Ritchie, Canada return home with gold at 2024 IIHF U18 World Championships

Photo courtesy of the IIHF Ryder Ritchie leads the fly-by after scoring a second period goal in the gold medal game of the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championships at Metro Arena in Espoo, Finland

It was a golden moment for Canada at the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championships in Finland.

A 6-4 win over Team USA in the gold medal game sent Canada home with the top prize.

Prince Albert Raiders forward Ryder Ritchie was one of the key contributors as he recorded a goal and an assist in the gold medal game and finished the tournament with eight points overall.

“That was such an unreal experience.” Ritchie recalled. “You had such a great team, such a good close group of guys so it made the experience so much more fun. Just getting to represent my country is an honor. It’s my third time now and I’m proud to do it still. It’s awesome. Winning was a dream come true and something I will remember forever. “

Alongside Ritchie, Canada featured several other standout players from across the WHL including Tij Iginla (Kelowna Rockets), Gavin McKenna (Medicine Hat Tigers), Harrison Brunicke (Kamloops Blazers), Ollie Josephson (Red Deer Rebels) and Charlie Elick (Brandon Wheat Kings).

Ritchie says getting the opportunity to play with skilled players from across the country was something he really enjoyed.

“It’s a lot of fun, when you’re playing with good players, it makes everything a lot more fun and a lot more easy. I enjoyed it. We had so much skill and so much talent on that team that it made games a lot easier.”

One major adjustment facing Canada was the adjustment to the bigger ice size that is used in international competition. In games played in the CHL, teams will play on ice measuring 85 feet wide by 200 feet long. In international competition, the standard playing surface is 100 feet wide by 200 feet long.

Ritchie is no stranger to playing on the international ice surface as he first learned the sport on the bigger sized rink. As a child, Ritchie grew up in Switzerland, Sweden and Belarus while his father Byron played professionally in the three countries.

Ritchie says going back to the international sized ice is something he is very comfortable with doing.

“It’s not that big of an adjustment I found. Growing up in Europe and growing up playing on all those rinks for sure helped me. I didn’t have a hard time adjusting at all. I don’t think our team did either, it’s obviously different, there’s a lot more room so you have a lot more time on the ice. Which is a nice adjustment to have if anything.”

The gold medal game would come down to the best two teams in the tournament. Canada and the USA would go 4-0 in preliminary play before advancing to the final.

The Americans would strike first as Christian Humphreys would open the scoring at the 19:08 mark of the first period.

Canada would respond at the 5:31 mark of the second period as Ryder Ritchie would find the back of the net. Matthew Scahefer and Henry Mews assisted on the play.

The U.S. would take a two goal lead as Cole Eiserman and Cole Hutson would each add a tally.

Canada would only trail by one after forty minutes as Medicine Hat Tigers standout Gavin McKenna would strike on the power play at the 15:40 mark.

Canada would complete the comeback trail in the third period outscoring the U.S. 4-1 in the final twenty minutes.

Ritchie says it was extra special to have the comeback victory come against one of Canada’s biggest international rivals.

“That was their best team too. We played their second team at Hlinka (Gretzky). Getting to play their big US National Development Team in the gold medal game, you couldn’t write a better script to be honest. Just kind of the way the game went, it was pretty crazy. Just to beat the US felt so good. It’s something you dream of, playing against the states in a gold medal game like that and getting to throw your gloves off after winning is just a dream come true.”

Ritchie will attend the 2024 NHL Scouting Combine from June 2-8 and is expected to be a high draft pick at the 2024 NHL Entry Draft in Las Vegas on June 28.