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Collegiate Stars Bring National Team Experience Back to Campus

By Dan Scifo, 03/22/24, 12:00PM EDT


The third episode of “Defending Their Ice” highlights two college players from this year’s Rivalry Series

The backbone of U.S. Women’s National Team is a core of veteran professional players that have years of international experience. 

However, a large part of the U.S. roster each year consists of some of the top collegiate players in the country. 

U.S. Women’s National Team head coach John Wroblewski feels that the future of Team USA lies within using the program’s speed and skill to play a more wide-open approach to the game.

In the third part of the six-episode docuseries “Defending Their Ice: The Story of the U.S. Women’s National Team,” viewers meet several collegiate players who were part of the U.S. roster for the Rivalry Series against Canada this year.

The episode, titled “Icebreakers,” airs at 12 p.m. ET Saturday, March 23, on NHL Network.

“We do a great job with player development, but I’m really excited about how we continue that from when a young woman goes into our Under-18 program and the progression to an Olympic team,” said Katie Million, director of the women’s national team programs. “It’s really been my goal to continue that development. Hopefully, we can see more opportunities for our young ladies while they’re in college and then they have the opportunity togo and play professionally.”

During breaks in their collegiate season, select student-athletes join Team USA for the Rivalry Series. There were 10 collegiate players on the Rivalry Series roster in November, while 14 college skaters comprised more than half of December’s roster.

Wisconsin standout Kirsten Simms, who has 32 goals and leads the NCAA with 74 points in 37 games, was part of the December roster.

“Even though it was a short two weeks, the amount I learned, just from getting to play and practice against those guys and getting those opportunities in games was amazing,” Simms said. “That setting and environment was a huge learning experience.”

Simms said the opportunity with the national team helped her translate from a collegiate to a pro mindset when she returned to Wisconsin. Viewers were also introduced to several of Simms’ Wisconsin teammates, as seven Badgers were part of the Rivalry Series roster in December.

“A lot of the veterans obviously have chemistry,” forward Casey O’Brien said. “You see some of the same women playing with the same people for so many years. But I think they do a really good job of letting the college girls assimilate into their culture, both on and off the ice.”

Forward Lacey Eden noticed the step up in skill when she played in the Rivalry Series compared to what she faces in college. She prioritizes and focuses and each team throughout the season, striking a balance that allows her to flourish.  

“My main priority right now is being the best I can for the national team,” Eden said. “It’s just such a quicker pace. You have defenders coming at you a second quicker and maybe in college, you have an extra second to toe drag or make a move at the blueline.”

Defender Caroline Harvey already had international experience when she started playing at the University of Wisconsin two years ago, as she earneda silver medal with the U.S. at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games before stepping foot on campus. Fellow Wisconsin sophomore Laila Edwards made her debut with the national team in the Rivalry Series this year. 

Britta Curl, Wisconsin’s captain, has had plenty of experience on the national team, as she’s already played in two IIHF Women’s World Championships thus far. The more she’s played with the U.S., the more she’s enjoyed each experience. 

“I’ve learned over the years to have fun with it and not take everything so seriously,” Curl said. “I’m one of those people that try to be perfect in school and hockey and sometimes it’s not possible, so I just try to do my best and have fun while doing it.”

Simms certainly had fun during the Rivalry Series, as she made her debut with the national team in game three of this year’s series. She tied the game, 1-1, in the first period after forcing a turnover at the blue line before eventually scoring her first goal for Team USA. 

“When I got my first goal with the national team, it was super exciting,” Simms said. “Nobody expects to get your first goal in your first game, but it helps get the jitters out. It was an amazing experience.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.


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