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USA Hockey Announces Women’s U18 Roster Breakdown

Today, USA Hockey announced their roster for the upcoming 2018 Women’s World U18 Championships held this January in Russia. The US women will be competing for an unprecedented fourth consecutive gold medal in the event.

Here is the roster for the team.

Overall, there aren’t too many major surprises from this US roster, which is mostly the same as the roster from this summer’s Summer Series, in which the US defeated Canada two games to one. Here’s a quick breakdown on the team.

Forwards

This isn’t necessarily a weak area for the United States, but it’s not their strongest area. While they have some potential high-end talent, it mostly comes from the younger age groups, as opposed to the 2000 age group.

Leading the group is Taylor Heise(Minnesota), who captained this team during their Summer Series vs. Canada and has practiced a bit with the main national team. Heise is the most standout individual player on the team, though for a player used to being able to skate the puck end-to-end at will, being able to get her teammates involved may be a challenge.

Something that could help in that regard is Maggie Flaherty’s(Minnesota Duluth) selection to the roster. A defenseman by trade, Flaherty played up at forward during the Summer Series this summer, where she had success, and skated at forward during this fall’s Elite League NIT tournament with USA Hockey watching closely. She played on Heise’s Team Red and the two seemed to have an effective chemistry.

It’s likely going to be the younger age groups that carry the scoring load for this team though. Two years ago, I said Makenna Webster(Wisconsin) was USA Hockey’s next star player, and this tournament should be her time to shine. Though she’s still a 2002 birthdate, Webster has dominated the U19 ranks on the top line with Shattuck-St. Mary’s. She’s a tenacious worker with a combination of speed and skill. Boston-area forward Casey O’Brien(Wisconsin) moved to Shattuck-St. Mary’s this year, where she has been paired with Webster and the two developed instant chemistry as the team’s top two scorers. O’Brien is a smooth player with above average speed and excellent passing ability. The third player on that top line at Shattuck rotated between Maggie Connors, who will be on Team Canada, and Hannah Bilka(Boston College), who has a great first step burst of speed that makes her difficult to defend. I would not be surprised to see Webster-O’Brien-Bilka line throughout the tournament.

Besides Webster, the other ‘02 birthdate to watch is Abbey Murphy(Minnesota). She’s a standout on the Chicago Mission U16 team, which is currently ranked #1 in the nation. She’s not big, but is a tremendous skater with electric speed.

Dominique Petrie(Harvard) is the only returning forward on the team besides Heise. With a year of experience under her belt, she should play a much bigger role on this year’s team.

The only change at forward from the Summer Series was Katelyn Knoll(Northeastern), an NY native playing in Toronto, taking the spot of Samantha Burke. Burke provided a nice power forward presence to the line-up, but speed is going to be where the US holds the biggest advantage, so they may as well lean into that by going faster all the way down the line-up.

Overall, with very few surprises, there aren’t many opportunities for complaint. I was strongly in the camp of picking ‘01 Lily Delianedis(Cornell) for the team. ‘02 Taze Thompson(Harvard), who is linemates with selectee Anne Bloomer(Harvard) is another player I would have given heavy consideration, but both players will likely get an opportunity next year.

Defense

This should be the strength of the US team, starting with their top pairing of two-time gold medalists in Gracie Ostertag(Minnesota) and Madeline Wethington(Minnesota). Ostertag has really taken another step in her game these past few months in terms of being more assertive on the offensive end. This should be a big tournament for her. Wethington is such a great competitor, and it should be valuable to have that, along with her experience in key moments.

The two other returners from last year, Ally Simpson(Colgate) and Lizi Norton(Minnesota Duluth) both made the team again this year. I was really impressed with Simpson this fall. She’s taken her game to another level, becoming more confident and using her physical talents better. The experience she got playing on this team last year should payoff this year as she plays a more significant role. Norton has the ability to skate with anybody, which will be a huge asset on the blue line.

Having such a strong top-4 returning puts less stress down the line-up. I don’t know much about Lily Farden(Harvard), but Madison Bizal(Ohio State) is a smooth skater, while Hadley Hartmetz(Boston College) is a nice puck-moving defenseman. Maggie Nicholson(Minnesota) is an ‘02 birthdate, so she’ll back at this tournament for two more years after this one. She’s got a world of upside and the experience she gains from being able to play in this tournament should be invaluable.

Goalie

Pretty much by the numbers here. The available pool shrunk a little when Olivia Bizal had to retire from hockey due to a concussion suffered at the Select 66 Camp last summer. Lindsay Reed(Harvard) is the returner from last year’s team and expected to be the #1 goalie. Calla Frank(Minnesota State) is a solid back-up; not very exciting but extremely steady and consistent. And Makayla Pahl(Minnesota) is along as the third goalie. As an ‘01, she’s got the inside track on the starting job for next year’s tournament, and could probably see some inconsequential playing time here for the experience.

Overall

This is a very solid group that has a great chance at taking home gold again. All the selections were pretty much as expected, which one would expect after they performed well against their only real competition this past summer. There might be some concerns about their scoring, but I really like the speed that this team has, which could end up being the difference-maker in this tournament. Their prelim round game against Canada might be a toss-up, but when it comes down to crunch time in the medal round, I think being able to lean heavily on their top defensemen will be a huge asset. Gold should be the expectation for this team.