Generation Next

Infusion Of New Blood Leaves U.S. Women’s National Program In A Good Place

Just two months out from hosting the 2017 Women's World Championship in Plymouth, Mich., and the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang‎, South Korea less than a year away, the U.S. Women's National Team is in a good place.

The squad returns 14 players from the last Olympics, and has added several younger players who have worked their way into the mix.

"We've got the best of both worlds," said Regan Carey, the director of the U.S. Women's National Program. "We have a great balance of veterans with experience and the newer players are talented and bring a lot of energy."

Six of Team USA's veterans have more than 100 games under their belts - defensemen Kacey Bellamy and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, along with forwards Kendall Coyne, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and team captain Meghan Duggan.

"Our solid core group has played in two Olympics, but the next group that has come in are phenomenal players that have pushed everyone and added so much to our team," said Duggan, a Danvers, Mass., native who juggles additional roles as an assistant coach at Clarkson University and a player with the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League.

That "next group" includes forwards Hannah Brandt, Haley Skarupa, Dana Trivigno and Annie Pankowski, defenseman Megan Keller and a group of goaltenders led by Alex Rigsby and Nicole Hensley. 

The new faces in net will replace the trio of Jessie Vetter, Brianne McLaughlin and Molly Schaus that backstopped Team USA for most of the past decade.

"As they have moved on it has opened the door for a number of other goalies," Carey said. "It's an exciting time for that position in our program."

Rigsby led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2009 IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship and has a NCAA national title at the University of Wisconsin in 2011 on her resume.

"She's one of the best goalies in the world, she works hard and she is really committed," said Duggan, who also played on that Badgers national championship team. "And Nicole [Hensley] has been phenomenal; she just hasn't played in as many games. There has been some turnover, but I am super confidant in our goaltending."

Another young defenseman, 17-year old Cayla Barnes, made a big impact on the veterans during her first training camp in November.

"It's not easy to come in here and compete against players 10 to 12 year older than you are and make the team," Duggan said. "I couldn't get over how calm she was with players barreling down on her and in the corners."

The 20-year old Keller, a junior at Boston College, credits the team's veteran leadership with helping her make the jump from the U.S. Women's Under-18 Team.

"They made me feel comfortable from the beginning," said Keller, who won the gold medal with Team USA at both the 2015 and 2016 World Championships. "And they have been very good about showing us how hard you have to compete day in and day out to have success."

For Duggan and her veteran teammates, creating a strong, positive locker room culture isn't an accident.

"It comes down to communication," she said. "Our veterans are on the same page and we talk to the rookie players - maybe they see things that we don't.  That creates a very inclusive culture that helps everyone perform better."

While the interests of teenagers can differ greatly from the post-graduate players who have been out of college for several years, one thing brings them together: making the team the best it can be.

"It's great to see them support each other for that common goal," Carey said. "The veterans know what it's like because they were there once too. It's a really important cycle for our program."

Duggan's first national team camp was in 2006, when the locker room included veteran standouts like Krissy Wendell, Natalie Darwitz, Angela Ruggiero and Julie Chu. That group of American stars instilled in Duggan the honor of wearing the USA jersey, and she makes sure that sentiment rubs off on her younger teammates.

"We work every single day for that - every camp, every practice and every game that you put on the jersey you don't take it for granted," she said.

"I have been on this team for 10 years and it's an honor every time I get that call that I made the team."


Philip Colvin is a freelance writer based out of Walled Lake, Mich.




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