Date: March 31, 2017

Women’s World Championships 2017 Preview: USA

By

Reasons that you (yes, YOU!) should consider cheering for Team USA. In no particular order:

  • They are fresh off a victory against USA Hockey, in one of the best-organized shows of solidarity in recent memory, one that will have a positive influence on women’s sports in the US for decades. Do you like listening to Which Side Are You On? and/or Beyoncé? Please consider Team USA.
  • You probably already know some of the more famous faces on Team USA, like Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan. You might also know Brianna Decker, who is a two-time NWHL MVP and still, somehow, profoundly underrated. Team USA has an extremely talented core.
  • This is the first international tournament since the Sochi Olympics that will feature Amanda Kessel, three-time NCAA champion and legendary badass. Kessel missed over a year with a concussion sustained in the leadup to Sochi. While she made the Four Nations roster last November, she was sidelined after injuring her leg while playing for the New York Riveters in the NWHL. Since returning the Riveters, she’s gone back to her old ways, and by “her old ways” I mean “scoring at an absolutely silly pace” (18 points in 8 games this season!).
  • Do you like Boston College? If you like Boston College, you should cheer for Team USA! There are six current or former BC Eagles on the roster. Two of them are currently attending the school. One of them is Michigan native Megan Keller, reigning Cammi Granato Trophy winner as Women’s Hockey East Player of the Year, and one of the best defenders in the country. Keller’s impact on Boston College can’t be overstated—this year, she scored at 1.11 points per game (39 points in 35 games). No other defender in the country exceeded a point-per-game pace. She’s not just notable for her offense, either. Keller’s one of those smart, fast two-way defenders who’s equally capable and crucial for her team at both ends of the ice. Watching Boston College games, it can seem like she never leaves the ice—and thanks to BC’s issues icing a full roster this year, sometimes that wasn’t much of an exaggeration.
  • The University of Minnesota is also well-represented, also with six current or former players on the roster. They include Megan Bozek, who plays for the Buffalo Beauts, and scored four points in two playoff games to lead her team to win the Isobel Cup. Please enjoy this picture of Bozek (on the left, in the maroon sweatshirt and amazing snakeskin leggings) and Beauts teammate Kelley Steadman with the Isobel Cup, and a minion, in a grocery store.
  • Alex Carpenter is incredible and I would lay down my life for her, and I mean that in the most normal and least creepy way possible. The 2015 Patty Kazmaier winner had 35 points in 19 games in her rookie season in the NWHL, playing for the Boston Pride. Five of those points came in the Pride’s semifinal game against the Connecticut Whale. As she demonstrated with her golden goal to win Worlds last year, Carpenter has an uncanny ability to read the play and put herself in the perfect position to score. Which she does. A lot.
  • For the first time that I’m aware of, Team USA mainstay Gigi Marvin will be representing the US as a forward, not in her usual position as a defender. Have you ever wondered what would happen if that old argument about moving Jake Gardiner to forward came to fruition? This is like if someone in a position of authority actually thought that was a good idea, and decided to try it out right as the playoffs were starting. Exciting!
  • Someday in the future, when they make an inspirational movie about the USWNT strike, won’t it be awesome to tell your grandchildren/pets/next-door neighbors about how you, personally, cheered those women on in their quest for gold? It’ll be like Miracle, only with yoga pants instead of plaid polyester suits. You have a can’t-miss opportunity to be part of history.

Team USA won the gold medal last year, so while I wouldn’t say they’re “favored” any more than in any other US-Canada matchup, they’ve got a tremendously strong roster. Two of the new additions to the roster are to replace recently retired players, with University of Minnesota-Duluth standout Maddie Rooney taking the third goaltending slot with Brianne McLaughlin’s departure, and Boston College blueliner Kali Flanagan filling the space on defense left open by the retirement of Anne Schleper.

The other four players not on last year’s roster are Amanda Kessel, Kessel’s University of Minnesota linemate Hannah Brandt, Gigi Marvin (who I apparently hallucinated being on the final roster last year), and Kelly Pannek. Pannek, who tied for the women’s NCAA lead in scoring this season as a junior, is making her debut for the USA senior team.

They also have a new coach in Robb Stauber, whose first outing as coach of Team USA involved…watching his team get swept in the two-game December Series against Canada three months ago. Hopefully, he’s learned some things? Maybe?

“Unfold” is an interesting way to refer to a decades-long rivalry that frequently ends with punches thrown, but the point is, this is going to be some sweet red-white-and-blue hockey. Wednesday’s decision was a huge win for the USWNT off the ice. Now, it’s time to see if they can win big on it.

Women’s ice hockey team sweating as showdown with N. Korea nears

By Kang Hyun-kyung – The Korea Times

Sarah Murray, head coach of the women’s national ice hockey team, habitually tapped her stick on the ice while watching her 22 players running drills at the Kwandong Hockey Center, Wednesday, a week before their showdown with North Korea.

Tapping sticks on the ice is what coaches and hockey players would traditionally do when they are excited about their teammates for their fantastic play or show their support for them. The Canadian coach does that whenever her players score a goal or make a good save.

The intense, fast-paced morning drill, which lasted an hour and a half, neared the end with the sudden stoppage of the loud sound of the puck hitting the boards linking the rink.

Murray asked the exhausted players to gather around for a team meeting and delivered a message to help the players prepare for the forthcoming 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Championship Division II Group A.

During the seven-day competition starting on Sunday in the eastern city of Gangneung, six national teams — the two Koreas, the Netherlands, Britain, Slovenia and Australia — will play against each other for the top post. The two Koreas are set to clash on April 6 in Gangneung Hockey Center.

“We’re kind of a little bit loose, not taking the drill seriously,” she said. Her remarks were instantly translated by Jo Susie, a national team player, for her teammates.

Murray advised them to work out just as they would play in a real game.

This year’s IIHF women’s championship has drawn keen attention from the public, partly because of the rare coincidence of the two Koreas’ showdown on the ice and in real politics. Inter-Korean relations couldn’t be worse as North Korea creates a dire security situation on the peninsula.

The totalitarian state turned a deaf ear to international condemnations on its series of provocations and continued to test fire its missiles. North Korea is also rumored to conduct another nuclear test sooner or later.

The two Korea’s faced off last year in Bled, Slovenia, during the 2016 IIHF championship Division II. South Korea defeated the North 4-1 for the first time since the national team was created in 1998.

Last year was a milestone in South Korean women’s hockey also because the national team crushed Britain, which was unprecedented, and became a runner-up there, the best results the team had ever achieved.

Murray said the players are not content with last year’s victory, stressing North Korea is a tough team to play.

“I think our team has a lot more skill than the North Koreans,” she said. “But they are the team that never give up and do anything to help their team win. They block shots with their faces or any part of their body and they get hit with the puck and you can tell they are in pain but they keep playing.”

The national team players were resolute and said the game against the North is one they must win.

“We’ve played against them many times before and we know them very well,” said Park Jong-ah, a national team member. “North Korea is not the team that scares us, but it is the team that we should have a watchful eye on.”

Park was optimistic about the April 6 showdown. “I think we’re going to win,” she said.

Before the 2016 IIHF competition, North Korea was viewed by the South Koreans as an unbeatable team and the South Korean team was far behind in terms of competitiveness and skill.

“There was a time when North Korea defeated us 6-0,” recalled Han Soo-jin, who joined the national team in 2007. “They could have scored a lot more but they didn’t go aggressive because those North Koreans knew they were going to win anyway and didn’t want to put us in trouble.”

If her team was routed by the North Koreans, Han indicated she and her teammates would have been troubled at home. “So they tried to kind of help us save our face,” she chuckled.

Her remarks showed the tough early years the women’s national team had gone through since it was created. South Korea was crushed by China 1-30 during the 2003 Aomori Winter Asian Games. Little progress had been made in the regional sporting event held four years later.

The South Korean women’s hockey team had a scoreless game against Japan during the 2007 ChangChun Asian Winter Games. Japan routed South Korea 29-0.

‘Murray effect’

Such results were not surprising for those familiar with how the team was created in the late 1990s. There had been no women’s ice hockey team in this country when the national team was created in 1998, a year before the Winter Asian Games in Gangwon Province.

The national team project became a quick fix. Players from other winter sports, such as figure skaters and short-track speed skaters, were invited to the national team as founding members. A North Korean-born hockey player also joined the games.

“We were not professional at that time,” team captain Lee Kyou-sun said. “We had no opportunities to upgrade our skills because there was and still is no other women’s hockey team here. There was no systematic support in place at that time, either. Funding was stingy. We also had no opportunities to train overseas or play against foreign players.”

Lee, who joined the national team in 2000, said head coach Murray was a game changer.

“We now have a foreign head coach who was trained in North America. Since she joined the national team, we came to have lots of opportunities to play against North American players through our regular training in Minnesota,” Lee said. “Generous funding from the Korea Ice Hockey Association also helped us upgrade our skills because it allowed us to have such overseas training opportunities in North America.”

The women’s hockey team has drawn much attention since last year when the sport movie “Take Off 2” was released during the summer.

The film depicts the founding members of the women’s hockey team, their hardships and heartwarming stories.

Although the movie failed to make a box-office hit, attracting less than 1 million film lovers, it created a media frenzy for the national team and the early hockey players who worked two or three jobs to finance their hockey careers.

Women’s World Championships 2017 Preview: Canada

By N

Team Canada lost to the US in the final for the third consecutive time in 2016. Now they’re back with their usual stacked team, a few rookies… and Shannon Szabados.

This is Szabados’ first season of international play since Sochi. In the two-game December series against Team USA she played a total of 111 minutes (starter Ann-Renée Desbiens went down with an injury only eight minutes into game one) and stopped 55 of the 60 shots she faced for a save percentage of 0.917 and GAA of 2.69. More importantly? Team Canada swept that series.

Seventeen of the 23 players played in the CWHL this season including co-leading scorer, league MVP and player-voted MVP Marie-Philip Poulin. (It’s possible you may have heard of her). The four rookies — Toronto Furies’ Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast, Brampton Thunder’s Laura Stacey and University of Minnesota’s Sarah Potomak each have their own features on the Hockey Canada site.

There are lots of questions to ask with this team: who’s starting the tournament, Szabados or last year’s surprise star Emerance Maschmeyer? Are rookie d-pair Ambrose and Fast going to be trusted together or split up? How is Caroline Ouellette going to fare in her first tournament as assistant coach? Is a Canada vs USA medal game ever going to get decided in regulation again?

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you these things. TSN will be covering every Team Canada game live, so you’ll have the stellar TSN broadcasting team to tell you all about each player. Or at least one thing about each player. The same thing. Several times a game. For the whole tournament.