Ste. Anne goaltender backstops Canada to gold at U18 world championships
'Canada's back on top. We did it'
Every year, regardless of age group, Canada is expected to win when it comes to international hockey, and Ste. Anne's Raygan Kirk is living up to those lofty expectations.
The 17-year-old star goaltender led the Canadian women's U18 team to the top spot on the podium, following a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over their rivals from the United States.
The Ste. Anne's product says she's not entirely used to having the gold dangling from her neck.
"It's definitely a little heavy, that's for sure, but it's great," said Kirk, from the small town 45 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.
"It's one of the biggest accomplishments of my life."
With the win, Canada captured its first gold medal at the IIHF tournament since 2014.
"Canada's back on top. We did it," Kirk said. "It's something I'll never forget."
The game, a back-and-forth nailbiter between the top two women's programs in the world, came down to Kirk pretty much standing on her head. She stopped 25 of 27 shots that came her way and was named most valuable player of the tournament.
"It's pretty surreal. It's sinking in now. I'm back home now, but it was a really great experience," said Kirk.
"Obviously, winning the game and the medal is more important to me [than the MVP]."
The road leading to the eventual win and then capping it off against the U.S. made the victory that much sweeter.
"To win against them — they're our biggest rivals. They're a really great team to play against."
Kirk became Canada's starter in net during the tournament, playing the final four games with a 2.08 goals-against average and .878 save percentage.
Despite the strong numbers, she says her success is owed to her teammates.
"The girls worked so hard in front of me the whole game. [Durning the finals], the whole game was close — we were up, they came back, it was back and forth. It was a team effort," she said.
She was the lone Manitoban to don the red and white jersey, but the team formed a special bond.
"We clicked so fast in the summer. We met in Vancouver before we went to Japan, we just bonded again," she said.
"They're saying something is in the water, but I think it's just a lot of heart and passion for hockey."
In the immediate future, Kirk will likely be between the pipes for the under-18 team representing Manitoba at the Canada Winter Games.
She'll also return as backstop for the Eastman Selects of the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League.
With the recent accolades on the international stage, she remains steadfast about representing Canada again.
"Hopefully. Continuing with Team Canada and going further with that program, that's a big goal for me," said Kirk.
When asked about the possibility of competing on the biggest stage in women's hockey — for an Olympic gold medal — Kirk said making the team is "the goal."
"A couple more years, let's see [what happens]."
In the fall of 2017, Kirk commited to attending Robert Morris University to play Division I hockey in the NCAA.
The Pittsburgh-based university has been a gateway to success for another former goaltender, Brianne McLaughlin, a two-time Olympic silver medallist.
Kirk will start at the school in the fall of 2019.