The US women’s national program played last week in their annual Summer Series against Canada, with their U18 and U22 teams each playing a best-of-three series against the Canadians.
The U22s took their series, winning the first two games—4-3(OT) in game one, and 4-2 in game two—before dropping the final game by a 2-1 score. The U18s split their first games, dropping the first 5-4, before winning the second with a dramatic 3-2 overtime win. In the final game, Canada shut out the Americans by a score of 2-0.
The series victory for the U22s was just their seventh in 15 tries against the Canadians, but marked their fifth victory in the last six years the event has been held. The U22 success doesn’t come as much surprise, with the majority of this group playing a big role in the US’ historic run of four straight gold medals at the World U18 Championships from 2014-2018. The gap isn’t huge, but the US has appeared to be just a step of Canada in the ‘98-’01 birth years, which bodes very well for two Olympic cycles.
What stood out most among the US scoring was the balance and depth. 13 of the 20 skaters registered at least a point, with only Taylor Heise(1-3-4) and Hannah Bilka(2-1-3) scoring more than two points. Emma Polusny was solid in goal for the US, but with Maddie Rooney incumbent to the starting role on the national team, it’s not essential that the US find a goalie out of this group. The next Olympics will be the time for the next generation of US skaters to take over, however, and it looks like they have a very strong group to do so.
Results were less promising on the U18 side. It was, of course, a very close series that the US lost. But the winner of the summer U18 series has gone on to take gold at the World U18s the following winter in five out of the last seven years.
Looking back at some of my pre-tournament assumptions, I don’t think this tournament changes my opinions too much. Makenna Webster had an uncharacteristically quiet week, while Abbey Murphy was a difference-maker in Game 2, but otherwise fairly quiet. There’s very little concern there though, given their long track record.
In the quest to find some secondary scoring to go along with them, ‘04 F Danielle Burgen had a breakout week, teaming up with linemate Kathryn Davis to lead the Americans in scoring with a 3-1-4 line. Lacey Eden only had one assist in the series, but it was a huge one, making a beautiful pass in front of the net to set up Murphy’s dramatic game-tying goal in the waning seconds of Game 2.
The other positive is that the US did end up winning the special teams battle, scoring three times with the man advantage to just one for Canada. That’s a pretty small sample size and who knows how that will translate next January, but it’s something.
The downside is that the overall depth on the roster wasn’t that impressive. Obviously the numbers are going to be a little down since the US got shut out in one of the three games, but in total, only eight of the 20 skaters showed up on the scoresheet. The defensemen combined for only three points, all assists. That’s a group that is probably capable of producing more.
It’s tough to draw much conclusion on the goaltending from such a small sample size. Returning starter Skylar Vetter ended up with some rough numbers after the first game, and Amanda Thiele played well enough in the second game to earn the start in the third. There will be enough time in the prelim round of the Worlds to figure out who the best play is in goal.
Meanwhile, the ‘02 group from Canada looks deep and strong, led by a very strong core of returning players from last year’s gold medalists in Anne Cherkowski, Ann-Frederik Naud, and Maddi Wheeler.
Overall, Canada will definitely head into the World U18s next January as the favorites for the first time in the while. They’re the defending champs, won the summer series, and look like they’re stronger than the US top-to-bottom. The US will need the right players to get hot at the right time if they’re going to reclaim U18 gold.