DENVER -- The start of a new quad also brings the formation of the next national team.
For the USA Hockey Women’s National Team, that also means breaking in a new head coach. The team — and the coach — will have its first major test this week when it plays in the Four Nations Cup in Kamloops, B.C. Team USA opens tournament play on Tuesday against Finland before playing Canada on Wednesday and Sweden on Friday to wrap up the preliminary round.
In the team’s first tournament since the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the Americans are looking to reclaim their spot as Four Nations’ champ after finishing third in 2013, behind first place Canada and second place Finland.
Last year’s third-place finish marked the first time the United States had finished lower than second since the tournament’s debut in 1996.
“Every time you put your jersey on you want to go out there and do your best, but absolutely this Four Nations Cup means something, especially during an Olympic year,” U.S. goalie Molly Schaus said during a national pre-tournament training camp Friday at Denver University.
The U.S. team beat Sweden 10-0 in the opening game last year before falling 4-2 to Canada and then 3-1 to Finland. The two losses sent Team USA to the third-place game, where the squad again beat Sweden, this time 8-1. But that was hardly a consolation for a U.S. team that was used to dominating the tournament — winning it five times, including back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012.
“We will be ready for this tournament and are looking forward to competing,” said head coach Ken Klee, a 14-year NHL veteran and former national team member himself. “Any time you have a chance to play Canada, it is a big deal because they are our biggest rival. I had the opportunity to play in some of those games and it’s special.”
The U.S. team will have a bit of a different look, and not just in its coaching staff. While 12 members, including Schaus, will return from last year’s silver-medal winning U.S Olympic Team, 11 new faces also make up this version of the red, white and blue.
Among the newcomers are players such as 18-year-old Megan Keller of Boston College and 19-year-old Dani Cameranesi of the University of Minnesota.
It will be Klee’s responsibility to prepare a team that was just recently put together — and that also has little time together — to go up against the three other traditional powers in the sport. At the top of that list is Canada, which is coming off another successful Olympic campaign. Canada has won every Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey except the first one, in 1998, when Team USA won.
“It is feeling less new for everyone now — myself included,” Klee said. “I now know the strengths and weaknesses of our players; there are players who need to be pushed and some that don’t, I am now really getting to know this team. It’s exciting for me and it is exciting for them.
“We are trying to install a new culture. I think by this time they know what to expect from me and what the coaches want out of them. I won’t have to give a big speech anytime we play Canada — they are excited to give them our best.”
The Four Nations Cup format is a single round-robin, with each team playing one game against each of the others. The top two teams then advance to the gold-medal game, while the last two teams play for third place.