Players from 18 different states across the U.S. converged Monday (Aug. 6) in Lake Placid, New York, where they will have the opportunity to showcase their skills and train with the nation’s top female players in their age group as part of the 2018 USA Hockey Women’s National Festival.
Members of the Festival staff also arrived on Monday, among them many familiar faces, including returning coaches Joel Johnson (White Bear Lake, Minn.), head coach of the 2018 U.S. Under-22 Women’s Select Team, and Maura Crowell (Mansfield, Mass.), head coach of the 2018 U.S. Under-18 Women’s Select Team.
“Our coaching staff is very familiar with this group having worked with them in the past four to five years,” said Joel Johnson, who has been the head coach of the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team in its past four gold medal-winning seasons. “We’re very familiar and are looking forward to working with them again.”
Johnson will be at the helm of the over-18 player pool this year, which features four 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship gold medalists that have advanced into the older age group – Britta Curl (Bismarck, N.D.), Taylor Heise (Lake City, Minn.), Gracie Ostertag (Shakopee, Minn.) and Maddie Wethington (Edina, Minn.).
This season, Crowell takes the reins of the under-18 squad, but she’s no stranger to the job. Crowell has served on the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team coaching staff previously, including as associate coach in 2017-18 and assistant coach in 2015-16, and this year, she’ll have the chance to work with 10 players returning from the 2018 worlds team.
“It’s nice to have so many returners coming back,” added Maura Crowell. “We’re welcoming a great group of new faces too, so I think it’s a very strong pool. I think we have depth in all positions.”
And depth and talent will be keys to continuing the program’s recent history of success. The U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team has won the past four-consecutive gold medals in world championship play, and the foundation for that success has been built at the Women’s National Festival.
“We can look back and be proud of the success that we’ve had, but we have to know that it’s a new team, a new season and the work is just beginning,” said Crowell. “Our goals [this week] are to develop the players both on and off the ice, and continue the culture of excellence that’s been built.”
By the end of the Festival, two 22-player rosters – one U-18, one U-22 – will be named for a pair of three-game series against Canada, Aug. 16-19, in Calgary, Alberta. Coaches will be looking for players to put their best foot forward this week ahead of the Series.
“We hope to see reminders of our style of play as a national team program, using our speed, possessing the puck and puck movement,” said Johnson. “On the ice, those three things seem to be a great template for success.”
The Series will mark the beginning of the next chapter of the U.S./Canada rivalry coming six months after the U.S. defeated their northern rivals to claim gold at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in February.
“[The rivalry] is great. Both teams enjoy it, both teams get ready for it, both teams are excited to compete. It’s just great hockey,” said Joel Johnson.
For full coverage of the Women’s National Festival, click here.