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Depth Guiding Team USA at U18 WWC

By Nicole Haase, 01/13/24, 11:30AM EST


Of the 21 skaters on Team USA, 18 of them have registered a point in the U18 Women’s World Championship

Maggie Scannell celebrates with Team USA after a 4-0 win against Germany at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship in Zug, Switzerland.

Through four games at the 2024 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship, 18 of the 21 skaters on the U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team have registered a point, with 12 of them scoring at least one goal.

The Americans cruised into the semifinals with a 4-0 win over Germany on Thursday and will face Finland Saturday (1 p.m. ET | NHL Network) with a place in the gold-medal game on the line.

With seven returning players and a roster featuring 11 players that will be eligible to play in the 2025 tournament, Team USA has received attention for the youth and relative inexperience of their squad, but coach Liz Keady Norton pointed out that no one is asking a player’s age when they’re out on the ice. 

Josie St. Martin, the team’s leading goal-scorer (4) and assistant captain, is playing in her third U18 World Championship. She understands that every one of USA’s four lines has lit the lamp and that takes some of the pressure off. Meanwhile, Keady Norton pointed out that removing the pressure allows players like St. Martin and captain Maggie Scannell the freedom to be their best selves instead of feeling like the team’s fortunes rest on their sticks. 

It seems to be working. Team USA has outscored their opponents 23-2, and those goals have come from players up and down the line sheet. But Keady Norton said the team’s depth isn’t just about putting the puck in the back of the net. When putting together this roster, Keady Norton said there were a few “non-negotiables” she started with. 

“They're all hard workers,” Keady Norton said. “They all have a high compete level. They all have enough IQ and thoroughness to their game.”

However, they’re also all players who are committed to the team, their teammates and put in the work on both sides of the ice. She noted that many of the goal scorers are also the players blocking shots and winning the puck in the defense zone. Keady Norton called it a thoroughness to their approach where the best forwards are truly playing a 200-foot game and “earning” the offense as they start a breakout. 

Players listed on the team’s fourth line have been tasked with facing opponents’ top line as well as executing the power play and penalty kill. With six games over the course of nine days, being able to consistently put four lines on the ice is crucial to keeping the players fresh and allowing for rest. No one is expected to do everything, and Keady Norton said it’s a big relief as a player to know that your teammates are also going to perform, whether that’s starting a breakout, blocking a shot or scoring a goal.

Every one of the women on this team is a star with her club or school team. They are used to controlling the game and having the puck on their stick. It’s an adjustment to be in a situation where they may have a different role. Despite not spending a lot of time together before convening for pre-tournament travel and training, Keady Norton said she’s impressed with the cohesion and camaraderie of the team, as well as the trust they’ve built with one another. 

St. Martin said that’s part of the process of the tournament and necessary if the team is going to win gold. 

“We’re chasing excellence every second we can. Every game we’ve gotten better, every game we keep gaining more trust,” she said. “We need everyone to contribute in order to win. Everyone has done a great job of showing up and contributing, no matter what their age or role is. It’s great to see.”

That accountability to one another is crucial, said Keady Norton. It’s a sign of maturity and that the group has come together as a team when the coaches aren’t always the ones that have to issue reminders or talk to players. 

“We have a really good group of kids,” Keady Norton said. “They're high character, high achieving young women that want to win a gold and they're willing to put the work in to do that. When you can look left and right in your locker room and feel supported no matter what and that if you make a mistake, someone's got your back, that's a really nice feeling.”

St. Martin said Team USA is chasing excellence, but Norton also has a realist’s approach to what that can look like. 

“You’re always chasing ‘perfect,’ but I’ve talked to them about closing the gap between where we are right now and ‘perfect’ so that the goal is to make that gap as small as it can be at any time,” Keady Norton said. 

The Americans know they can score goals. They know they can rely on their goalies. They’ve gotten better each game, and they know what they need to work on. St. Martin wants to see more of a battle in front of the net and she thinks the key to beating Finland and advancing to the gold medal game is to play a simple, gritty game against Finland. They’re about to face their toughest tests of the tournament with a goal of winning USA’s first gold since 2020. 

And they’ll do it as a group who know that they are at their best when everyone is having an impact and no one person feels like they have to do it all on their own. 

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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