Best of friends one day, bitter rivals the next.
That will be the case for several members of the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team, who could potentially go from playing for a gold medal during this year’s International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s U18 World Championship in Budapest Hungary, to competing against one another with their respective travel programs three days later during the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Girls National Championships in Marlborough, Mass.
“I think it’s kind of cool to see how we all have the same goal even though we’re all kind of competing against each other normally,” U.S. goaltender Kaitlin Burt said. “It’s also cool to see the diversity on Team USA. It’s cool to play with them, and when we play against them it’s always fun.”
The bulk of the 22-member U.S. U18 squad is comprised of six players from Minnesota, five from Massachusetts and three from Michigan. They all represent prestigious, elite programs such as Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota, Detroit Honeybaked, Chicago Mission and Assabet Valley of Massachusetts, among others.
“I think when we all get together to play with USA Hockey, we know we’re wearing that jersey, and at the end of the day you’re all on the same team,” said defenseman Jincy Dunne, who spent time with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Team this season.
“It’s awesome because we get to talk about each other’s teams and experiences and what it’s like for each of us, but at the end of the day, you put aside any differences you may have and focus on one goal, and this group of girls is able to do that.”
Burt, a high school junior, starred in goal at Buckingham Browne & Nichols, a prep school in Cambridge, Mass., but she also plays with the East Coast Wizards, the host program for this year’s Tier I Girls National Championships.
Burt regularly squares off against current Team USA teammates Rebecca Gilmore, Lexie Laing, Kenzie Kent and Caitrin Lonergan, all standouts at Assabet Valley.
“It’s a really small hockey world in Massachusetts because we play each other all the time,” Burt said.
Burt has also battled against Dunne. While backstopping the East Coast Wizards to the U12 national championship several seasons ago, Burt defeated Dunne’s St. Louis Lady Blues, 3-1.
“She shut me down a couple times,” Dunne said of Burt. “Her team beat us, and she played a huge part in that.”
Dunne did net her team’s lone goal, but it wasn’t enough.
“She scored on me, but it’s OK because we ended up winning,” Burt said. “She can score on me as much as she wants as long as we win. She was a powerhouse, she was a force to be reckoned with and she still is.”
U.S. goaltender Erin O’Neil plays with defenseman Grace Bizal and forward Maliya Rodgers at Hopkins High School in suburban Minneapolis. Teammates Sydney Baldwin, a defenseman, and forward Taylor Williamson play for two of Hopkins’ biggest high school rivals, Minnetonka and Edina, respectively. Minnesota native Patricia Marshall also plays at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prep school in Faribault, Minn. that doesn’t compete in the Minnesota high school league.
“[Baldwin and Williamson] play for two of our biggest rivals, but they’re really some of my best friends,” O’Neil said. “They’re awesome people and we really work well together, so you would never be able to tell that we played against each other, we’re heated rivals and we compete really hard during the season.”
Just because the group is close doesn’t mean they haven’t had any run-ins on the ice.
“I stopped [Baldwin] a couple times, made a couple big saves, and I definitely like to remind them of it,” O’Neil said. “But at the same time Taylor dangled me really bad on a breakaway to win for her team one time.
“It’s a great group of girls, and in general everybody has a ton of respect for each other and a lot of respect for our country. It’s an honor being on this team, and you’re not going to hold any grudges against anybody because of that.”
And there is no doubt, when the members of the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team disperse — no matter what happens in Budapest — they will still be close friends. But when they meet again, on different teams, they will do everything they can to ensure their squad comes away with the victory.
“It’s a game of respect,” U.S. coach Jeff Kampersal said. “The players have respect for one another, but they have a lot of pride, so whatever jersey it is, they’re really proud to wear that jersey.
“When they leave the rink, they can be great friends, and that’s one of the best things about the sport, but when the puck drops, it’s all business.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.