Hockey players are resilient. If anything, the last two seasons have proven that, with the constant modifications to the international calendar, players across all ages and levels have been forced to adjust to their new normal.
The 2022 U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team team is no difference. Originally scheduled for January in Sweden, a COVID surge canceled the tournament before USA Hockey stepped in to host in Madison, Wisconsin from June 6-13.
With the original roster staying in place for June, many of the players are in Pittsburgh this week, using the Chipotle USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championships as a way to help prep and kickoff an exciting summer of hockey.
“I think it’s a great stepping stone. Almost all my U18 teammates are here playing on other teams,” Shattuck-St. Mary’s Sydney Morrow said. “Playing against them is great competition. This tournament is the prep before the prep. You’re getting ready for Nationals and you’re building on it, while getting ready for worlds. For me, this is a super exciting two months and the highlight of my season. It’s great to be able to go from one to the other.”
With close to two-thirds of the 2022 team competing for their respective teams at Nationals, it’s both an adjustment and a unique perspective as some are taking the ice against each other.
“Playing against friends is always the funniest thing because you can crack jokes and chirp them and they’ll totally understand and not get angry,” Little Caesars’ Elyssa Biederman joked. “There’s the competitive rivalry of I can’t lose to you and you can’t lose to me. I think it just brings out a whole other side of the game.”
“I’ve already seen some of them and it’s fun off the ice and it’s fun on the ice as well. When it comes to game time I think that’s what makes us a good group,” Philadelphia Jr. Flyers’ Laney Potter said. “No matter what we’re going to play each other as hard as we can and off the ice, after the game, we’re going to say ‘great game’ and be good sports about it. We have a great group for the worlds team and that’s what makes all of this a great experience.”
Even with the added excitement of seeing and playing against future teammates, for many, this season is their last go at nationals, as many prepare to graduate and take the next step in their journey. For them, they’re savoring the moment.
“I think it’s a mix of emotions here. It’s my last nationals and I’ve been growing up with my teammates for the last six or seven years,” Biederman said. “Leaving them as a team is definitely weird. It’s exciting, but it’s also sad at the same time. We’re taking advantage of this opportunity, using the emotions and channeling it into our play. I think it’s coming out to our advantage.”
As the team moves through competition, the adversity and tight games are helping prepare them for what they might face come June.
“This is my fourth nationals. I think the best part of it is winning these tight games,” Morrow said. “Obviously, we just had a shootout. When the team comes together and wins like that, there’s nothing like it. It really just brings us together and the work that we’ve put in together and watching it work out, is really special.”
Right now, it’s all business for these athletes as they compete for a national championship, but in two months, they’ll be focused on another goal – winning the first IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship to be held in over two years. Asked to look forward, some couldn’t put it into words what the experience is going to be like.
“Just thinking about it gives me chills,” Potter said. “I’ve heard from previous girls who have played on the team before. They say it’s an unmatched feeling when you put on that jersey, it’s insane. It’s a family. I’m super grateful to be on this team and I’m super excited to play.”
“This has been my dream since I was five years old. Honestly, I don’t even know what it’s going to be like,” Morrow said. “To be able to put on that jersey, it’s going to be a moment I won’t forget. I’m just really looking forward to it. I know the name on the front of the jersey is so important. I just want it to be the first of many. I just want to put that jersey on and never take it off.”
The United States will start preliminary-round play against Sweden on June 6, followed by matches against Finland (June 7) and Canada (June 9). All Team USA games will be competed at LaBahn Arena. Get tickets for the 2022 U18 Women’s World Championship HERE.