By Dan Scifo – USAHockey.com
Reagan Carey believes the upcoming season is a critical one in the process of the continued development of the perennial powerhouse USA Women’s Hockey program.
Carey, the director of women’s hockey for USA Hockey, said the talented player pool is deep with many established veterans and promising newcomers, generating energy and excitement as the players prepare for the season.
“We’re going to put all of our best out there and see how the season pans out in regards to who will be there at the end and named to our national team,” Carey said. “The stakes are high, our players know it and they’re prepared to battle for spots. It’s going to be a really exciting year for us.”
Carey touched on this week’s mini-training camp for post-graduates, noting the player pool is deeper than ever with 24 post-graduates who are currently active with the U.S. Women’s National Team and that includes 13 who are previous Olympians.
The first event of 2016-17 will be the Four Nations Cup tournament that will take place November in Finland, followed by a Dec. 17 showdown against Team Canada, a game that isn’t traditionally on the schedule.
“It’s a great opportunity for players, it’s exciting for fans, and it’s one more game to see how the player pool does,” Carey said.
That all leads to the upcoming IIHF Women’s World Championship, April 1-8, at the USA Hockey Arena, the first time the U.S. Will host the event since 2012 in Burlington, Vermont.
“Seeing the international level of players is something that’s rare, and for us to be able to do that, have a home crowd and see U.S. flags waving as we compete for a world championship is going to be special for our players and very important for our program,” Carey said.
The women’s world championship, a 22-game tournament that features the top female hockey players in the world, will be held in the U.S. for the fourth time in history, as the Americans seek their first gold medal on home soil. The U.S. fell 5-4 in overtime during the 2012 gold medal game against Canada.
“It was a tough loss in Burlington and I know our players are eager to get back out there and have the opportunity to earn a world championship on home ice,” Carey said.
The event will run in conjunction with the USA Hockey Girls’ and Women’s National Championships. The Tier I girls and the women’s championships will take place in Farmington, Michigan, while the girls’ Tier II event is at Troy, Michigan. Both are less than an hour from the USA Hockey Arena.
According to Carey, approximately 20,000 girls were registered in the U.S. and played within USA Hockey programs in 1998 when the Winter Olympics took place and impacted awareness of the women’s game. That number has since spiked to more than 70,000 today.
“It’s a testament to the focus from USA Hockey, determining how to best align the events because our goal is to showcase female hockey in the best way possible,” Carey said. “To host a world championship is special, but to do it in conjunction with girls’ and women’s nationals jump-starts interest and enthusiasm, not just for Michigan, but all of USA Hockey to be proud of how far the women’s team has come.”
The USA Hockey women’s program is currently a powerhouse. Americans have won gold or the top spot in the last five events, including a pair of IIHF U18 and Women’s World Championships. The U.S. won, or finished second, in 18 of 19 events since Carey became involved with the program in August 2010.
“Certainly there’s a full commitment from our veterans, and we’re so grateful to have such terrific leaders in our program,” Carey said. “Our core of leaders sets the tone for any incoming players, as well as the mainstays on the roster. That’s a huge factor for us.”
Carey said the U.S. program has remained dominant thanks to the structure of USA Hockey and the work at the district level. She added that the internal focus is on the program and the players to progress daily to ensure the U.S. remains at the top.
“There’s a lot to be said for the grassroots level, how deep, strong and capable the player pool is,” Carey said. “That starts before we get to national team camp. As a foundation, that is critical for us and a huge reason why we’re at the top of the pile. Certainly, as NCAA programs grow, that’s a big part in preparing players, too.
“We’re in a really great spot, seeing the benefit of our U18 development programs and how prepared our younger players are to have an impact on the senior level at an early age.”
Players can perhaps make the biggest impact soon as the women’s program prepares to begin its season.
In addition to the tournaments that will take place, there are annual camps and festivals for the active player pool that are being considered for spots on upcoming rosters. The next major camp will be in December when a U.S. Women’s National Team development camp is held at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
“Knowing all the players in the pool are all battling for the final spot on the national team roster, the energy around that alone is exciting,” Carey said. “To have these big events we get to host is going to be great. We’re looking forward to a great season.”