Returning from the world stage: PA’s Zablocki reflects on Women’s U18 World Championship experience

Andrea Cardin/IIHF Canada's Stryker Zablocki (#28) celebrates her third period goal against Czechia during semifinal round action at the 2024 IIHF U18 Women's World Championship at Arena Zug in Zug, Switzerland

It wasn’t the gold medal that Team Canada was hoping for when they started the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship in Zug, Switzerland.

Prince Albert’s Stryker Zablocki made her first appearance on the international stage with Canada. She had previously played in exhibition contests against the USA as part of the Women’s U18 Summer Selection camp last August.

Zablocki says she was humbled to have the opportunity to represent her country on the international stage.

“It was super special. We had a great group and we were super tight knit and it made the experience really fun. It’s truly an honor wearing the Maple Leaf at a world tournament for the first time. It’s super special and I really enjoyed it and it was just an unbelievable experience.”

The Canadians finished the tournament with a bronze medal, posting a 5-1 record at the tournament with their only blemish being a 4-2 semi-final loss to the Czech Republic. Playing in all six games, Zablocki recorded two goals and five assists for Canada while having a +8 rating for the tournament.

Despite Canada coming up short of their third consecutive gold medal at the tournament, Zablocki says bringing home bronze still had special meaning to both herself and her teammates.

“It obviously wasn’t the outcome we were looking for, but we were able to get a medal, and that was super special to us, and it’s not every day you can get a medal at a world stage, and we did that, so we were super proud of our team.”

Zablocki, who celebrated her 17th birthday last week, has been a standout player for the Regina Rebels in the Saskatchewan Female U18 AAA Hockey League (SFU18AAAHL). In 20 games this season, Zablocki has posted 27 goals and 19 assists averaging over two points per game.

She leads the league in short-handed goals with eight, five better then teammate Katelyn Marshall who sits in second place. Zablocki has registered five goals in a game on two occasions this season.

Last season, Zablocki took home the Dana Antal award as the league’s top rookie posting 25 goals and 15 assists in 30 games for the Rebels who finished with a league title and a bronze medal at the 2023 Esso Cup in Prince Albert.

Regina head coach Mike Merk says the work ethic Zablocki possesses is a huge reason for her success.

“Her commitment to everything. I think it’s her off ice, everything. You guys here know that she got a gold (medal) in track and field as well. I think just for her, it’s just her compete level and her commitment to just being the best at everything she does.”

In terms of individual attributes that Zablocki has improved on from last year, Merk says playing at the international level with Hockey Canada has helped Zablocki be a more physical player.

“I think just her strength and her speed (has improved).  She came back, her speed is just another step faster than last year, as well as just that physical play that she actually can fight off a lot of checks this year. She played like a grade 11, that’s what I’d expect from her, but just with her training habits and stuff, she’s just excelled that much more.”

The 2025 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship is scheduled from Jan. 5-12, 2025 in Vantaa, Finland. Zablocki says she already has her sights set on making another appearance with Canada on the world stage.

“My goal would be to make the team again next year, and worlds are in Finland, so hopefully I can get there.”

Merk says Zablocki possesses all the talent to make team Canada again next year.

“I think she just needs to continue to work hard. I think she already took a first step here in getting on the U18s. Her next step is to go back again next year and then hopefully she’s moving up to the bigger team and I could see her in the long-term playing in the professional league (PWHL) in about five (or) six years or whatever it would be. She’s just a phenomenal player and you can’t deny that speed, that shot and her ability to put the puck in the net.”