It’s not often a 14-year-old hockey player bursts into a top-flight international tournament and leads the competition in scoring. In fact, it’s never happened, until now. Meet Slovakia’s Nela Lopusanova, a 14-year-old phenom who competed this week at the women’s U-18 World Championship.
In four games, Lopusanova has notched seven goals and ten points to lead Slovakia into the quarterfinals and will have a chance to add to those totals in Slovakia’s placement game. It wasn’t how many points she scored — although both totals were records — but how she scored her goals.
In the quarterfinal game, Lopusanova lifted fans from their seats, as she hoisted the puck onto her stick while circling the net, scoring in what has become known as the “Michigan,” a lacrosse-style wrap-around play. It was the first time the move had ever been successfully completed at a women’s IIHF event.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 12, 2023
Earlier in the tournament, Lopusanova scored a hat trick against Switzerland, humbly responding to the media following the game. “I’m amazed and happy I could help the team out as much as I did, I can’t explain it in words,” Lopusanova said in a post-game interview translated by teammate Lily Stern.
In other flashes of brilliance, Lopusanova scored on a penalty shot, and a breakaway against Slovakia to open the tournament showcasing her puck skills on both, and went between her legs while driving around a Japanese defender before scoring top shelf; a goal that dazzled onlookers prior to her “Michigan” tally.
Len 14-ročná Nela Lopušanová dala parádny gól na MS18. Od sebavedomej kľučky až po zakončenie - skvelé!
Zdroj: IIHF pic.twitter.com/ma1d7ZYcyc
— Patrik Mitas (@PatoMitas) January 9, 2023
Lopusanova, who plays for MsHKM Zilina in Slovakia’s top women’s league, is dangerous on a number of fronts. First and foremost, she has elite hands and puck skills both in her deceptiveness and while protecting the puck. When she finds the space, Lopusanova has displayed a rapid release with pinpoint accuracy. Her teammates often looked for Lopusanova, but she also generated her own chances off the forecheck, and by taking away time and space on the defensive side of the puck in her own zone.
Her memorable tournament, which saw Slovakia eliminated in the quarterfinals at the hands of Sweden, isn’t a flash in the pan. In Slovakia, playing against adult women, Lopusanova has totalled 40 goals and 71 points in 16 games over the last two seasons. The eye-popping numbers will make her one of the most sought-after NCAA recruits in the coming years.
To put Lopusanova’s scoring at the 2023 women’s U-18 World Championship in perspective, only 28 other players have ever tallied 10 or more points in a single tournament year. Of those players, 20 were 17 years old, six were 16, and one, Tereza Plosova, who scored 10 points in five games last year, was 15. Included in that list are the likes of Marie-Philip Poulin, Amanda Kessel, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Natalie Spooner, Alex Carpenter, and Melodie Daoust. With one game remaining, Lopusanova will look to cement her records as a 14-year-old further.
No 14-year-old on the women’s side has ever scored more than three points in a tournament, except Lopusanova. On the men’s side, no 14-year-old has ever registered a point. As 15-year-olds, Connor McDavid and Connor Bedard both scored 14 points in the men’s U-18 tournament. Lopusanova’s seven goals tied Bedard, and sat one behind McDavid for most ever, regardless of gender. What will Lopusanova do next season as a 15-year-old? We’ll have to wait and see. With Slovakia eligible to return 16 players, the roster will be ready to support their star.
She is undoubtedly one of the brightest young stars globally, and will be a player fans can expect to create more highlight reel moments. While Lopusanova said it about Team Slovakia as a group, her own words could be echoed about her bright future ahead.
“You can expect big things, just wait and see.”
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