Team USA Gives Young Players Their Shot, Releases December Rivalry Series Roster

Seven players out, ten in for Team USA

USA Hockey released its roster for the December games of the 2022-2023 Rivalry Series on Monday. These 26 players will take part in two games in the Southwestern US segment of the tour on December 15 and 19.

Much of the December team is made up of familiar faces. Eight forwards, four defenders, and all three goaltenders for Team USA are members of the PWHPA and made the rosters for both November and December. The remaining spots were filled with NCAA and PHF players, with care taken to allow these women to balance their other commitments. Many NCAA teams have lighter schedules or breaks in mid-December, and this leg of the series will see more collegiate players than before.

Although Amanda Kessel has not played in PWHPA games this season, reportedly due to illness, she played in the three games of the November leg of the Rivalry Series and is on the December roster.

November Rivalry Series players returned to their teams:
F: Claire DeGeorge, Becca Gilmore, Kelsey King, Maureen Murphy, Gabby Rosenthal
D: Riley Brengman, Haley Winn

December players:
F: Hanna Bilka, Jesse Compher, Lacey Eden, Taylor Heise, Tessa Janecke, Abbey Murphy, Grace Zumwinkle
D: Cayla Barnes, Kali Flanagan, Caroline Harvey

NCAA players swell Rivalry roster

Most of the players joining Team USA for the December games have been on various national team rosters previously. Lacey Eden, Grace Zumwinkle, and Jesse Compher were all silver medalists at the 2021 and 2022 Women’s World Championship. Zumwinkle and Compher were also members of the 2022 Olympic team that took silver in Beijing. Of newer national team players, Hannah Bilka was a member of the 2022 Worlds squad and Abbey Murphy played on at the 2021 Worlds and the 2022 Olympics.

One of the most intriguing returning players to watch will be forward Taylor Heise, who won MVP of the 2022 Worlds by scoring the most goals, assists, and points at the tournament. She was also the 2022 winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award for best player in the NCAA with the University of Minnesota. The December games will be Heise’s Rivalry Series debut.

The December roster also includes one NCAA player who is entirely new to the senior national team. Forward Tessa Janecke (listed as Tess on the Team USA website) won a silver medal at the rescheduled U18 World Championship in June. She was named one of the Top 3 Players on Team USA after scoring six points in five games and winning 72% of her faceoffs.

On defense, 2022 Olympians Caroline Harvey and Cayla Barnes will make their 2022-2023 Rivalry Series debuts. 20-year-old Harvey scored 7 points in 8 games at the 2022 World Championship in August and will be another young player to watch.

They will be joined by Rory Guilday, a blueliner from Cornell who was on the November roster, and will be the only collegiate player to miss games by joining Team USA for these December games. Those two games will be against the current #1 team in the country, Ohio State University. Cornell currently lists 7 other defenders and one F/D on their roster, so hopefully they won’t miss Guilday too much in that matchup.

More pros out than in

The number of post-collegiate players on USA Hockey’s Rivalry Roster shrank between November and December. Clair DeGeorge of Team Harvey’s and newcomers Becca Gilmore of the Boston Pride will not be returning for the December games, while 2018 Olympian Kali Flanagan, also of the Boston Pride, will make her return after playing in the 2021 My Why Tour. Gilmore will be able to play one game against the Connecticut Whale, while Flanagan will miss that game in order to play in the Southwest. The PWHPA are not playing during the Rivalry Series games.

Take-aways and tactics

This year’s Rivalry Series will be made up of seven games, an expansion over previous years of the series, though shorter than the planned nine games of the Covid-shortened 2021 My Why Tour in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. The roster selections for the tour stops thus far seem to have been largely based on the NCAA schedule. The NCAA players who will play with Team USA in December rather than November will largely benefit from the selection, as this schedule allowed them to play in more games against ranked teams and teams within their conferences.

Between these two tour stops, Team USA is getting looks at 14 collegiate players and three pros. All of these players have been involved with the national team at some level in the past, but this series is an opportunity for them to get practice and playing time alongside longtime members of the team and show their development to the coaches. These games should serve as chances for the coaches to try out line and pairing combinations and update players on team tactics. This is a time to do the strategically planned version of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Since there will be two more games in this Rivalry Series, we could see more NCAA or pro players rotated onto the roster in the new year. The team is clearly making an effort to invite players in a way that best supports their other commitments, so there could be players who impressed at the 2022 National Festival who will be better served by attending games in 2023.

It’s great to see this kind of opportunity for younger players on the national team roster, both for those prospective players and for the program. The American performance at the Beijing Olympics was lackluster, and a not insignificant part of that was the selection of only five players of collegiate age, several of whom saw drastically low minutes. The 2022 Worlds roster, and the choice of a new coach, saw a youthful infusion that paid off with a much fresher, higher-scoring team. Playing and scouting limitations due to the Covid-19 pandemic may have played into these issues, but the next generation of stars will not grow into their roles if they never get the chance to shine. It’s promising to see that the program will continue to strive forward in its development by giving opportunities to younger elite players and allowing them room to show their stuff.

The December Rivalry Series games will take place on December 15th at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada, and on December 19 at the Arena in Los Angeles, California. Tickets are available and the games will be broadcast on NHL Network.