The recent U.S. Women’s National Team Evaluation Camp allowed an opportunity for gold-medal veterans to return and emerging talent to compete to join them.
The evaluation camp took place earlier this month at the Harold Alfond Forum on the campus of the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. The camp featured 38 players, including 17 members of the gold medal-winning 2018 U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey Team.
“Being able to have a camp and bring together top players right after an Olympic Games is so important so we can have a fresh look at everybody, and making sure we’re evaluating returning players as well as the emerging players we haven’t had a chance to see last season,” said Reagan Carey, USA Hockey’s director of women’s hockey.
Members of the gold medal-winning Olympic team shared their victory with the rest of the country, as players visited multiple U.S. markets upon return home in celebration of the momentous February occasion.
“It’s something that will never totally sink in, but throughout the summer, it started to resonate with everything our team accomplished,” forward Haley Skarupa said. “It has been an incredible year and what our team did was unbelievable. It’s an honor to represent your country and bring home a gold medal, and it’s something you can’t really explain, but at the same time, it’s a new year."
Taylor Heise, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, wasn’t part of the gold medal-winning team, but she did capture three championships with the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team. The goal for her first Women’s National Team evaluation camp, Heise said, was to learn from the veterans of the group, find her role and play it well.
“I had so much fun,” Heise said. “It’s an opportunity most don’t get, but as an 18-year-old, I’m humbled by the experience. I wanted to make sure to respect them and everything they did because they’re amazing and they deserve it with all their hard work. They’re people I look up to and people I want to be in the future. I use them as role models and tried to learn from everything they did.”
Skarupa enjoyed playing with Olympic teammates during the camp in addition to new faces and younger players in the program. She saw a deep, talented competitive group loaded with speed, skill and potential. The 24-year-old Skarupa recalled her first Women’s National Team evaluation camp four years ago.
“I remember how much I learned from being around the Olympians, and trying to emulate their habits and I’m sure it was like that for the younger and newer players this year,” Skarupa said. “I don’t consider myself a veteran because it was my first Olympics and there are some three-time Olympians, so I’m always learning as well.”
Heise said her time with USA Hockey is not only an opportunity to play with the best in the world — and some of her closest friends — but it also gives her additional drive and competitiveness that has pushed her to this point.
“Coming in with three [Under-18] gold medals gives me confidence,” Heise said. “I just want to give my best to help my team in any way possible.”
Skarupa enjoyed spending on-ice time with teammates again, while recalling stories and reminiscing of their time at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“Kind of talking about it with everyone and being able to share our experience with other people allowed us to become closer as a group,” Skarupa said.
This year’s group will no doubt benefit from that experience in international play, starting with the Four Nations Cup in November, which the U.S. has won the last three years. The U.S. also won its fourth consecutive International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship in 2017, and seeks a fifth straight in April.
“It’s a pretty incredible accomplishment for our program,” Skarupa said. “It goes to show how close everyone on the team is and once we come together and set our minds to a specific goal, if we’re all on the same page, it’s hard to stop us. We’re a pretty strong and tight-knit group and the things we’ve been able to do on and off the ice have been pretty powerful and pretty incredible. Now, we need to bring that momentum into next year and the next four years of tournaments and games.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.