Young Talent Keeps U.S. Women Strong, Fresh
|Team USA gathers for a team portrait after defeating Team Canada in a shoot-out in the IIHF World Women's Championships gold-medal game at the Cloetta Center on April 9, 2005 in Linkoping, Sweden.|
Each time Jessie Vetter goes to a selection camp for the U.S. national women’s hockey team, she gets re-energized.
The veteran U.S. goaltender, 27, who’s played on four previous teams in the IIHF Women’s World Championship and earned a silver medal on the American team at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, not only gets to see longtime teammates again, but young college standouts she’s never met.
After going through last week’s camp at Lake Placid, N.Y., to select the team that begins play at Ottawa Tuesday night in the World Championships, she’s pumped up. The influx of young talent does it every time, she says.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a big mix,” she said of the roster. “We’ve got some people that it will be their first worlds and we’ve got some that it will be their fifth or sixth worlds, but it’s exciting. I like to see the young kids come in because they bring a new level of excitement, a lot of energy and they’re just great players.
“It’s fun being around everyone, and I think we’ve got a great group. I think we’re ready to play some great hockey.”
The 23-player roster includes 10 Olympians, including three-timer Julie Chu, and an age range that runs from Chu (at 31) to 18-year-old Lee Stecklein of the University of Minnesota.
Coach Katey Stone’s roster — trimmed from a group of 28 invited to the camp — consists of three goaltenders (Vetter, Brianne McLaughlin and Alex Rigsby), seven defensemen (Kacey Bellamy, Megan Bozek, Lisa Chesson, Gigi Marvin, Michelle Picard, Anne Schleper and Stecklein) and 13 forwards (Alex Carpenter, Chu, Kendall Coyne, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Sarah Erickson, Lyndsey Fry, Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight, twins Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, Jen Schoulis and Kelley Steadman).
Bozek, 22, who is going to just her second IIHF Women’s World Championship, said the blend of youth and experience creates a great dynamic.
“The veterans are leaders, and they take control and help the rookies out, and people who aren’t as experienced at this, but you’ll never for one second see an older player looking down at a younger player, and vice versa, which is great,” she said. “Chemistry just clicks with the group and you have leaders like Julie Chu, who have been around for a while and experienced a lot of things. She can bring insight to everyone else.”
|Hilary Knight moves the puck against Sweden during the ice
hockey women's semifinal game at Vancouver 2010 Olympic
Winter Games at Canada Hockey Place on Feb. 22, 2010.
The United States has won four of the last six World Championships (2005, 2008, 2009 and 2011), but the veterans on the American roster still vividly remember losing the final to Canada in 2012. While playing in Burlington, Vt., the United States was beaten by the Canadians 5-4 in overtime.
Now, this tournament will begin for the Americans with a Tuesday night matchup against the defending champions at Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place.
The U.S. players are eager for the rematch.
“I don’t think there’s anything better than opening up a world tournament playing Canada the first game,” Bozek said. “I think the crowd will be incredible, and we’re playing at Scotiabank where the Senators play. Rumor has it that it’s sold out, so it should be a great crowd. …
“I think a lot of us are still bitter about that (loss in the 2012 final), and we want revenge for beating us on our home ice. I think everyone is focused.”
Vetter calls the opening game a matchup of “two great teams” and says she likes the fact Team USA will be tested immediately.
“Obviously we’re going to be a little outnumbered on fans,” she says, laughing. “But it will be exciting.”
After opening against Canada Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (EDT), Team USA then gets Finland on Wednesday (3:30 p.m.) and Switzerland Friday (3:30 p.m.). The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played April 6-8, with the gold-medal and bronze-medal games on April 9.
Bozek knows the competition in the tournament will be exceptional, not only with Canada, but Finland — with her University of Minnesota teammate, Noora Raty, in goal. But after a week of scrimmaging and practicing with the best players the United States has to offer, Bozek believes Team USA is built to win, with three great goaltenders, solid defenders and an experienced coach. But it’s the players up front who might be the difference.
“Our forwards are the fastest in the world,” she said. “You have people like Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Amanda Kessel and Kendall Coyne playing forward. It’s really hard to stop forwards that get momentum and get down the ice with the puck and can develop a play in the zone. I think that’s going to be one of our biggest strengths.”
After a week of camp, Vetter is eager to see how this team comes together. The first couple of days were a feeling-out process as new players and veterans met.
Some players, such as Bozek and Kessel, were just coming off a long college season at Minnesota and completing an undefeated run to an NCAA championship. Others, such as Steadman, Marvin, Duggan and Knight, were coming off a Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship run for the Boston Blades.
“It takes a little bit for all of us (to get comfortable),” Vetter said. “The first couple of days it’s a little rust straightaway. We’ve got to get used to playing with each other. You’ve got kids playing in different leagues, a lot of college kids, so it takes a couple of days. But once we get back together, it turns out.”
She loves the depth and the commitment she sees, and the fact this roster — this blend of youth and experience — has her eager to get out on the ice vs. Canada. She can’t wait.
“We just have a lot of fun together,” she said. “We enjoy playing hockey and we enjoy being on the ice with each other. I always play my best hockey when I’m smiling.”