The USA Hockey Women’s National Festival is an opportunity to gather all of the nation’s top women’s hockey players in one location.
The festival, currently taking place through Aug. 13 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York, will not only give USA Hockey’s staff of evaluators a chance to pick Under-18 and Under-22 Select Teams, but also serve as the unofficial kickoff to the upcoming season.
“This is our elite camp for the season,” said Katie Million, the director of women’s national teams for USA Hockey. “It’s the only time we’ll have this many athletes in one location. I think the really special part is for all of them to be together, for some of these younger girls to see some of their heroes, interact with them, and know that one day, they’re going to be in their shoes.”
The event serves as a training session that will be used to select the U18 and U22 Select Teams, which will compete against Canada in the annual U18 and U22 Series Aug. 14-17 in Lake Placid. This year, U18 and U22 eligible athletes are training alongside members of the gold medal-winning 2018 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team.
Million said 107 athletes are participating in the festival. There are 76 players older than 18, including members of the Women’s National Team, in addition to 31 players eligible for the U18 team.
“The U18 girls get to see the national team girls and the older girls and the progression of hockey and skill development that they’re going to be going through,” Million said. “It gives us the opportunity to see how these players look, how they’re training and how they compete.”
Abbey Murphy helped the U.S. capture a gold medal during the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Dmitrov, Russia. Murphy, who scored four goals in five games during the tournament, also competed in the 2017 and ’18 Under-18 Series against Canada.
Coach Ashley Kilstein talks with goaltender Alex Rigsby at the 2019 USA Hockey Women's National Festival.
“Having the opportunity to participate and being with all the girls is a huge honor,” Murphy said. “They’re setting an example and we want to be like them when we get older. Even off the ice, they’re always talking to us, we’re asking them questions and every single one of those girls are always open to them. I think it’s wonderful.”
Emily Pfalzer won an Olympic gold medal during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in addition to four IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medals. Pfalzer also remembers what it’s like as a younger player, as she captured a gold medal during the 2011 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championships.
“I’ve been in their shoes,” Pfalzer said. “I was on the U18 team for two years and I remember being excited to be in a camp with all of the big names, just watching, observing and learning from them. Hopefully, we can be those same role models to the U18s now.”
The U18 group is also doing its part to teach the older players, like the case of Brianna Decker, a member of the 2018 gold medal-winning team, who is now an assistant coach with the Under-18 Women’s Select Team.
Pfalzer enjoys having all of the players on the ice together, from the gold medal-winning veterans to the ones who might be participating in their first festival.
“It’s awesome to see new faces,” Pfalzer said. “It’s great to see faces that have been around the program for a while and then also some newer, younger faces who are going to be key components to this team for years.”
Before they get that far, USA Hockey’s evaluators are focusing on the women’s U18 and U22 Series, followed by the Four Nations Cup in November, the IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship in January and the 2020 Women’s World Championship in March and April 2020.
It all begins this week at the Women’s National Festival.
“It’s fun to get back at it with everyone,” Pfalzer said. “We work so hard for the whole summer, on and off the ice. It’s fun to start the year off on a good note.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.