The US players have a lot of pressure on them this year, the 20th anniversary of their one and only Olympic gold medal finish.
Team USA is coming off of two consecutive silver medal performances in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, courtesy of Marie-Philip Poulin and her soul-crushing clutch performance. But despite their second-place finishes on the world’s biggest stage, they’ve otherwise dominated at Worlds; they’ve won the last five straight IIHF World Championships, most notably an overtime thriller on home soil.
But things have gotten a little shaky over the last few months. After a solid start to the centralization cycle, topping Canada in convincing fashion, the USA has stumbled. They’ve lost the last four straight games to Canada after beating them convincingly at the Four Nations Cup (4-2, 5-1). On top of that, two of the team’s biggest names, Megan Bozek and Alex Carpenter, were unexpectedly the team’s final two cuts.
The US won their last two major tilts before departing for South Korea against Team NWHL, but their struggles recently against Canada are worrying. Head coach Robb Stauber also shuffled the lines in those last two games that, for the better part of a year, had stayed consistent.
There’s a lot of uncertainty for Team USA going into the Olympics. The talent is there (most of it, anyways (side-eyes Kelli Stack)). But can they finally put together a gold-medal performance?
This one’s a no-brainer. The most visible member of Team USA has looked mortal at times in this centralization cycle, but you can never count out Knight. She tends to rise to the occasion, as evidenced by her scoring the game-winning overtime gold at Worlds last year.
Hilary Knight may be the most well-known player on Team USA, but some argue that it’s actually Brianna Decker who is the team’s best player. Small in stature but also strong enough to shove anyone off the puck, Decker is a crafty and skilled forward with a physical edge. Frankly, we should be talking about her more and she’s going to be a big part of this USA offense.
This is a younger defense than in years past, especially with fellow 2014 Olympian Bozek no longer on the roster. Bellamy is going to be relied on more than ever to steady Team USA’s blue line. She’s been playing most often with youngster Cayla Barnes and has logged significant minutes. She’ll be the team’s rock on the back end.
Coyne is always dangerous, a speedy player who can sneak through holes in the other team’s defense and who has the finesse to finish. She’ll be another key part of USA’s offense, no question about it.
There are probably a few players we could put here. Cayla Barnes, a late addition who could help give the blue line a needed boost. Gigi Marvin, an older veteran who showed flashes of brilliance in Team USA’s last couple of games against Team NWHL.
But the biggest dark horse will be Team USA’s goaltending. Based on past games and some comments from Stauber after one of the games against Team NWHL, it looks like 20-year-old Maddie Rooney will be the team’s starter.
Rooney has yet to play significant minutes for the senior team in any international tournament. Fellow netminder Nicole Hensley was the hero at Worlds this year, and it was Alex Rigsby who outdueled Emerance Maschmeyer in the 2016 World Championships in Kamloops. Rooney has looked solid in the games she’s played this cycle, but on the world’s biggest stage, can she hold up? She’ll certainly be a player worth watching.
February 11, United States v. Finland @ 2:40 am ET
February 13, United States v. Olympic Athletes of Russia @ 7:10 am ET
February 15, United States v. Canada @ 10:10 pm ET
This is HARD because I don’t want to jinx anything. USA will certainly medal, and will, barring catastrophe or Finland playing the game of their life in the semifinals, will skate away with either gold or silver.
At the beginning of the centralization cycle, I would have said this is a gold-medal team. After December, they were solidly a silver-medal squad. If the struggling offense can find its way, this team wins gold. If Szabados is on top of her game, they’re in trouble.