Last Time Around
It’s hard not to forget the last Olympics games. The gold medal game against Canada went to a sudden-death shootout, of course (something that won’t happen again this year due to a change in the rules, by the way).
The two teams were tied after regulation, and then the 10-minute overtime, and then the first rounds of the shootout, sending the biggest game in women’s hockey to a sudden death shootout. Now-retired Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson beat Shannon Szabados with the iconic “Oops I did it again” move before 20-year-old Maddie Rooney stopped Megan Agosta (who had scored on her in the initial shootout) to bring home the gold medal.
It was the US’s first Olympic gold medal since 1998 — the first year women’s hockey was a sport at the Games — so it was historic, to say the least. The win also put a nice bow on their 2017 Be Bold For Change movement, where they threatened to boycott their World Championships over stalled contract negotiations. The sides reached an agreement and the team went on to win the World Championships and then the Olympics.
2021 and recent
At the 2021 World Championships, for the first time since 2012, the US won a silver — not a gold — medal. They didn’t play great the entire tournament, struggling on the power play with just three goals on 24 chances.
The Rivalry Series/My Why Tour games, which they split with Canada 3 to 3 before the remaining were cancelled due to COVID, weren’t much better showings for them.
Goaltenders: Alex Cavallini, Nicole Hensley, Maddie Rooney
Defenders: Cayla Barnes, Megan Bozek, Jincy Dunne, Savannah Harmon, Caroline Harvey, Megan Keller, Lee Stecklein
Forwards: Hannah Brandt, Dani Cameranesi, Alex Carpenter, Jesse Compher, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight, Abbey Murphy, Kelly Pannek, Abby Roque, Hayley Scamurra, Grace Zumwinkle
3 Key Players
Brianna Decker - It’s Brianna Decker. I don’t really need to say more, but I will because that’s what you’re here for: my opinion.
Decker, 30, is at least a Top-5 player in the world on pretty much everyone’s list. Her ability to create offense is crucial to USA’s attack and, unless something unexpected happens, she’ll be tasked with lining up against the top centers in the world all tournament long. Decker, who is recovering from an injury, had a quiet My Why Tour with one point (an assist) in six games. The best players in the world are always expected to deliver on the game’s biggest stage. We are all expecting greatness. This is her third Olympics and an important opportunity to build on her legacy.
Lee Stecklein - Stecklein is coming off of a masterful performance at the 2021 Worlds, where she unexpectedly led the team in scoring with two goals and five assists. More importantly, she ate up a ton of ice time (21:17 TOI/GP) and earned a nod as the Top Defender of the tournament for her play in all three zones. Stecklein is in her prime and Team USA will be looking to her to slow down and shut down the opposition’s most dangerous stars and/or lines. She may not be as flashy as some of her peers on the blue line, but Stecklein is as steady and dependable as they come. She’s the pillar the rest of the defense is built around.
All the goaltenders - Okay, so maybe, maybe, maybe this is a bit of a cheat. But the US is coming in with three experienced goaltenders, all from their 2018 gold medal team. They weren’t always a lock, though, as they’ve cycled in new faces at the World Championships tournaments over the last four years for both Hensley and Rooney. But Rooney was a huge part of the 2018 gold medal win, backstopping the gold medal game and, if you read above, stopping the final shootout.
This is truly a three-horse race, but the edge out of the gate likely goes to Nicole Hensley after her performance at the 2021 Worlds. With that said, there’s no way to be sure which of these three will end up with the most starts or minutes. Who plays against Canada? Really, we don’t know until we find out. And that is definitely something to watch closely.
Story(s) to watch
- Special teams: As I wrote above, the power play at Worlds was Bad with a capital B. It wasn’t much better in their exhibition games either. That needs to change for obvious reasons. On the flip side, at Worlds, they only gave up one goal while down a skater.
- Defense: It’s really the tale of two defenders here: the defenders who have been around the block — Barnes, Bozek, Keller, and Stecklein — and the new kids on the block — Dunne, Harmon, and Harvey. Add in that Harvey is one of the two 18-year olds on the team and the loss of Kacey Bellamy and Emily Pfalzer might sting a little more this time around. This is part of why I think having the experienced goaltenders is going to bail them out — I mean, help them.
- Retirement “Replacements”: I know we should be talking about who is there, but really, who isn’t there is also a big part because the US lost four major players in the last few years. Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Meghan Duggan, and Bellamy were all huge parts of the teams and played huge roles on the team. The Lamoureux twins were agitators and also in the middle of the inevitable scrums that happened. Duggan was a true leader on and off the ice. Bellamy was a stalwart on defense. All had been on the roster since the 2010 Olympics. Replacing that all of that is tall task to undertake, one that Canada — their main rival — didn’t have to undergo.
- v Finland - Thursday, Feb. 3 at 8:10 a.m. EST
- v Olympic Athletes of Russia - Saturday, Feb. 5 at 8:10 a.m. EST
- v Canada - Monday, Feb. 7 at 11: 10 p.m. EST
What Success Looks Like
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Success for this squad is a second straight gold medal, plain and simple.