So, the US women’s hockey team took home gold at the Olympics. If you’ve ever spent time on this site before, you already knew that. It was an all-time great storyline for an all-time great hockey game and it came after two decades of sadness on the American side, with only possibly the 2010 final not falling under the “bitter heartbreak” category.
The narrative changed pretty quickly. With seven minutes left, American fans were wondering what it would take for them to finally beat Canada on the Olympic stage, even with all the World Championship success they’d had in recent years. They were getting ready to criticize the coaching and roster selection (and it did deserve to be criticized––though I will defend the cutting of Megan Bozek to the death), then suddenly the Canadians went for an awful line changed and the tide completely turned. I know I felt confident heading into the shootout, seeing how the US played that overtime and managed to kill off Megan Keller’s late penalty.
Last month, I wrote a piece about fifteen players who could be incorporated into the player pool for the next Olympic cycle. There were thirteen first-time Olympians on Team USA in Pyeongchang, and given the US’s tendency to go young for women’s hockey tournaments I’d expect the number to be similar in Beijing, give or take a few on the side of sticking with returners. It’s always fun to speculate, so I’m going to do what I do best and speculate on what the 2022 roster will actually look like.
Robb Stauber’s boldest move was going against conventional wisdom and going with an internationally-untested, 20-year-old netminder for the duration of the tournament, when even during the tournament Rigsby was seen as the best goalie on the team. Rooney affirmed Stauber’s belief in her with a great performance against Canada; stopping four of six Canadians in the shootout cemented her status as the US’s #1 goalie for the foreseeable future. I have also penciled in #1 NWHL draft pick Burt, 21, in for the backup role given her Team USA experience and standout four-year career at BC. I decided to stick with Rigsby, who will be 30 in 2022, as the third goalie because of a lack of proven goaltending options at the moment, but that is very much subject to change given that goaltenders usually emerge a little later than skaters, at least in this country, who can’t boast a Noora Räty or Florence Schelling to this point.
Megan Keller–Cayla Barnes
Sydney Baldwin–Sidney Morin
Madeline Wethington–Emily Pfalzer (A)
Once Gigi Marvin and Monique Lamoureux were moved back to forward, the 2018 defensive corps was already pretty young, so I’m not sure exactly how much USA Hockey needs to change on the blue line. Obviously young American defenders will emerge over the course of the next four years, but I’m pretty comfortable with what they have at the moment. Keller and Barnes are the best offensive blueliners on the team, so they would be my top pair. I like Morin’s ability to run the power play and Pfalzer should stick with the team through the next cycle for her two-way ability and leadership. I’m a firm believer in left-right balance, so I elected to replace Kacey Bellamy (age) and Lee Stecklein (lack of offense) with fellow left-shots Baldwin and Minnesota high schooler Wethington (the latter of whom was not in my piece last month), whose offensive ability I like more than Stecklein. Rounding out the roster is Jenny Ryan, who has been great in her rookie NWHL season. I chose her over Riveter teammates Courtney Burke and Kelsey Koelzer because I think she is the best defensively out of the three.
Kendall Coyne (A)–Kelly Pannek–Caitrin Lonergan
Dani Cameranesi–Brianna Decker (C)–Grace Zumwinkle
Hilary Knight–Hannah Brandt–Taylor Heise
Alex Carpenter–Abby Roque–Makenna Webster
The bulk of the roster turnover will be up front and there were some tough decisions to be made here. It was tough to split up the Coyne-Decker-Knight line, but Decker and Knight will be 30 or older in 2022 and I think they’ll take a step back, though not enough to keep them off the team altogether. As you can see, I have penciled Decker in as the next captain of the team. Pannek was great during the Olympics and I think she will emerge as the team’s #1 center. On the right side of the top line I have the versatile Lonergan from BC, the top American scorer in college hockey this year and someone who I think can provide an immediate offensive punch to the team. Decker centers Cameranesi and Minnesota freshman Zumwinkle on what should be as lethal of a second line as you can find in international hockey. Heise, 17, joins Knight and Brandt on the third line. Despite the fact she’s still in high school, Heise is one of the best scorers the Minnesota high school ranks have ever seen and I have no reason to believe she will slow down at the next level. I brought back Carpenter to add another lefty shooter to the forward group, but this could change if someone else emerges. I concluded my mock roster with young collegians Roque and Gilmore and high schooler Webster, who will be 19 at the time of the next Olympics. I couldn’t find a spot for Amanda Kessel and for that I apologize to everyone reading this.
Will this actually be the final roster? Certainly not. Will Canada finally decide to go younger? Will Finland or another European country emerge as a gold medal threat? Well, that’s not for me to answer at the moment. But consider this the first round of speculation for what the American team could look like four years from now. Remember, if you have a problem with this, I am not in charge of player personnel for USA Hockey, and all your complaints should be directed at me (@baskincase) and not anyone affiliated with the federation or anyone else affiliated with The Ice Garden.