The U.S. Women’s National Team just wants to play a meaningful hockey game.
That hasn’t happened since Feb. 8, 2020 when the U.S. closed out the 2019-2020 Rivalry Series with a 4-3 overtime victory against Canada at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sidelined the national team for 18 months. But that’s about to change, as the U.S. is set to compete in the 2021 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championship, which runs from Aug. 20-31, in Calgary, Alberta.
“I think there’s a level of anxiety that I’ve never quite seen before. It’s not necessarily anxiety that’s negative, but it’s just an anxiousness to get going,” head coach Joel Johnson said. “We’re so excited to play a game, and go out for warmups, and skate around, and have tempo, and play somebody different. As simplistic as it sounds, just the opportunity to play a game in an IIHF event has the players more excited than they’ve been about any game before.”
The 2020 event, scheduled for Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia, was canceled on March 7, 2020 because of the pandemic. The 2021 tournament was rescheduled for May in the same location but postponed again because of the virus.
The U.S. is scheduled to face Switzerland in its first competitive game in a year-and-a-half on Friday, Aug. 20, in the first of four preliminary-round contests.
“I’m just excited to be playing again,” forward Abby Roque said. “We’re grateful to be playing now.”
The national team completed a five-day training in Blaine, Minnesota, before a mandatory five-day quarantine period in Calgary. In addition to the opener against Switzerland, the U.S. will also face Finland, Russia and Canada in preliminary-round play. The quarterfinals begin on Saturday, Aug. 28, followed by the semifinals two days later. The gold-medal game is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 31.
“Being in Calgary now, the excitement is unmatched,” forward Jesse Compher said. “It’s been more than a year since we’ve had international competition, so I think our team is eager to get started because we’re very well prepared going into this tournament. We’re so excited and the thought of putting on that jersey and playing a game is indescribable right now.”
The U.S. is looking to win its sixth consecutive gold medal at this year’s tournament.
“Six in a row would be pretty special,” Compher said. “We obviously have our eye on the gold, but right now, all we’re focused on is the first game.”
The U.S. has won the gold medal in five consecutive world championships and captured all nine of its world titles in the last 11 tournaments. The last time out in 2019, the U.S. captured its historic fifth consecutive gold medal against host Finland. Johnson said that his group is thinking about the gold medal opportunity in front of it, and not a sixth consecutive tournament victory.
“Sometime, a long time from now, we can look back on historic records, but that’s the furthest thing from our mind right now," Johnson said. "I don’t think anybody thinks a whole lot about winning a sixth world championship. I think everybody’s on board with trying to win this one.”
Johnson said that when the Americans are at their best, they play a simple, predictable game with speed.
“We know we’re going to support one another, we know where the puck is going to be and we put it into space where we can gain possession, or get it back,” Johnson said. “It starts in our end with good goaltending and defense, and up front, we have speed and goal-scoring ability. Our commitment to play defense as a forward group is what separates us when we’re at our best.”
The 25-player roster features 15 members of the team that captured gold in 2019, which includes Compher.
“Being part of the fifth championship, everybody circles the U.S. game on their calendar as the biggest game of the tournament,” Compher said. “I think the pressure is knowing that we’re going to get every team’s best, so we have to have the mentality that every game is the biggest of the year. No. 6 is obviously in the back of all of our minds, but we’re focusing on the first game. We can’t overlook any steps of getting to that gold medal game.”
The U.S. is certainly seeking the historic feat and sixth consecutive gold medal, but the players are also excited to be back on the ice in a competitive world championship tournament atmosphere.
“I don’t see any pressure about longevity, or a streak, or anything of that nature,” Johnson said. “Part of it is that we’re so excited about playing a game and the realization of how special it is to play in any world championship. It doesn’t matter if we have a winning streak or we haven’t won it all, this opportunity is special and we’re going to treat it that way.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Introducing the #USWNT's leadership group for the 2021 #WomensWorlds: Lee Stecklein, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hilary Knight & Brianna Decker! pic.twitter.com/9nlrqTL43o— USA Hockey (@usahockey) August 18, 2021