The U.S. Women’s National Team left Seattle invigorated after sweeping the first three games in the 2022-23 Rivalry Series. It was the first time since 2019 the U.S. has won three consecutive outings against Canada.
Their 4-2 win on Sunday, Nov. 20, was played in front of 14,551 fans at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, a new record for attendance at a national women's hockey game played in the United States, beating the previous record of 13,320 set in Anaheim during the 2019-20 iteration of the Rivalry Series.
Those fans were treated to a goal in the opening minute of play, as Savannah Harmon (Downers Grove, Ill.) scored 40 seconds in. That goal set the tone for the night.
“The crowd and everybody coming out of their seats  seconds into the game was a script you can’t really draw up,” said U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach John Wroblewski (Neenah, Wis.).
The U.S. used Seattle as their homebase, holding a mini camp before heading to British Columbia for the first two games. That gave local fans several opportunities to meet, watch and interact with the team. Team USA goaltender Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, Colo.) had never seen the stands so crowded for a team practice and had never played in front of so many fans.
“This was a remarkable crowd. Breaking the record for a game on U.S. soil is super exciting and that gave us a lot of energy,” said Hensley.
Growing up in Colorado, she remembers seeing the U.S. play China in the lead-up to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. She still has a flag she had signed by Cammi Granato that day. The only girl on her hockey team at the time, it was the first time Hensley had ever seen women playing hockey.
Hensley knows how important it is to have clinics, open practices, signing sessions and other fan interaction opportunities.
“We know how powerful that is, because we lived it, too. Hopefully, it was a really inspiring week for all of them and I can't wait to see the hockey players that come out of this area."
Playing games on the west coast is still relatively rare for women’s hockey players, and the team was excited to tap into the groundswell of hockey interest in the NHL’s newest market as well as the fervor for women’s sports that already exists in Seattle.
“We are really fortunate to be able to have opportunities like this and I hope there are more to come,” said Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho). “In women's sports, we know the issue is visibility. Whenever fans show up and support women's sports to this magnitude, we continue to progress off of that. I think this is only scratching the surface of the crowds that we can have.”
In addition to the incredible atmosphere and experience for fans, the Rivalry Series games serve a key role in the ongoing development of the Women’s National Team.
These games help the team put what they’ve learned in practices into use and help build their chemistry, and being able to spend time together to play and problem solve on the fly is invaluable.
“When you play a team over and over you get to understand the tendencies and what they do and how they do it,” said Rory Guilday (Minnetonka, Minn.). “It makes you more comfortable in your own game plan. You know what they're going to bring, and you have to be ready to combat it.”
Despite being one of the younger players on the U.S. roster, Guilday, a sophomore at Cornell University, knows about familiarity with this opponent. In these games she was facing off against her college coach, Doug Derraugh, who serves as an assistant coach on Team Canada.
Guilday, a defender, sees similarities in how Derraugh has coached her in Ithaca and what the Canadian defense does, but enjoys playing against him and the four Cornell grads on Canada’s current roster. Historically, national team players from Cornell have been Canadian, but Guilday loves being the American representative. Playing against friends and former teammates just makes her more competitive and fuels her fire.
The 2022-23 Rivalry Series now pauses for three weeks before resuming with two west coast games, when the U.S. faces off against Canada in Henderson, Nevada, on Dec. 15 and in Los Angeles on Dec. 19. The series will conclude with two final games with date and location TBA.
Wroblewski is pleased with the start to the series, but he knows Canada will continue to be a tough test in next month’s games.
“This series always has its ups and downs. It’s sort of like a roller coaster, where there's ebbs and flows to it,” said Wroblewski. “Canada will have a response for us now after this. We need to make sure we're sharp and continue to grow as a federation as well.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.