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USA Hockey Girls U18 Select Camp Report

Last week, USA Hockey held their annual girl’s U18 Select Player Development Camp, which brought together 72 of the best women’s hockey players born between 2002 and 2004 for a week-long camp that serves as one of the primary evaluations for the upcoming U18 Summer Series games against Canada’s U18 team, and ultimately, for next January’s World U18 championships.

For the first time since 2014, the US finds itself in the position of trying to reclaim gold after a heart-breaking second-place finish to Canada at last year’s tournament.

On Sunday, USA Hockey announced 31 players that will be going to a camp later in August that will eventually be pared down to the Summer Series team.

First, some general thoughts on the camp:

The overall level of play at the camp was incredibly high. I’d take any of the four teams at this camp over any country in the world outside of Canada. There weren’t any weak links, and one could probably make a plausible argument for any player at the camp advancing to the Summer Series team, save maybe a few of the younger players that will certainly be in the mix in future years. So it’s worth remembering when I talk about some potential areas of weakness with this team, I’m grading on a scale of the best-of-the-best in the world.

Looking at the big picture in regards to birth year, the 2002s are a pretty formidable group. Six forwards and three defensemen from the 2002s are back this year, led by two players in Abbey Murphy and Makenna Webster that, if they aren’t generational talents, should at least be key US national team fixtures for a long time to come.

After last year, I thought there was the possibility that some of those returning players might not be so secure in their roster spots, but after watching some of the camp, I kind of doubt that. A lot of that is because the 2003 birth year looks to be a down year, relative to other birth years. Returning D Haley Winn is an elite player, and it’s no small thing to have a potential future goalie in Skylar Vetter, but beyond that, there may be a few contributors, but not huge contributors.

The good news is that some of that will be made up for by what looks like a stronger 2004-born group. Kirsten Simms should be a major contributor at this year’s tournament, and there were actually a couple ‘04s that I thought could have advanced out of the St. Cloud camp that didn’t, but may be worth keeping a close eye on this fall in advance of the World U18s.

My final thought from the camp was the somewhat disappointing lack of special teams play in the games. I’m sure it was worked on during the practice sessions, but I think it would have been valuable to see more of it in game situations. There’s little doubt that the US has been the best in the world skating up and down the ice at even strength. But it was the lack of a power play that cost them gold last year when Canada was content to turn the game into a wrestling match and make it a special teams game. Maybe a few extra reps in a summer camp doesn’t make that much difference, but it couldn’t hurt.

As for the players that are advancing to the Lake Placid training camp: here were the players selected(* indicates returning player from last year’s U18 team) as well as some thoughts on how I see each group:

Forwards

Ellie Bayard(‘02, Harvard), Danielle Burgen(‘04, Minnesota State), Kathryn Davis(‘02, Harvard), Lacey Eden(‘02, Penn State)*, Emma Gentry(‘02, St. Cloud State), Peyton Hemp(‘03, Minnesota), Ella Huber(‘02 Minnesota), Katherine Khramtsov(‘04 Princeton), Gabby Krause(‘03 Minnesota Duluth), Sydney Langseth(‘02 Minnesota State), Sadie Lindsay(‘03 Minnesota), Abbey Murphy(‘02 Minnesota)*, Jamie Nelson(‘02 Minnesota State), Kirsten Simms(‘04 Wisconsin), Clara Van Wieren(‘02 Minnesota Duluth)*, Makenna Webster(‘02 Wisconsin)*, Audrey Wethington(‘02 Minnesota)*, Kiara Zanon(‘02 Penn State)*

I was fine with these selections. I had 12 forwards (Murphy, Webster, Eden, Zanon, Wethington, Van Wieren, Bayard, Huber, Langseth, Simms, Krause, and Hemp) that I felt definitely should have been there, and then 13 through ~25 were all pretty interchangeable to me.

As expected Abbey Murphy and Makenna Webster continue to be a cut above the rest of the group. They were dominant in the games I saw, with Murphy nearly scoring one of the best goals I’ve ever seen with a toe drag/between-the-legs shot on a semi-breakaway that the goalie just barely saved.

So it’s a good starting point to have arguably the two best offensive players in the world. The big question, same as last year, is who will step up to provide secondary scoring? At this point, I’m not seeing any obvious candidates. Lacey Eden has the potential to be more of a net-front presence and score more goals this year. She was effective working in front of the net here, and that could provide some offensive spark.

The other candidate to take on some of the secondary scoring load may be Kirsten Simms. Despite being an ‘04, she had a very good week offensively, showing some sweet hands, and being really active in the offensive zone. She’s probably the top scoring threat once Murphy and Webster age out, and it would be a huge boost if she was able to contribute at this year’s tournament as well.

The rest of the forward group should be very solid, but I’m not sure any one player will stand out on the world stage. It’s a deep, solid group though. Like I said, I don’t see any glaring omissions. I liked uncommitted ‘04 Kelly Gorbatenko, but it’s tough to argue with any of the selections made.

Defense

Mia Biotti(‘02 Harvard), Brenna Fuhrman(‘03 Minnesota Duluth), Rachel Golnitz(‘02 Colgate), Rory Guilday(‘02 Cornell), Caroline Harvey(‘02 Wisconsin)*, Vivian Jungels(‘03 Minnesota), Lyndie Lobdell(‘02 Penn State), Maggie Nicholson(‘02 Minnesota)*, Maddie Samoshkevich(‘02 Quinnipiac)*, Haley Winn(‘03 Clarkson)*

I like this group a little better than the forwards. Last year, a young and thin blue line was one of the weaker points of the roster, but the experience gained last year should pay dividends this year. Maggie Nicholson, Haley Winn, and Caroline Harvey were Team USA’s three best defensemen at last year’s tournament, and are all back this year. Samoshkevich is a solid player and veteran presence.

With half of the final roster spots already penciled in, it will be interesting to see how the back half is filled out. Guessing at a roster beforehand, it was much harder to narrow the list down to an appropriate number of names than it was to come up with enough deserving names to fill the list, which is always a good sign.

Vivian Jungels is probably the most likely of the remaining to make it. Her quickness and skating ability provide a unique element to the defense, and as an ‘03, she has the added benefit of potentially being a leader on next year’s team. Biotti had a really good camp, and would provide some size to the blue line. Any of the other four would be average-to-above-average in a third/fourth pairing role.

As for omissions, I was a little surprise uncommitted ‘04 Grace Dwyer didn’t get selected. I really liked her camp, and think she has a bright future with the national team. I also liked ‘02 Harvard commit Jenna McDonald’s poise with the puck. They aren’t glaring omissions though, and the players selected were really good too. It’s just a matter of a very deep group.

Goalie

Callie Shanahan(‘03 Uncommitted), Amanda Thiele(‘02 Ohio State), Skylar Vetter(‘03 Minnesota)*

I didn’t spend too much time watching this group because the starter from last year’s team, Skylar Vetter, returns after a strong tournament last year and the net is probably hers until further notice. Plus, the camp scrimmage setting isn’t usually the best venue for judging goalies. I’ll be interested to see at least one of the other two play in the Summer Series, but this should be a position of strength for the US with Vetter returning.