Hosting an evaluation camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team is always important, but this one was crucial in preparing for the season ahead.
With new COVID safety measures in place to ensure the safest possible environment for staff and athletes, the U.S. Women’s National Team completed a five-day evaluation camp in Blaine, Minnesota, which included 53 players looking to make an impression on the program staff.
“The safety protocols are obviously a huge component of making this camp successful,” said Katie Million, director of women’s national team programs for USA Hockey. “For any camp, there is a lot of logistics and planning, but when you throw in [COVID-19], it’s a different element you have to plan for, and around. Our main goal is always the health and safety of our athletes and our staff.”
USA Hockey completed extensive testing and implemented new protocols throughout the camp.
“It was the most nerve-wracking for me to wait for those test results to come back because I’ve been so careful and worked so hard for this, you’d hate to not be able to come to the camp because you tested positive,” goaltender Alex (Rigsby) Cavallini said. “You had to be prepared and get the training needed while also remaining safe because we knew we had to come in [COVID-19] free.”
The camp marked the first time players were together since the conclusion of February’s Rivalry Series in Anaheim, California. Last week’s camp featured 17 players who were part of the gold medal-winning 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship team and 14 who won a gold medal during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“Obviously, we didn’t know when we would be together ahead of the [Women’s World Championship] in the spring,” forward Brianna Decker said. “We’re thankful to have a camp, and I think it’s great for the coaches to be able to see the talent and player pool we have moving forward.”
The camp began the process of choosing who will represent the U.S. at the 2021 World Championship in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia. The organization is also about a year-and-a-half from the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China.
“We still need to continually evaluate our national team players and see what we have coming up in our development pool,” Million said. “We felt it was important to get this evaluation camp in, especially when the NCAA has not started its season yet. It gave us a really good opportunity to bring in some of those NCAA players and younger players while doing this evaluation in a safe manner.”
One such player is Wisconsin junior Britta Curl, a rising star within the program, who was named to the roster for the 2020 IIHF Women’s World Championship, an event that was canceled because of the pandemic.
“There are a lot of past Olympians and national players, so it’s really good to have that kind of exposure to the speed of the game,” Curl said. “I personally wanted to gain confidence playing with elite players here. It’s a time for me to show the coaches and the program who I am as a player and give it my best shot to make teams in the future.”
Curl feels fortunate that she’s been able to train daily with her teammates at the University of Wisconsin.
“Everyone doesn’t have the luxury of being on a team that’s able to practice every day,” Curl said. “The first couple months of the pandemic, it was definitely hard to adjust, working out on your own and finding ways to keep your skills sharp. But for a month or so, we’ve been having full team practices, so I feel like I was in a pretty good spot coming into the camp.”
Early in the pandemic, Decker mostly worked out in her basement and also trained outside. As the camp neared, the two-time Olympian found a way to be ready for the week-long event.
“I think the coaches are probably more thankful than anything to be able to see the players and evaluate as much as possible,” Decker said. “But it’s also great for us as players to know where we are and know where we stand compared to other players. The only thing you can really do is hold yourself accountable during these weird times and just make sure you’re hitting numbers that you want to hit.”
Cavallini, a former Wisconsin standout, was able to find ice time during the lead-up to the evaluation camp. She’s also well aware that the IIHF Women’s World Championship and 2022 Olympic Winter Games aren’t far off, particularly in the midst of an unpredictable pandemic.
“I just think it’s important because who knows when we’ll be able to get together again,” Cavallini said. “It’s great to get touches, go over systems, train with the team and compete. This is the best talent in the country that’s able to come together and we’re really just pushing our abilities.”
It also restored a sense of normalcy and peace of mind to the players, that they were able to gather as program and take the precautions necessary to stay safe.
“There have been a lot of challenges thrown our way, so this brought a lot of normalcy,” Cavallini said. “The players here are my best friends and I love to compete with them and I love to get together and train. We’re all doing our part to stay healthy. I think it speaks volumes to our group to be able to make this a successful camp.”
Regardless of what happens in the future, it’s important for the group to carry the momentum built from the evaluation camp back to their homes. That includes strength and conditioning, nutrition and mental performance, in addition to on-ice work.
“It’s just kind of not taking your foot off the gas,” Cavallini said. “We hadn’t been together since February, but it’s one of those things where you don’t want to take these opportunities for granted. You work so hard for it, you just have to continue to work and kind of keep your head down and focus on what you need to do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.