Team USA has a lot of good things going for them going into Four Nations. The tournament is being held in Wesley Chapel, so there's no travel at all for the team (they've been there centralizing since August). They've had some solid performances throughout centralization, most notably a 5-2 win against Canada in the two countries first meeting of the pre-Olympic season. And as far as we can tell, everyone's healthy.
But this is also a team that looked pretty flat against Canada recently at Agganis Arena. After a Sunday game in Quebec City against their foes from across the border, Team USA struggled on defense just a few days later. This will be the first time that the two teams meet since then, and it will be the only tournament-style type of play USA will see before the Olympics; this is also the only time they'll play Sweden and Finland before PyeongChang. So there's quite a bit on the line.
(ok that subhead's a bit of a stretch but go with us here)
~ TIME FOR CONTROVERSY ~
Team USA announced shortly after that brutal 5-1 loss to Canada that Boston College freshman Cayla Barnes would be deferring her first year at BC to join the centralization roster. USA GM Reagan Carey swears it isn't because of their performance against Canada, and that Barnes offers them more options at defense - and she does. Also per Carey and Barnes, her getting a call-up was something that was discussed at the try-out camp earlier last spring.
This will be the first time USA fans get to see Barnes in action with this current iteration of the senior team (she also played with them in December of last year during a brief series of games against Canada). Barnes is an accomplished member of Team USA's U18 teams, but this will be her first "official" tournament action with the senior team, and watching how she does may be a good indicator of where the defense stands.
The starting spot is still up for grabs, and watching how head coach Robb Stauber deploys his goaltenders over the course of this week may be telling. USA will play each country once, a semifinal game, and then a final, either in the gold medal (probably) or bronze. That's a total of six potential starts for three goaltenders - Nicole Hensley, Alex Rigsby, and Maddie Rooney.
Hensley got the start in USA's 5-1 blowout against Canada, and Rooney was in net for the 5-1 win in Quebec City, but those don't mean much going into the tournament. Hensley stole the show at Worlds this year and was the one who got the start in the gold medal game against Canada. But it's Rigsby who's been Team USA's de factor starter for a while now. Meanwhile, Rooney's the second-youngest player on the squad but has looked good in the limited time she's seen in net.
Here's the thing - we can talk about the defense and the goaltending all we want, but this is a team loaded with firepower. Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan, Kendall Coyne, Alex Carpenter - the list goes on and on. And after the disaster of a game against Canada, this is now a team with (the teeniest, tiniest) chip on their shoulder. They'll make the gold medal game, easy.
As for the finish...we're going to go ahead and say silver, probably in a tight-checking, dramatic finish, but that's ok. The only gold that matters is the Olympic one.