U.S. women’s hockey team to face hostile environment in Canada

  • By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, March 23, 2016 6:15pm
  • SportsSports

EVERETT — The U.S. women’s national hockey team is determined to defend its world championship. But to accomplish that, the stars and stripes will have to overcome the most hostile environment they could possibly encounter.

The Americans may have claimed the gold medal in 2015 in Sweden, and they may have won five of the previous six world titles, but if they’re to pull the feat off again this year they’ll have to do it in their arch rival’s back yard.

The 2016 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships begin Monday in Kamloops, B.C., and the U.S. team, which is using Everett’s Xfinity Arena as its staging grounds, is acutely aware their great rival Canada will have a vociferous home crowd behind it.

“I think it’s great when we play in Canada,” U.S. defenseman and alternate captain Kacey Bellamy said. “I think we use it as momentum. Obviously they have the fans there and it’s going to be sold out, but who doesn’t want to play in front of a sold-out crowd wherever you go? So we just use the energy, build off it and hopefully we’ll have a successful worlds.”

The U.S. and Canada waste no time renewing their rivalry, as they face one another in group play on the tournament’s first night.

“To be honest, it doesn’t matter who we start off against,” U.S. star forward Hilary Knight said. “It’s just about how we’re playing on the ice and how we’re going to attack our opposition Whether that’s Canada, Finland or Russia, we’re going in with a 0-0 mentality and want to come out with a win.”

The U.S. is taking a team that has a wealth of experience to Kamloops. Eighteen of the 23 players were members of the 2015 team that won the gold medal in Sweden by beating Canada 7-5 in the championship game, and 13 are part of the Olympic team that had to settle for silver after losing to Canada 3-2 in the title tilt at the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.

Chief among those returners are forwards Knight and Brianna Decker, who finished 1-2 in scoring at the 2015 tournament. Knight, a 26-year-old power forward from Sun Valley, Idaho, and Decker, a 24-year old playmaker who hails from Dousman, Wis., are considered by some the two best players in the world. In Sweden, Knight had seven goals and five assists in five games, Decker had five goals and six assists, and both finished with a plus-8 rating.

Other U.S. team standouts include twin sisters Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux, as well as Kendall Coyne, who was the 2016 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner as the NCAA’s top female player.

“We’re really excited,” U.S. director of women’s ice hockey Reagan Carey said. “We have a great player pool right now and a lot of veterans, a lot of leadership, along with a lot of fresh energy from some of the younger players. It’s a really good balance right now. We’ve only had four major tournament since the Olympics, and in that time we’ve had 34 different players named to our national team roster, so it’s a pretty deep group right now.”

Bellamy emphasized the U.S. team’s speed and skill, and she also believes the core players having lots of experience playing together will aid the team’s chemistry.

“I definitely think that using our speed to our advantage is something we need to focus on,” Bellamy said. “That and moving the puck. The puck moves faster than we do, so if we can head-man the puck, always play as a five-person unit and use our speed to our advantage, I think we’ll be successful.”

Women’s hockey has been a two-horse race since the World Championships began being contested in 1990. Since then either the U.S. or Canada has won the gold medal at every World Championships or Olympics, and only once as the other team not won the silver, that being when Sweden finished ahead of the U.S. at the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

However, Carey said the rest of the world is slowly catching up, and she expects the competition to continue its elevation in Kamloops.

“Like anything it takes a little time,” said Carey, who mentioned Russia, Finland and Sweden as teams that could make waves in Kamloops. “Certainly there was a much bigger gap early on. If you look at the tournament in Sochi certainly the U.S. and Canada are great rivals, but if you look at the scope of that tournament there were a lot of great games, a lot of great competition, and I think that was a real tipping point in the right direction for our sport.”

The World Championships conclude with the gold-medal and bronze-medal games on April 4.

Check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/seattlesidelines, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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