Since we haven’t even been able to do the 2020 Summer Olympics yet, it can be easy to forget that the 2022 Winter Olympics are fast approaching. But with the opening ceremonies set to begin on February 4, 2022 in Beijing, we’re now technically in an Olympic year, with only 11 months to go, assuming all goes well on the vaccination front.
Marisa Ingemi wrote a piece a couple weeks ago for Sportsnet previewing what Team USA might look like as they attempt to defend their gold medal. That seems like a great place to start the discussion on the team.
A couple thoughts:
-The big news is obviously the retirement of the Lamoureux twins. Gabriella Fundaro wrote the definitive piece on their legacy, which is very much worth your time.
In terms of on the ice, it’s a big loss too. There was always the feeling in some hockey circles that while they weren’t necessarily the two most talented players on the women’s national roster, when the US played Canada and their physical, punishing brand of hockey, they were the two that really thrived in that physical environment, while some of the more skilled, finesse players on the US team tended to shrink in those moments. That’s going to be something that I think will be very difficult to replace.
-The good news is that recent Wisconsin grad Abby Roque seems ready to step into that role. Roque put on a show in the first game of the PWHPA’s Dream Gap Tour, scoring two goals and two assists at Madison Square Garden and seems to be one of the early favorites to lead the next generation.
-Poor Annie Pankowski. She’s been one of the last players cut from each of the last two Olympics, and probably finds herself on an uphill climb to make this team. If the decision ends up being anywhere close, she’s definitely a player I’d give the edge to just because no one is going to be hungrier.
- The future continues to look pretty bright for the United States. It’s worth noting that we’re beginning to see the generation of US players that have won five of the past six U18 gold medals(albeit almost all of them in incredibly tight OT games) after Canada won five of the first nine tournaments. I don’t know if that means a lot in the long run. It’s probably going to be tight between the US and Canada regardless, but there are some great young options for the US on the horizon.
Some of the new faces Ingemi projects, besides Roque, from the NCAA/recently-graduated ranks:
Natalie Snodgrass, senior forward from UConn who has really carried that program for the past four seasons
Jesse Compher, senior forward from Boston University. Another strong two-way forward that potentially brings a nice presence up the middle.
Grace Zumwinkle, senior forward for Minnesota who is probably the player out of this new group most likely to take on a scoring role.
Jincy Dunne, graduated defenseman from Ohio State. After almost making the Sochi team and not being 100% in 2018, this should finally be her time.
Aerin Frankel, senior goalie from Northeastern. Frankel has been outstanding at Northeastern. Goalie is a deep, tough group to crack when there’s only one net, but she looks like the best future option for the US.
Wisconsin junior Britta Curl also gains an honorable mention. Growing up playing in Bismarck, I don’t think Curl had played as much high-level hockey as some of her peers that were ahead of her at a younger age, but she has really taken off at Wisconsin and player her way into deserving serious consideration.
All really good choices. Here are a couple other names from the college ranks that I think will at least get a very serious look next year, and should start to factor in more in the coming years as more players from the previous generation start to retire.
Caitrin Lonergan, Sr, Clarkson-Injuries have kept Lonergan from being the dominant force she was three seasons ago, but she is still among the most talented options among Americans in the college ranks.
Clair DeGeorge, Sr, Bemidji State- DeGeorge is understandably often forgot about in these types of discussion because she’s playing up Bemidji where they don’t score many goals. But having watched most of their games this season, I could make a lengthy, compelling supercut of DeGeorge doing incredible things and then getting little to no help from her teammates. There aren’t many players out there with her combination of size and skill. She’s been on the national team radar for a long time and will probably get a serious look next year.
Gabbie Hughes, Jr, Minnesota Duluth-Similar to Natalie Snodgrass, Hughes has performed really well, logging a lot of heavy minutes as the top option for her team. She is one of the fiercest competitors in the WCHA and has made great strides to improve defensively over her college career, which probably helps her chances of snagging a lower line role for the US.
Taylor Heise, Jr. Minnesota/Abbey Murphy, Fr. Minnesota—Both were the top player in their respective classes with already-long histories with USA Hockey that should be national team regulars at some point. The US is probably deep enough at forward with so many returnees that this probably isn’t their time, but they’ll get a look.
I’d throw in Boston College’s Hannah Bilka and Wisconsin’s Lacey Eden as other players in the category of ‘probably next time’ that should still get a look this year.
On defense, picking names out of the college ranks is a little more difficult because there isn’t quite the depth that the forwards have. Some of the stars from the U18 gold medal teams haven’t necessarily taken off in college hockey to make themselves obvious choices.
Grace Bowlby, who is a senior at Wisconsin, would probably be the most likely candidate. If the US decided to go younger, which they have in each of the past two Olympics with Jincy Dunne(almost) and Cayla Barnes, Haley Winn is another strong potential candidate.
The future in goal looks pretty good too, even after losing what, at one time, looked like their goalie of future in Alex Gulstene to concussion issues. Their gold medal-winning goalie from the last Olympics is still only 23 years old, but it’s nice to have options.
In addition to Frankel, her former back-up at Shattuck-St. Mary’s Abbey Levy has continued to develop and drawn some attention from USA Hockey in recent years. The goalie with the most potential upside is likely Harvard’s Lindsay Reed, who had to sit out this year due to the Ivy League shutting down, but will likely be in the mix. St. Cloud State’s Emma Polusny is similar to Clair DeGeorge in that she doesn’t get much attention playing on a bad team, but is a terrific player with USA Hockey experience that will get a strong look as well.
All in all, still a long ways to go. I don’t think we’ll see too many new faces this year. The nascent professional scene is allowing players to continue to play at a higher level for longer, which is a great thing. But it will be interesting to see which new players can work their way into the rotation.