EVERETT, Wash. -- The pressure is on for the U.S. Women’s National Team.
After 10 days of practice at the Xfinity Arena in Washington, the team hopped on a bus for a trip of more than five hours to Kamloops, British Columbia, for the IIHF Women’s World Championships.
To say that Team USA has a target on its back in this tournament is an understatement. The team has won the gold medal in the last two world championships (2013, 2015) and five gold medals in the past six tournaments. Not to mention the event is being hosted in the country of last year’s silver medalist — Canada — which last won a gold medal in 2012 and has finished runner-up to the U.S. six of the last eight times the tournament has been played.
And to top it all off, the two rivals play each other in today’s opener.
“It starts off on a high note,” U.S. defenseman Emily Pfalzer said. “We just want to build off the first game and come in strong. Like coach [Ken Klee] always says, we want to be the best at the end.”
This year’s U.S. team has a good mix of youth and experience, ranging from 19-year old defenseman Megan Keller, who is playing in her second WWC, to 30-year-old goalie Jessie Vetter, who is playing in her eighth. The team is comprised of 13 Olympians and is captained by forward Meghan Duggan, a two-time Olympic silver medalist who is playing in her seventh WWC.
Klee said depth is one of the major strengths of this year’s squad.
“Our depth, our ability to roll four lines, our ability to play all seven [defenseman], that’s just a great advantage,” Klee said. “We have everyone kind of buying into the system, buying into the team structure, buying into playing for each other. I think that’s what helped us last year, and I’m excited with that this year.”
Klee returns for his second WWC tournament. A former 14-year veteran of the NHL, Klee has had plenty of success leading the U.S. over the past few years. Aside from the gold-medal finish at the WWC, he also led the team to a championship at the Four Nations Cup in Sundsvall, Sweden.
“We have everything to lose, but still a lot to gain [as defending WWC champs],” Klee said. “We’re looking to get better throughout the tournament, game by game, so that come the gold-medal game we put ourselves in a good spot to be there and win.”
Though the U.S. had only 10 days of camp to prepare — with some players showing up later due to the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four — there will be no rust to kick off once the team is in Kamloops. All of the players are coming off their respective college seasons or their pro seasons in the National Women’s Hockey League.
“We’re a really fast team,” Pfalzer said. “We like to push the pace and jump up on the play and use our offense. We have great goaltending as well. We’re a puck possession team and a fast team, I think those are our strengths.”
The U.S. and Canada are two of the eight countries involved in the WWC. Also included are Switzerland, Japan, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic. The U.S., Canada, Finland and Russia are in Group A, while Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and the Czech Republic comprise Group B.
No country other than the U.S. and Canada has won a gold or silver medal in the WWC since its inception in 1990.
“[Canada] will be a great measuring stick,” Klee said. “Game one isn’t where we have to be our best, but it’s a great measuring stick to make sure of, ‘Hey, these are things we’re doing well, these are things we need to continue to improve on.’ It’s exciting to play them first for that reason.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.