Quartet of BK Selects Girls Shine at IIHF U18 World Championships

by Matt Gajtka

Spearheaded by Laila Edwards’ MVP performance for Team USA, the BK Selects girls were extremely well represented at this year’s IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships in Madison, Wisconsin.

Edwards, a Cleveland native who will attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall, led all USA players with four goals and tied for the team lead with eight points, en route to receiving both MVP and Best Forward honors.

Along with Bishop Kearney friends Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) and Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa.), Edwards helped the Americans to a silver-medal finish at the annual tourney, won by Canada in a tight final.

“I had that success because I was also playing with some of the world’s best players, under some of the world’s best coaches and having a lot of fun while doing so,” Edwards said.

Add in the sterling performance of Czech goaltender Michaela Hesova (Hovorcovice, Czechia), who had the second-best save percentage in the tournament, BK Selects-trained players put on quite a show on an international stage.

“What a tremendous accomplishment,” BK Selects VP of hockey Paul Colontino said. “Watching BK players representing their countries at the highest level on that stage evoked numerous emotions. What an honor to say that these athletes are BK Selects.

“I can safely say that everyone at BK was proud, excited, and trying to find any way they could to support and cheer them on. From teachers to administrators to coaches, we are all so very proud of their accomplishments.”

With Edwards, McCarthy and McNaughton all competing internationally for the first time, Team USA went 3-0 in the preliminary round, capped by a remarkable 7-0 defeat of Canada. Edwards notched a goal and a primary assist in what tied for the biggest blowout of the entire event.

The Americans then dispatched Sweden in the semifinal round, 3-2, with Edwards assisting on the winning goal.

Edwards, who earned plenty of media attention for her performance in her future home rink, said she was “extremely excited and honored” to get the call from USA Hockey.

“It had been a goal of mine for a while,” she said of the selection.

Although the United States lost to Canada in the final, 3-2, McCarthy scored a second-period goal to help the Americans rally from three goals down. The Class of 2024 forward ended up with two goals and two assists in five games, tying for sixth on the team in scoring.

“Playing at BK for the past three years has more than prepared me to play and compete at that level,” McCarthy said. “I was definitely challenged and my time and space with the puck felt shorter, but I never felt uncomfortable.

“It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Unlike any other hockey trip or tournament I’ve been to. I am so honored to have been a part of it.”

Hesova, another BK Class of ’24 representative, was also decked out in red, white and blue, albeit for the proud hockey nation of Czechia. With Hesova starting all five games, the Czechs swept the three-game preliminary round, outscoring opponents 12-2.

While the Czechs’ run ended with a 2-1 semifinal loss to Sweden, Hesova acquitted herself admirably throughout, posting a .944 save percentage, a 1.05 goals-against average and two shutouts.

“The whole championship was an incredible experience,” Hesova said. “It was fun to play against some other international teams, see how is our team doing compared to them, and now we know what we can improve on.”

“All of the small things that I or we did throughout the season added up and luckily came together at the right time.”

Hesova added that she was “super proud” of her BK teammates on Team USA, who came within a couple of goals of claiming gold. Czechia and Team USA did not face each other in the tournament.

Edwards will soon begin her Badger career, but McCarthy, Hesova and McNaughton will be back on the Bishop Kearney campus in several weeks, ready to build upon their time spent amongst the world’s best — and perhaps realizing they stack up as well as any young women on the planet.

“I gained so many lifetime friendships from the experience,” McCarthy said. “Through this tournament and the weeks leading up to it, I grew as a hockey player and a person.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.