Team USA will, at long last, begin the defense of their 2020 gold medal when they take the ice this week at Madison’s LaBahn Ice Arena for the 2022 IIHF Women’s U18 World Championships.
Under the best of circumstances, the U18s usually serve as an introduction to the upcoming national team talent pool for most followers of women’s hockey. But that is especially the case this year with over two years of pandemic delays completely changing the roster. It’s an almost completely new group for the United States, and with no international competition since 2020, I don’t think anyone quite knows what to expect.
The good news is that this looks like a really talented group for the Americans. While the ‘03 birth year that missed the 2021 tournament was considered a bit of a down year for the US, the ‘04 birth year that will lead this year’s team is considered to be a much stronger group. The rest of the world continues to get more competitive at this level every year, and of course, Canada always presents a major obstacle, but the Americans likely come into the tournament as the favorite, and anything less than gold this year would be a disappointment.
After taking in the team’s exhibition pre-tournament game against rival Canada, here’s how it looks like the US team will line up, at least to start the tournament.
Projected line chart
Laila Edwards-Tessa Janecke-Kirsten Simms
Claire Enright-Ava Lindsay-Danielle Burgen
Kelly Gorbatenko-Cassie Hall-Elyssa Biederman
Madison Kaiser-Maggie Scannell-Finley McCarthy
Josie St. Martin
Laney Potter-Jenessa Gazdik
Grace Dwyer-Sydney Morrow
Emma Peschel-Ava Svejkovsky/Molly Jordan
Annelies Bergmann-Sedona Blair-Ava McNaughton
And here is a breakdown of what you might expect to see from each player in the tournament this year.
#7 Ava Lindsay, ‘05 birthdate, Committed to Minnesota
What to expect: Lindsay’s speed and ability to create offense in 1-on-1 situations led to some nice scoring chances in the exhibition game.
#9 Kelly Gorbatenko, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Wisconsin
What to expect: A very tall forward with some serious offensive skill. Not the most complete two-way player at this point, but if she’s playing with people that can drive possession and get her the puck in good positions, she’ll put up points in this tournament.
#10 Laila Edwards, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Wisconsin
What to expect: Edwards towers over everyone on the ice, listed at three inches taller than any other US skater. She was under consideration for the U18 team back in 2019, pre-pandemic, but was still a bit lanky and awkward. A few years later, her coordination has started to catch up, and she’ll likely play a big role on this team. Her massive wingspan and reach makes her disruptive defensively and able to protect the puck offensively. She’ll also be counted on as a net-front presence on the power play.
#11 Josie St. Martin, ‘06 birthdate, Uncommitted(Unable to commit to college until June 15th.)
What to expect: St. Martin plays with a lot of speed on the wing, and did not look uncomfortable or out of place when taking shifts with Team USA’s top line in the exhibition game.
#13 Danielle Burgen, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Minnesota Duluth
What to expect: One of two players that has actually played in this tournament before. Not as offensively exciting as fellow returner Kirsten Simms, but she’ll be super reliable. Smart, responsible player, and very strong along the boards.
#14 Elyssa Biederman, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Colgate
What to expect: By far the smallest US forward, but one of the most fun to watch. She’s fast, always involved in the play, and wins a lot of pucks in tough areas. Really drove possession for her line in the exhibition, which was probably the most effective group for the US. Also one of the top penalty killers.
#17 Kirsten Simms, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Wisconsin
What to expect: Simms is the top offensive threat on this year’s US team, and likely to be among the top scorers in the tournament. She’s tremendous at handling the puck with speed and creativity. The primary option on the top US power play unit is to get the puck to Simms along the left half-board, then let her circle around the high slot probing for a passing or shooting lane.
#18 Claire Enright, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Wisconsin
What to expect: A solid offensive player that the US will likely count on to provide some secondary scoring beyond the top line.
#21 Cassie Hall, ‘05 birthdate, Committed to Wisconsin
What to expect: Lots of speed. She didn’t show up on the scoresheet in the exhibition game, but might have had the most scoring chances for the US, which she created with her quick burst of speed. Puts a lot of pressure on the defense with her skating ability.
#22 Tessa Janecke, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Penn State
What to expect: Not necessarily immediately noticeable, but the closer you watch, the more you appreciate some of the things she does. A really strong center that uses her size really effectively to gain positioning. Reminds me a bit of former U18 captain Dominique Petrie.
#23 Madison Kaiser, ‘04 birthdate. Committed to Minnesota
What to expect: Good skater that does a little bit of everything. Probably not a main scorer at this tournament, but some nice offensive skill, and will play on the penalty kill.
#24 Maggie Scannell, ‘06 birthdate, Uncommitted(Unable to commit to a college until June 15th)
What to expect: Though one of the youngest on the team, Scannell has good size and moves her feet well. It might be asking too much for her to score a lot at this tournament against older competition, but she’s been a scorer her whole career and will likely be a big part of the future for the US team in future years.
#25 Finley McCarthy, ‘05 birthdate, Uncommitted(Unable to commit to a college until June 15th)
What to expect: McCarthy is a late-’05 birthdate, so like Scannell, super-young for this tournament, but it’s obvious to see the high-end potential. Good skater with a lot of strength and toughness and some potential as a high-end scorer.
#2 Molly Jordan, ‘05 birthdate, Committed to Boston College
What to expect: Jordan is the only player among the defense eligible to return to the tournament next year, and with the US having a pretty strong ‘04 group to lean on, her tournament will likely be more about gaining experience for next year than factoring into this year. Hopefully the US is in enough low-leverage situations in the preliminary round where they can roll through lines and use their whole bench.
#3 Jenessa Gazdik, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Minnesota State
What to expect: Gazdik worked as a nice complement next to Laney Potter on the top US defensive pairing. Nothing super-flashy about her game, but she plays very smart, heady hockey and doesn’t panic with the puck or try to force things that aren’t there.
#4 Ava Svejkovsky, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Colgate
What to expect: An effective puck-moving defenseman that is probably a little more comfortable attacking with the puck than defending.
#5 Laney Potter, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Wisconsin
What to expect: I don’t think Potter necessarily had the sharpest game in the US exhibition, but it’s pretty clear she’ll play a huge role on this team. It’s extremely rare to find a player with her combination of size and athleticism. She skates well enough to push the puck up the ice on occasion, but for the most part, her biggest asset is using her size and strength as a defensive presence. In the aftermath of the Olympics, I talked a bit about how the US has been forced to extend the Lee Stecklein era because they just don’t have any viable players in the pool that can fill the role of a big, strong shutdown defensive defender, and I think there is at least the hope that Potter might be able to some day.
#6 Emma Peschel, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Ohio State
What to expect: I thought she had a really solid exhibition game, even aside from the fact that she scored on a point shot through a screen. Maybe lacking some of the elite traits of Potter or Morrow, but does everything at a high level. Gives the US a lot of flexibility in that they could rely on her to anchor a third D pairing, or play her in the top 4 if they shorten the bench in key moments.
#12 Sydney Morrow, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Ohio State
What to expect: Should be one of, if not the best player at the tournament. A tremendous skater with low center-of-gravity, and elite balance and agility to along with great puckhandling ability. Impossible to knock off the puck. Created multiple scoring out of nothing in the exhibition game, and also had a very strong defensive game.
#16 Grace Dwyer, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Cornell
What to expect: A really good skater that loves to push the puck up the ice or jump into the offensive rush. Sometimes that can get her into trouble when the play transitions the other way and she gets caught out of position. But the offensive positives outweigh some of the defensive negatives.
#1 Sedona Blair, ‘05 birthdate, Committed to New Hampshire
#29 Annelies Bergmann, ‘05 birthdate, Committed to Cornell
#30 Ava MacNaughton, ‘04 birthdate, Committed to Wisconsin
What to expect: Tough to get much of a read on the goalies after the exhibition game in which each played one period and they all made every stop they should have made.All three have plus-level size and solid positioning, which allows them to turn dangerous chances into easy saves. I suspect Team USA would do pretty well with any of the three in net, and wouldn’t be surprised if multiple goalies saw time in net over the course of the tournament, before eventually settling on whichever goalies is playing best heading into the medal round games.