The defending Four Nations champions are going to Finland with a talented lineup, but will they be able to repeat? Here’s a closer look at the red, white and blue:
Consistency is key
The only change on the defensive side of things is Anne Schleper, who was swapped back in for Michelle Picard after Picard played at Worlds. Other than that, the core of the group has remained the same, with players like Megan Bozek, Emily Pfalzer, Monique Lamoureux and Kacey Bellamy patrolling the blue line for the US.
Absent forwards include Shiann Darkangelo and Zoe Hickel, both players who were on Team USA’s gold-medal winning Worlds’ roster. Taking their place are Stephanie Anderson and Minnesota’s Hannah Brandt, both members of the Minnesota Whitecaps (a team that has slowly but surely taken over a majority of Team USA’s roster for international contests).
All in all, this isn’t a roster that’s seen a lot of turnover since it’s last international tournament. These are players who have played together before and many who continue to play together, either on the Minnesota Whitecaps or the Boston Prid- er, we mean the NWHL. It makes an already talented group of players even more lethal.
No, we didn’t forget about #BestKessel. After all the excitement of Amanda Kessel finally making her way back to the hockey world again, first in the NCAA and then for the NWHL, it seemed like Kessel was poised to jump back into international contests.
And then she got hurt.
After being named to the national team for the first time since 2014, Kessel was injured early in the NWHL season and hasn’t played for the last two weeks. The timeline for her return wasn’t clear, but just a few days ago it was announced that she would be replaced by Amanda Pelkey.
On top of that, Hilary Knight has been nursing what looked like a lower-body injury since the beginning of the NWHL season- she has yet to play in either preseason or regular season action. She traveled to Finland, so while she appears to be healthy enough to play now, but it’s been a long time since she last saw game action.
Team USA still has one of the most potent offenses in the tournament, but against a top foe like Canada, missing one top forward and Knight’s recent recovery could be chinks in their armor.
Good, Vetter, Best?
It seems at last that Jessie Vetter’s tenure with Team USA has come to an end as the veteran announced her retirement in August. Taking her place is Shelby Amsley-Benzie, a recent graduate from North Dakota and a Patty Kazmaier finalist.
It seems fair to assume that Rigsby will still hold the No. 1 spot for Team USA after a stellar performance at Worlds. What may be interesting to watch is how much time both Amsley-Benzie and Nicole Hensley, the other US goaltender, will receive, and how they use that time. All three goalies are very young (all under the age of 25), so getting some more experience under their belt with be beneficial both to them as players and also for Team USA, who will get to see them in more game action.
As always, Team USA is one of two favorites in this tournament. Though Finland and Sweden continue to get better, there’s still the gap between Canada and the US and everyone else that we’ve come to expect in these competitions.
It will be a close matchup against Canada in the gold-medal match. My prediction is that the US’s medal hopes hinge on if Hilary Knight can get her skates back under her and if Alex Rigsby performs like she did at Worlds- if Emerance Maschmeyer plays like she did in Kamloops, America is going to need a wall in net. If they can do that, they’ll earn the gold.