West Kelowna’s Sarah Paul was still in shock a week later after coming just short of the gold medal at the 2020 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships.
The 16-year-old forward who trains with Pursuit of Excellence in Kelowna scored the lone goal for Team Canada in a tight battled 2-1 lost in the tournament final to the U.S.
“It was a memory of a lifetime,” said Paul.
“Something that was pretty special for all of us and everyone that was there. It was a great feeling trying the game up for sure and a very special moment for me.”
Canada was undefeated through the preliminary rounds of the world championships tournament in Slovakia, which included beating the U.S. 2-1 in the group stage.
“Obviously its tough for us to leave without the gold, but there’s a lot of really good things happening with this group,” said Canada head coach Howie Draper in an interview broadcast on HockeyCanada.ca.
At last year’s 2019 tournament, it was Canada that was victorious over their U.S. rival.
Paul said that the two teams were equally talented, but Canada couldn’t find the finishing touch this year.
“We played a solid game and it wasn’t anything that we did or make mistakes, it was a tight game that could have gone either way. It just didn’t go our way this year.”
It was Paul’s first time with Team Canada at the championships.
Luckily, she had fellow Pursuit of Excellence student and Okanagan neighbour Anne Cherkowski as a teammate, something Paul was grateful for as they competed on the world stage.
Coldstream’s Cherkowski was part of Canada’s gold medal-winning team last year.
“It was super cool playing with Anne,” Paul said. “We’ve played against each other in peewee hockey and its been great playing both with and against her. She’s a great player.”
Paul’s small town Okanagan roots were never lost on her throughout Canada’s championship run, as she tried to not let the hype and pressure of the tournament overwhelm her on or off the ice.
“Sometimes I (didn’t) really realize the magnitude of the competition,” said Paul.
“After games I’d think, ‘Wow, I just played for Team Canada,’ but in the moment, it just another hockey game with your teammates that you’re trying to win.”
Paul thanks her Okanagan upbringing for her development as a player, noting that it means a lot to her being surrounded by great coaches and teammates without having to move away to a bigger hockey market.
Paul has been recruited to play for Princeton University starting in the fall of 2021.
Close to a month after the silver medal win, Paul fondly remembers the experience, but the work is never done for the 16-year-old who’ll look to avenge the loss at next year’s IIHF championships.
“It was special being my first time, and I’m going to keep pushing, keep improving and take it into next year.”
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