The defending champions are hoping to repeat their golden performance from the 2005 IIHF World Women’s Championship in Sweden. The Americans would like nothing better than to defeat Team Canada on Canadian ice. While they need to put their disheartening bronze medal finish at the 2006 Olympic Games behind them, they’ve put together a strong team that mixes familiar faces (including 10 ’06 Olympians) with some new ones.
Coaching: The USA heads into this tournament with a new leader behind the bench. After a nine-year run highlighted by the Olympic gold in Nagano, Ben Smith has moved on to become a National Team Advisor. Replacing Smith is Mark Johnson, head coach of the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s team and an American Olympic hero as a forward for the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team. Johnson knows what it takes to win. He coached his Badgers to their second straight NCAA Championship this March. He’ll be assisted by Hilary Witt, head coach of Yale University’s women’s team, and Erin Whitten Hamlen, who coaches at the University of New Hampshire and was a mainstay in goal for the USA in the 1990’s.
Goal: Returning in net is Chanda Gunn. A strong goaltender, the 27-year-old has accumulated a record of nine wins and one loss in IIHF tournaments since debuting with the national team in 2004. She was between the pipes when the USA upset Canada in the 2005 Worlds and during the team’s bronze medal performance in Turin (where her lone loss came in the semi-final shootout duel versus Sweden’s Kim Martin). Joining Gunn is rookie Jessie Vetter. The 22-year-old recently led her University of Wisconsin team to the NCAA title. The USA has plenty of talent in goal, but ultimately, its challenge will be to match the consistency of Team Canada’s netminders.
Defence: Headlining the American defence are veteran players Angela Ruggiero and Julie Chu. Ruggiero plays a consistent game, and is a three-time World Top Defenceman and two-time All-Star. The hard-hitting defenceman comes to Winnipeg with more career penalty minutes in IIHF competition than any other player (72). In 2005, Ruggiero added her name to the history books when she and her brother suited up in a game for the Central Hockey League’s Tulsa Oilers, making them the first brother-sister combo to play in a pro hockey game. Shoring up the defence is Chu, who has played forward at past IIHF tournaments. She’s not as aggressive, but brings a play-hard attitude. With 25 points in 24 Olympic and World Championship games dating back to 2001, she should be able to rack up a few points for the USA along the way.
Forward: Apart from Canada, the Americans boast the strongest overall collection of forwards at the 2007 IIHF World Women’s Championship. Many of them have played together for years. Leading the way is Krissy Wendell. She’s a consistent player who put on an impressive show at the 2005 Worlds. There, she netted four goals and five assists to top the scoring charts, and tallied the game winner in the 1-0 shootout victory over Canada to clinch gold. Natalie Darwitz, a two-time Olympian and Patty Kazmaier finalist like Wendell, brings savvy and skill at both ends of the ice. In 2005, she scored a jaw-dropping 105 points for the University of Minnesota, the highest total ever for a Division I NCAA player. She’s got a career total of 43 points (26 goals and 17 assists) in IIHF competition. Sarah Parsons is another important name to watch. 2007 marks just the third season she’s spent with the national team, but she’s already had a big impact. The nifty 19-year-old has contributed six goals and five assists in 10 Olympic and World Championship games and isn’t close to stopping. And don’t overlook Jenny Potter, who’s returned to action after giving birth to her second child in January. The 28-year-old led all American scorers with two goals and seven assists in five games in the 2006 Olympics.
Projected Results: The USA should have little difficulty in dispensing with its Preliminary Round opponents. The Americans take on Kazakhstan on Tuesday before getting a go at China on April 5. These matchups will enable them to get their systems in gear prior to the Playoff Round and medal games. Consistently the world’s second-best women’s national team, the USA is better-positioned than any other country to potentially upset Canada.