As the U.S. women’s hockey team seeks its first Olympic gold medal in 20 years, there will be some familiarity within a sea of change in PyeongChang.
The USWNT will feature 10 holdovers from the 2014 team that brought home silver from Sochi, who will be joined by 13 first-time Olympians who have already accrued plenty of international experience—including all three goalies.
The new looks don’t stop at the roster, as the team will also bring a different style to Korea than the one it employed four years ago.
“We were very disciplined and very rigid in style,” says Hilary Knight, a two-time silver medalist from the 2010 and 2014 Games. “Now it's more creative and free-flowing. It's almost more dynamic in many ways. It's going to be a completely different look that people will see. You're also going to see a lot of speed, which we've always had, but I think this style of play really capitalizes on this skill set as a group.”
Much of that has to do with head coach Robb Stauber and associate head coach Brett Strot, who took over the team in January 2017 ahead of the U.S.’s gold medal run at the World Championships.
“[Stauber] brought the style of play,” Knight says. “Both him and Brett have introduced this other dynamism that we didn't necessarily have four years ago. That's what you are going to see. I'm excited for the fans to see a different style of hockey.”
A change in strategy brought about some changes in personnel, as well. Veterans Alex Carpenter and Megan Bozek were surprise cuts after the team completed a multi-game series against rival Canada and top-place finish at the Four Nations Cup to close out 2017 as a tune-up. While leaving those national team stalwarts at home left many pundits and fans with questions, the players on the roster have used the lead-up to the Games to find their focus.
“I think we have a lot of younger girls that have really showcased themselves,” defenseman Kacey Bellamy says. “People have confidence now.”
“Every single person on our team is on the team for a specific reason,” captain Meghan Duggan says. “Everyone has a job to do and a role to play and when everyone is going on all cylinders, the whole team, everyone should be on the lookout for.”
That starts with the team’s veterans, including one of the top lines in women’s hockey, made up of Knight, Brianna Decker and Kendall Coyne.
“Everyone on our team is great, but that line has been incredible for us,” Bellamy says. “They always bring the offense, they always bring the grit. It's one of the lines we look at.”
That trio, along with experienced Team USA members Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Amanda Kessel, Lee Stecklein, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Gigi Marvin will be charged with setting the tone. But make no mistake, many of the team's veterans are ready to see the fresh faces seize their Olympic Games moment.
“There’s a couple of younger players who a lot of fans, a lot of players, don’t really see,” Decker says. “On the back end, you have Megan Keller. I think she’s going to be one of the best defensemen in the world in the near future. She's got a lot of experience in the last few World Championships. Also, you look at Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi who are younger girls, first-time Olympians coming here, and those guys are awesome. They're experienced. I'm excited to see how they are at the Olympics.”
The goaltending triad of Alex Rigsby, Maddie Rooney and Nicole Hensley have all proved themselves capable of handling duties in the crease, though Stauber has yet to name his starter with puck drop just a few days out on Feb. 11. Rigsby brings the most experience of the three netminders, having just missed out on making the Sochi team, though Hensley starred at the 2017 Worlds and Rooney stood tall in the U.S.’s third straight Four Nations title in November.
“Our goalies are phenomenal,” Knight says. “I could go down the roster and say something that everyone would have to look out for for every player, that's what I think is so exciting. We've been putting all this work and time and energy into making sure that we're primed and ready to go at the right moments. That's hopefully what everyone's going to see out of everyone's game.”