Young guns will push USA Hockey vets for Sochi
BURLINGTON, Vt. -- In the aftermath of Canada’s 5-4 overtime victory against the United States to claim the IIHF Women’s World Championship title on April 14, Team USA coach Katey Stone touched upon a significant point: The loss, as difficult as it was to suffer, is primarily one more step toward a greater objective.
That, of course, is the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, when the sport is on its biggest international stage.
“It’s disappointing to not be able to give (our fans) a World Championship on the home soil, very disappointing for all of us, but, again, it’s one battle,” Stone said. “Hopefully, for sure, we’ll have others and we’ll win the war.”
Throughout the tournament in Burlington, Stone made it clear that the World Championship, while important, is part of an ongoing plan to regain the Olympic gold that has belonged to Canada since 2002. Team USA won the inaugural Olympic women’s hockey event in 1998 when the Winter Games were held in Nagano, Japan.
“It’s part of the process,” said Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey. “It’s an ongoing process for the players. For the players here, it’s an opportunity not only to play in a championship of this caliber but also to solidify their roles and show their ability while playing on the national team, especially … showing consistency in their game.”
The 2012 World Championship gave a preview of what the 2014 Olympic squad might look like. Although the Team USA squad featured a bevy of Olympians, it had a decidedly young feel. Ten of the 23 U.S. players were born in the 1990s, and only two were born before 1985.
Those young players shined throughout Team USA’s five games in Vermont. The tournament’s top four scorers -- and six of the top eight -- were Americans, led by 22-year-old Monique Lamoureux-Kolls (seven goals, seven assists). Her linemate, Kelli Stack, 24, was second (five goals, eight assists) while twin sister and linemate, Jocelyne Lamoureux, was tied for sixth (four goals, five assists). All three were U.S. Olympians in 2010, when Team USA earned the silver medal in Vancouver.
There is still plenty of time for the roster to evolve and change, though. Eight to 10 years ago, said Johannson, the talent pool was nowhere as deep and a number of players knew they were automatic selections. Johannson credits USA Hockey’s grassroots and developmental programs and the NCAA for the growth in women’s hockey.
“There are a lot of players who have to make this team now because there are a lot who are pushing them, too; that’s younger and older players,” Johannson said. “That has raised the level that all players brought not only to camp but when they perform in this tournament.”
For older players, the challenge will be to prove they can still be valuable contributors, whether it’s in tangible roles on the ice or through intangible virtues such as leadership. Four-time Olympian and Team USA mainstay Angela Ruggiero retired from the national team in December, but veterans Julie Chu, 30, the team captain at the Worlds, and four-time Olympian Jenny Potter, 33, played a big role for Team USA in Vermont.
“They’ve been in the trenches; they’ve been in the wars,” Johannson said of the two veterans. “They’re also players who have a very good understanding of where their games are at. The key for older players -- and one of the compliments I gave to Katey -- is you truly have to make this team now,” Johannson said.
Stone, the Harvard University coach who holds the record for victories in NCAA Division I women’s hockey, is a leading candidate to handle the 2014 team, though Johannson said, “That’s not determined yet.”
“We will come out of this tournament and examine that as well,” he said. “We’ve not set a timeline but, certainly, she’s done a fantastic job and continues to grow our program. And she has knowledge of our player pool, which is key.”
Whoever the coach is, she or he will have a leading role in determining the makeup of the Olympic roster. Johannson said a committee following Olympic selection procedures would make the final decisions.
“Katey Stone had a good experience with these players,” Johannson said. “Our jobs as administrators, managers and evaluators of talent is to put as much talent in front of her as we can. The coaches have to work with them on the ice and can say, ‘This is what I think I can get from this player; this is what I think she can bring to the table.’
“There’s a dialogue both ways, but in the end the coach stands behind the bench, the coach has to tap the player on the back and have faith they can kill the penalty, play on the power play, be a tempo player, whatever that role is,” he said. “Then the players have to show that to the coach.”