Of all the ways Robb Stauber uses to measure the changes in women’s ice hockey since its 1998 Olympic debut, the most insightful might be the one he can’t quantify.
“We’ve gradually seen advancement in women’s hockey since the 1998 Olympics, but the pace of that improvement hastened significantly in recent years,” said the 10-year-pro goalie, 47, who spent five years in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres. “As it’s developed, I consistently hear from those in the hockey community about how far it’s come and how impressed they are with the current game. This camp became essential in the evolution of our goaltending and is a perfect example of what is needed if we look to continue that growth in the sport.”
Stauber, the goaltending coach for the U.S. women’s national team for the past five years, has other measures, too: speed of play, stick handling, accuracy and speed of shots. Another was this past weekend’s goalie camp for Team USA, the first for the women, where 18 of the country’s best — from ages 16 to 29 — gathered in Blaine, Minnesota, for a four-day series of classes, drills and evaluations.
The purpose of the camp was not only to assess the various attendees, their strengths and their weaknesses, Stauber said, but also to introduce them to Team USA and give them a sense of what the coaching staff is looking for and what it will take to make the Olympic or world championships roster.
|Goalies participate in off-ice training drills at the first national team goalie camp held May 21-24, 2015 in Blaine, Minn.
For 29-year-old veteran, two-time Olympic silver medalist and five-time world champion Jessie Vetter, it’s an opportunity to keep sharp, learn a trick or two and even meet a childhood idol, Manon Rheaume, one of three of Stauber’s assistants for the weekend camp.
“I had her player card,” Vetter said, referring to Rheaume’s distinction as the only woman to play in an NHL exhibition game. Rheaume did it twice for the Tampa Bay Lightning, in 1992 and again in 1993, in addition to playing for several minor league teams and for Team Canada at the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games.
“You’re never too old to learn something new, grow and get better,” said Vetter, who played mentor of her own a bit at the camp. “I didn’t have a camp like this. But a lot of camps like this are nerve wracking.”
The camp was not about finding the next starting netminder for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, or finding someone to challenge Vetter.
“It’s a huge benefit to us to lay the groundwork for our expectations and team culture,” said Reagan Carey, USA Hockey’s director of women’s hockey. “We’re not overly concerned about who the best player is on (the last day).”
|Goalies participate in training drills at the first national team goalie camp held May 21-24, 2015 in Blaine, Minn.
Carey has some of the more statistical means to measure the growth of women’s hockey over the past two decades, such as the near doubling of the number of women’s Division I college ice hockey programs for women from 19 to 35, and the more than doubling of the number of registered women’s players from 28,000 to about 70,000.
With the increasing pool to draw from, the weekend get together was to introduce — at least to the prospects — the vision or common themes looked at from the hierarchy of USA Hockey.
That vision might conflict, Stauber said, with the way the players have been or are being coached at the high school, college or club level.
For example, some coaches might direct their goalies to never venture from the confines of the crease. And while Stauber and his staff are not urging the camp attendees to challenge their local coaches, they are letting them know what USA Hockey wants and expects, if they want to play internationally.
“We value a goalie that’s really athletic, that can play the puck, that can be a part of something other than just stopping the puck, being a part of the game that most coaches don’t want them to be a part of,” Stauber said. “So as we develop nationally, as we develop our goalies, we want our goalies to become really good players, not just goalies.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.