with the logo of the tournament. Does it look as good in person as it does on social media?

Edwards: It looks even better, it’s better too. It’s nice ice cream.


Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC