Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Women's World University Games Preview

USA Hockey is sending a team to compete on the women's side of the World University Games for the first time in 2011, and much like on the men's side, the ACHA will be supplying the players for the team - including four Penn Staters. They'll be coached by another, Lady Icers head coach Mo Stroemel, and will fight with five other countries for the gold medal.

The Team

Penn State fans should have an especially high degree of familiarity with the team's goaltending, as both Heather Rossi and Katie Vaughan ply their trade at the Ice Pavilion. In this case, familiarity definitely does not breed contempt, as the tandem has been the strength of the Lady Icers all season. You needn't go any further than Rossi's 48 saves on 51 shots in a huge 4-3 win at Rhode Island on October 23rd. Even in defeat, the pair shines - see Rossi's 50 saves and Vaughan's 40 saves in tight losses to No. 1 Lindenwood early this season for reference.

Rossi (left) and Vaughan (right). It's pretty safe to say that there are more rubber streaks on their home whites than I can count.

Vaughan told her hometown paper last month that she's excited for the trip for more than just the hockey.
"I love to travel and to go to new places," she said. "So I'm super excited to go to Turkey. I was told that if I go, there's a museum I have to see and I definitely hope we get to go to the hot springs."
In front of the two PSU goalies will be another Penn Stater, sophomore defender Lindsay Reihl. She's the youngest member of a highly-experienced backline that includes some of the ACHA's best, including Lindenwood's Shea Crawford, a second team All-American last season, teammate Nicole Konsdorf and Michigan State's Christina Young.

Defender Reihl, forward Rohlik, head coach Stroemel.

While the team has a distinctly defensive feel (in contrast to the men's side), they should be able to hold their own on the scoresheet as well. To that point, I present Robert Morris (IL)'s Ramey Weaver, who has a video game-like 33 goals and 72 points in 21 games played - both numbers are good enough to rank in the top three of women's Division 1 among teammates who, unfortunately, are Canadian. Michigan State's Charlotte Hoium (23 goals, 16 assists), Grand Valley State's Ashley Rumsey (24 goals, 14 assists) and Shelby Kucharski (21 goals, 13 assists) and Michigan's Emily Nelson (18 goals, 13 assists) also rank among the top ten scorers. Lady Icer Denise Rohlik adds depth to this group.

The Rest of the Field

Canada, Finland, United States, Slovakia, Great Britain and Turkey are the six teams competing in Erzurum.

Unlike on the men's side, the women's tournament is not split into pools. The six participating countries play a round robin schedule, after which the top four advance to the semifinals.

While this is the first year of US participation, women's hockey actually made its WUG debut in 2009 in Harbin, China. Team Canada defeated the hosts for the gold medal, while Finland took the bronze. With China not participating in this year's tournament, Canada has to be considered the clear favorite. I'll let Canadian Interuniversity Sport tell the story on our neighbors to the north.
Five players return from the 2009 championship squad including rearguards Carly Hill of McGill and Kelsey Webster of York, as well as forwards Andrea Ironside of Wilfrid Laurier, Mariève Provost of Moncton and Courtney Unruh of York.

Provost was one of Canada’s most prolific scorers two years ago finishing the seven-game tournament with four goals and three assists for seven points. Unruh tallied five points (4-1-5) including the game-winning goal in the title match against China.

“I like our mix of returning players and newcomers. It’s critical at the international level to have experience on your side, to have leadership in order to bring the team together in challenging situations,” [head coach Les] Lawton commented. “We think we have the best in CIS women’s hockey. That was our goal from day one.”

Defending the Canadian net will be a pair of fifth-year goaltenders, Brock’s Beth Clause and Laurier’s Liz Knox.
After Canada, Finland obviously has to be considered a contender as well. Team USA is sort of a wild card in the competition - the deficit between Canada, the US, and the rest of the world in women's hockey has been well documented, but will that apply here? My guess is that the Americans will represent well, and there's a great chance of the women finishing higher than the men, but I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach before I go penciling in a US-Canada gold medal game.

Konsdorf, for her part, told the Saginaw News that she's taking a measured, yet optimistic approach to expectations.
“[Our goal is] obviously, to win,” she said. “But to place in the bracket would be awesome.”
The Schedule

Full competition schedule here.

Here are Team USA's games, again, a nice reminder of why I love competitions on the other side of the world so much - the men get me at work, the women when I'm supposed to be sleeping.  

Group Play
Thursday, January 27 vs. Slovakia, 2:30 a.m.
Friday, January 28 vs. Turkey, 4:00 a.m.
Sunday, January 30 vs. Finland, 8:00 a.m.
Monday, January 31 vs. Slovakia, 4:00 a.m.
Wednesday, February 2 vs. Great Britain, 5:30 a.m.

Medal Round
Friday, February 4 - Semifinals
Saturday, February 5 - 5th place game/Gold and Bronze Medal games

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