GANGNEUNG, South Korea – The passes seemed a little crisper, the shots a little harder. The forwards had a little more jump in their step and the goaltenders’ cat-like reflexes were a little bit quicker.
After a week of practice on the newly-minted Olympic ice, the U.S. Women’s Team already appears to have found its stride. And on the eve of the opening ceremony for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the sand can’t pass through the hourglass quickly enough before the puck drops on the team’s first game against Finland.
“I kind of wish we were playing tomorrow but we can wait a few more days,” head coach Robb Stauber said of the team’s Feb. 11 opener. “I’m excited to see how we will perform against Finland.”
And while the rest of the hockey world wants to know about a potential gold-medal rematch against Canada, the players refuse to look that far into the future.
“Our coaches and the rest of the team keeps preaching how Finland is the most important game right now. Then, after that, the next game is the most important,” said Dani Cameranesi, one of 12 first-time Olympians on the squad.
It’s that youthful exuberance that has brought an added bolt of energy to a veteran team determined to erase the sting of Sochi’s silver medal and bring home the first Olympic gold in 20 years.
“The drought is going to end at some point so it might as well end now,” Stauber said. “And I think we have the players to do it.”
That’s been the goal since the team took up residency last fall in Tampa, Fla. Since then they have endured a hurricane, crisscrossed the continent on an exhibition tour that saw them play Canada eight times, welcomed new teammates and said goodbye to old friends, all in the name of taking the final step up the podium.
“Since we finalized the roster more than a month ago, this team has made great progress,” said general manager Reagan Carey. “We’re really happy with where we’re at.”
Where they are on the eve of the Olympics is in a very good place. They are filled with confidence that they have the best 23 players and the right coach to help them reach the top.
After serving as the goaltending coach with the silver medal-winning squad in 2014, Stauber is happy to have control of the reins as he looks to lead this team of thoroughbreds across the finish line.
“I’m just trying to stay in the moment,” he said. “This is a hockey tournament and I’ve done hockey my whole life. I’m not sure I know anything better. I know what I know and I know what I see and I know what I believe. And I believe in our players.
“I’m just sticking to that focus. We have a job to do and that is to attack game one, then analyze it and then move forward. We’re really just trying to stay in the moment.”
And for everyone involved with this team, that moment can’t come soon enough.
|Sun., Feb 11||Finland||Preliminary||W, 3-1||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Tues., Feb 13||Olympic Athletes From Russia||Preliminary||W, 5-0||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 15||Canada||Preliminary||L, 1-2||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Mon., Feb. 19||Finland||Semifinals||W, 5-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 22||Canada||Gold-Medal Game||1:10 p.m./11:10 p.m. (Feb. 21)||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN