While the American's 9-2 win over the Canadians evoked plenty of cheers, it was a local girl who got the night started off right for the U.S. During the pregame opening ceremonies, each of the eight participating countries was represented by a Vermont youth hockey player carrying their flag. While the flags from Slovakia, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Germany and Canada all got nice ovations when they were welcomed to the tournament, the largest cheer was left for 11-year-old Ava Marshall, who skated the U.S. flag out onto the ice.
As Marshall, a Manchester resident and a member of the Northshire Hockey Association (NHA), did her lap around the ice, the crowd all stood on its feet and cheered the flag, and the player holding it.
"It was like, 'oh my god, is this really happening?,'" said Marshall of the feeling when she stepped on the ice. "I couldn't hear myself think, it was really loud."
Marshall earned the honor of representing her country in a very roundabout way, said her mother Julie Ring. Ring had a sent an e-mail to a USA Hockey organizer wondering if Marshall could participate in a hockey party, but the party was filled up. Two days later, the women e-mailed Ring saying that there was an opportunity for Ava.
The woman offered the 11-year-old a spot in Saturday's pre-game ceremonies and a chance to represent Manchester and the NHA.
"It was just random, it was kismet," said Ring about the opportunity for her daughter. "It was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, getting the golden ticket."
Ava and her mom found out that she would carrying the American flag the day before the game and Ring tried to keep her excitement in check, not wanting to make Ava nervous.
"I didn't really get it," said Marshall. "I was excited though."
"When I found out she got the American flag, I had to keep it in control for her but I was completely beside myself because I knew what it meant," said Ring. "I didn't want to freak her out."
The day of the game, Ava and her mom arrived at Gutterson Fieldhouse at 6 p.m., an hour and a half before puck drop. The ten youth female youth players gathered under the bleachers and received their instructions before the game.
"It was really cool, going under the bleachers where all the teams come out," said Marshall. "The girl made us go in the order we were supposed to be in. She showed us where we had to be on the ice."
Things even got a little dramatic, with Ring having to make multiple phone calls to track down a NHA jersey.
"It was special [getting to represent Northshire]," said Ava about wearing the Northshire jersey during the ceremony.
"I think it became better when they got to wear their own jerseys," said Ring. "It brought it down to the youth level."
After all the instructions, the girls lined up and got ready for the pre-game ceremony and their international hockey debut.
"I couldn't even believe it was happening," said Marshall. "It felt like a dream or something."
"I had already cried when I got the e-mail," said Ring of watching Ava on the ice. "I felt honored for her, I felt really excited. It was just very emotional to see her out there. I was really proud."
After the pre-game ceremony, Ava and her family got to stay and watch the game and the best female hockey players in the world. Marshall, who just finished her first year of ice hockey, said she picked up some tips watching the players on the ice.
"99.9 percent of the time they always got the puck from them," said Marshall. "I know the goalie was really good. You definitely to have to have reach."
After the game, Ava was able to get some autographs and talk to U.S. captain Julie Chu.
"I got to talk to her for like a minute," said Marshall. "It was really cool. She was one of my favorites."
Watching the best players in the sport has Ava wanting to continue to play ice hockey and working to get better.
"It really is a great sport and she fell in love with it," said Ring. "She told me this season, 'I'm a hockey player,'"
Who knows, maybe one day Ava will again represent the U.S. on the ice.