Injury Thwarts Amanda Kessel's Return to Team USA

Last-minute announcement that Kessel is out of the Four Nations Cup raises questions about her future with Team USA and her NWHL team

Early this morning, USA Hockey announced a roster change for the upcoming Four Nations Cup. In is Vermont native Amanda Pelkey, and out is superstar Amanda Kessel.

Kessel has been absent from the lineup with her NWHL club, the New York Riveters, due to a lower body injury. Fans were hopeful that this injury would not sideline their headliner for too long. Kessel is the highest-paid player in the NWHL, and by far the most recognizable name on the Riveters roster.

It appears that USA Hockey was also hopeful that Kessel’s injury would be less severe. This roster change comes just one day before the team is scheduled to begin their pre-tournament camp. This would suggest that Kessel’s situation was monitored until the last minute, ultimately resulting in an eleventh-hour decision to replace her.

Pelkey joins the USA roster from the NWHL’s Boston Pride, where she currently has two goals and one assist through four games. She was part of the USA team that captured gold at the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship earlier this year, but she was absent from the original Four Nations roster. The tournament will give Pelkey another chance to prove her worth to USA Hockey, after being held off the scoresheet at the Women’s World Championship, as well as at the 2015 and 2014 Four Nations Cups.

As for Kessel, this is truly heartbreaking news. The University of Minnesota star was set to become the next face of USA Hockey before a concussion during the 2014 Sochi Olympics nearly ended her hockey career for good. She made her triumphant return to Minnesota late last season and led the Gophers to another NCAA National Championship before signing with the NWHL. The Four Nations Cup roster was to be Kessel’s first USA Hockey event since Sochi.

With 2018 fast approaching, one has to wonder what missing this tournament will mean for Kessel’s dream of returning to the Olympics. While there certainly will be more opportunities for USA Hockey to evaluate her play once she is back from injury, getting ice time with her USA teammates would be invaluable to Kessel after her more than two years away from the program.

It certainly is comforting that "lower body injury" could not possibly mean more concussion trouble, but an injury of any kind doesn’t bode well for Kessel. In the meantime, there isn’t much to do but wait for further news of her recovery, and see how USA Hockey continues to fare without her.

Pelkey and the rest of Team USA will compete in the Four Nations Cup in Vierumaki, Finland, from November 1 to November 5.