A gold medal in the 2018 Olympics was the perfect final chapter to the narrative journey for this generation of the US women’s national team. From the heartbreak of the Sochi Olympics, to their fight for a fairer wage to represent their country, to the final roster turmoil heading into the Olympics, taking home their first gold medal in 20 years in the sport’s premier event was a final vindication that cemented their legacy in US hockey history.
With so many players on this year’s Olympic roster returning from the Sochi Olympics, there’s likely to be a generational shift with a lot of new faces when the US women take the ice at the 2022 Olympics. The old guard stepping down will always be remembered, not just for what they accomplished on the ice, but for what they did off the ice to improve the women’s game. They were the builders.
But the next generation has the potential to be something special. The United States is on an unprecedented streak of four straight gold medals at the World U18 championships. We got a taste of the new group this year, when Cayla Barnes, the first player ever to win three U18 gold medals, played a key on the Olympic gold-medal winning team. By the next Olympics, a number of those women with equally impressive resumes will be taking the ice on the senior national team, and winning gold won’t be the hope, but the expectation.
There’s no telling how many open spots there will be for the 2022 Olympic team. Certainly an increase in professional opportunities for the women’s game will allow some players to extend their careers longer. But there will be a lot of intriguing new options for USA Hockey to choose from when by the time the next Olympics comes around.
Here’s a look at some of those players that could be representing Team USA in Beijing.(Current team, and where they will be in four years listed in parenthesis)
Caitrin Lonergan(Boston College, Grad+2)- My first reaction seeing Lonergan play this year at Boston College was, “Why is she not going to the Olympics”. After a good freshman season at BC, Lonergan emerged as a sophomore to become a dominant force in college hockey alongside linemate Daryl Watts. Lonergan’s best asset is her game-breaking speed that allows her to break down defenses by beating defenders one-on-one and creating mismatches on the ice.
Grace Zumwinkle(Minnesota, Grad+1)-Zumwinkle has skated with the national team before, and had the US been in a position to go with a younger line-up for this Olympics, she could have very easily been on the team. She’s a fast, strong skater, but her best asset is her world-class shot. Zumwinkle should be one of the big finishers on this team in the future.
Clair DeGeorge(Bemidji State, Grad+1)-Future US teams are going to rely heavily on speed over size, but the Lamoureux sisters proved there is still the need for a little bit of grit in the lineup, especially against a physical team like Canada. DeGeorge doesn’t have the same nastiness the Lamoureux sisters brought to the team, but she’s a 5’10” power forward that is dominant working for pucks along the boards and has the skating ability and skill to contribute at the Olympic level. She doesn’t draw the same attention as other players playing for a low-scoring Bemidji State team, but has already been invited to practice with the national team, and should be making an impact with them before long.
Abby Roque(Wisconsin, Grad+2)-With Emily Clark and Annie Pankowski not playing for Wisconsin this year due to Olympic centralization, Roque was able to flourish and develop into a leader for Wisconsin in her sophomore year, moving from third line center to Wisconsin’s top offensive threat. Roque is a strong, tough player with exceptional passing ability.
Annie Pankowski(Wisconsin, Grad+3)-Pankowski has been one of the final cuts for the Olympic team each of the past two years, and arguably should have made both teams. 2022 is probably the year she finally gets the opportunity. Pankowski has some incredible offensive abilities. She’s a great puck-handler and playmaker, but her skating ability makes it difficult for her to play the type of game Team USA wants to play.
Taylor Heise(Red Wing HS/Minnesota commit, Senior)-Heise became the first forward to ever win three World U18 gold medals when she captained the US team to victory this year, and already has some experience skating with the US national team. Her skating ability is really elite. It may take an adjustment at the college level to develop her playmaking skills after years of being able to skate end-to-end whenever she wanted, but her ridiculous athleticism will give her a place somewhere on the next Olympic team.
Abbey Murphy(Chicago Mission U16/Minnesota commit, Sophomore)-Murphy won’t turn 16 for another month-and-a-half but has already started to establish herself as the future of USA Hockey. As one of the youngest players in the World U18 tournament this past winter, Murphy played on Team USA’s top line and was very productive. She’s a tremendous skater with blazing speed and good offensive skill. She also did this to a Canadian defender, which is pretty neat.
Makenna Webster(Shattuck-St. Mary’s U19/Wisconsin commit, Sophomore)-One month older than Murphy, Webster was also on the top US line at the World U18s despite being in her first year of eligibility for the tournament, and led the tournament’s top division in scoring with nine points in five games. She also scored the decisive shootout goal in a dramatic semifinal win over Canada. She’s a skilled player that plays with unparalleled tenacity and effort.
Presley Norby(Wisconsin, Grad+2)-Norby is incredibly fast, and despite not being huge, plays a very tenacious in-your-face type of game that could make her a valuable asset to a US line-up.
Taylar Cianfarano(Quinnipiac, Grad+4)-Two years ago, Cianfarano looked like a lock to be an Olympian. She had been named MVP of the World U18s and was coming off a sophomore season with Quinnipiac with over 50 points. There’s no doubt she has the talent, but missed all but two games this past season with an injury that could potentially have lingering long-term effects.
Makenna Newkirk(Boston College, Grad+3)-Newkirk has been overshadowed a bit by the prolific scoring of Daryl Watts and Caitrin Lonergan, but she’s a solid scorer in her own right.
Melissa Samoskevich(Quinnipiac, Grad+2)-Samoskevich’s numbers have taken a hit in her last two years of college as the scoring around her dwindled, but she is a smart, responsible two-way player.
Gracie Ostertag(Shattuck-St. Mary’s U19/Minnesota commit, Senior)-Ostertag is the most complete defenseman in the US pipeline. A three-time U18 gold medalist, Ostertag is a tough defensive presence that logs a lot of ice time, and has shown improved ability to contribute offensively as well. She’s a rock on the blue line and should be a national team fixture for many years.
Jincy Dunne(Ohio State, Grad+2)- The 2018 Olympics was supposed to be Jincy Dunne’s coming out party. She was one of the final cuts from the Sochi team as a 16-year-old, and looked destined to someday be the top D on the national team. But concussion issues forced her to sit out a full season and it took over a year after that to begin to start playing like she once did. But she has been excellent for Ohio State this year and is likely to provide a smooth-skating presence on the US blue line.
Kelsey Koelzer(Princeton, Grad+4)-Koelzer was just barely on the outside looking in for this year’s Olympics. She is a talented offensive defenseman that led Princeton to a rare NCAA tournament bid as a point-per-game D in college. With the US having fewer options to choose from on the blue line, Koelzer may end up on the right side of the bubble next time.
Madeline Wethington(Blake School/Minnesota commit, Junior)-Another three-time U18 gold medalist, Wethington is a gritty competitor that almost always finds a way to come out on top. She’s a very versatile player that can play in any situation.
Toni Ann Miano(Boston College, Grad+4)-When Cayla Barnes was called up to the national team midway through this season, there were some eyebrows raised about her low point totals with the Eagles. The reason for that was because the Eagles already had a great PP quarterback in Miano. She has matched her goal total from her previous three years combined with 18 goals this year, and is averaging over a point-per-game from the blue line. Miano isn’t as strong on the defensive end, but putting the puck in the other team’s net can cover a lot of mistakes.
Sydney Baldwin(Minnesota, Grad+4)-If the US wants to play a fast, uptempo style, Baldwin is a perfect fit. She’s a tremendous skater that can be a one-woman breakout rushing the puck up the ice, despite logging heavy minutes for Minnesota this season.
Alex Gulstene(Minnesota, Grad+1)-With 20-year-old Maddie Rooney earning the starting goalie job in this past Olympics and playing exceptional hockey, goalie isn’t a huge area of need for the US for some time. But Gulstene has been the US’s top prospect in goal for some time. She backstopped two of those four straight U18 gold medals, the first of which she pretty much stole from Canada. She’s had a rougher adjustment to college hockey this year, but has the most potential of any US goalie.
Katie Burt(Boston College, Grad+4)-Playing on a very successful team helps, but Burt has posted a save percentage above .930 in all four of her seasons with Boston College.
Brittany Bugalski(Northeastern, Grad+3)-Bugalski is having a down year statistically for Northeastern, but has represented the US in the past.
Lindsay Reed(Hotchkiss Prep/Harvard commit, Senior)-Reed might be more than four years away, especially with what the US has in the goalie pipeline, but she is a big goalie that moves well with a lot of upside. After spending one U18s backing up Gulstene, she took over as the #1 goalie this year and had a very nice tournament.