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2021 Worlds: Team USA preview

Team USA looks for its sixth straight(-ish) gold medal at the IIHF Women’s World Championship this year

IHOCKEY-WORLD-FIN-US-WOMEN-FINAL Photo credit should read MIKKO STIG/AFP via Getty Images

Team USA has long been one of the most dominant squads at the IIHF Women’s World Championship, with nine gold medals since the tournament’s conception. Will they be able to go for a sixth straight title, or will this mix of youngsters and established veterans falter on the world’s biggest stage?

2019 Worlds

Few can forget the contentious end to the 2019 World Championship, which saw the United States up against Finland, and the Finns’ late would-be title-clinching goal disallowed in overtime.

Throughout group play, the United States was undefeated, winning four straight games against Finland, Canada, Switzerland, and Russia en route to the quarterfinals, where they would shut out both Japan and Russia. The gold medal game was a preliminary rematch between the Americans and the Finns, but the American’s dominant 6-2 victory in group play would not tell the story of the gold medal game at all.

IHOCKEY-WORLD-FIN-US-WOMEN Photo credit should read MIKKO STIG/AFP via Getty Images

For those who might not remember, here’s a brief refresher: through three periods, the score was deadlocked at one apiece. Eight minutes into overtime, the Finns scored — or so they thought, discarding their equipment and exalting at their first gold medal, won on home ice. Then the referees recalled the goal, and the Americans would eventually take the title as Annie Pankowski scored for Team USA before a save from Alex Cavallini clinched the country’s fifth straight World Championship win in the shootout.

Roster

Forwards: Dani Cameranesi, Alex Carpenter, Jesse Compher, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Britta Curl, Brianna Decker, Lacey Eden, Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight, Abbey Murphy, Kelly Pannek, Abby Roque, Hayley Scamurra, Grace Zumwinkle
Defenders: Cayla Barnes, Megan Bozek, Natalie Buchbinder, Jincy Dunne, Savannah Harmon, Caroline Harvey, Megan Keller, Lee Stecklein
Goaltenders: Alex Cavallini, Nicole Hensley, Aerin Frankel

The American roster features seven players making their World Championship debuts — including eighteen-year-old Caroline Harvey, who looks to start her collegiate career next season with the reigning national champion Wisconsin Badgers. Along for their first stint at Worlds are Buchbinder, Curl, Dunne, Eden, Harmon, Murphy, Roque, and Zumwinkle, several of whom had been named to the since-cancelled 2020 Worlds roster.

On April 16, less than a month before the original start of competition, USA Hockey announced Bob Corkum was stepping away from his duties as head coach, and would be replaced by assistant coach Joel Johnson. Previously, Johnson has served as the head coach of the American U18 squad for four years; this will be his first tournament at the helm of the senior team. He’ll also be heading up the squad at the Olympics, as USA Hockey announced at the end of July. Assisting Johnson on the bench will be Brian Pothier and Courtney Kennedy, along with goaltending coach Alli Altmann.

On August 12, with under ten days until the start of competition, ESPN’s Emily Kaplan announced that Maddie Rooney would be missing the entirety of the tournament with a lower body injury sustained at camp. As some astute colleagues of mine pointed out, it looks like 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Aerin Frankel will be taking Rooney’s place — though USA Hockey has yet to make anything official.

Story to Watch | Return of Nicole Hensley

The return of Nicole Hensley to the international stage is going to be one of the biggest stories to watch for Team USA heading into the World Championship.

Hensley has not been named to an American senior team roster for any competition since the 2018 Olympics, where she started one game and finished with a perfect 1.00 SV%. Her most stunning performance against international competition came in 2017, when she started three games for Team USA at the World Championship and was the squad’s bona fide starter over nineteen-year-old Maddie Rooney and Alex Cavallini.

Canada v United States - 2017 IIHF Women’s Gold Medal Game Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Perhaps the strongest case for Hensley’s selection to this roster was made during the PWHPA’s 2021 Secret Dream Gap Tour, where Hensley quickly rose through the ranks as one of Team adidas’ best goaltenders — even over competition from teammates Maddie Rooney, Sydney Scobee, and (an albeit injured) Noora Räty. Over the course of two games started in New York City and Chicago, Hensley made 70 saves on 73 shots on goal for a SV% of 0.959 and a GAA of 1.50. While an admittedly small sample size, both of those stats are better than her career record with the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts in 2018-19.

Player to Watch | Alex Carpenter

Alex Carpenter will return to the ice in the red, white, and blue after a dominant sophomore campaign in the ZhHL.

With the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, Carpenter boasted a stat line of 28-23-51 over the course of the 28-game regular season, leading the team in scoring by a 15-point margin. She’s flourished on her squad’s top line, flanked by Hannah Miller and Rachel Llanes, and is sure to bring some of that dominance to the international stage when she returns to her home continent for Worlds.

Though the ZhHL league final has been postponed for several months now due to the pandemic, Carpenter did score a power-play goal in the second game of the semifinal series en route to the Vanke Rays’ 4-2 win over HK Biryusa.

Youngster to Watch | Caroline Harvey

Caroline Harvey is undoubtedly our youngster to watch — as we’ve already mentioned, she’s the youngest player on the roster by about five months, and the only player not yet competing in college.

Though Harvey has only competed for USA Hockey at two U18 tournaments, the general consensus among the United States’ staff and players is that she’s the real deal. She won gold at the 2020 U18 World Championship, and finished with a team high +4 rating through five games played. She was also named one of the United States’ top three players of the tournament that same year.

All numerical data courtesy of EliteProspects, USA Hockey, Their Hockey Counts, and respective NCAA teams’ websites.