The U.S. women’s national team wrapped up their pre-World Championships camp on Wednesday at Twin Rinks on Long Island, not far from Nassau Coliseum. There wasn’t much time, however, to catch an Islanders game or hop on the Long Island Rail Road and check out New York City. It was a business trip, as captain Meghan Duggan described it. Aside from a team dinner one night, the focus was on their two practices a day and the challenge that lay ahead in Malmo, Sweden.
Beginning Saturday, the U.S. women look to defend their 2013 gold medal at the Women's World Championships. There was no top division competition involved last year due to the Sochi Olympics, so the Americans are hoping to continue their run of taking home gold, which they’ve done in five of the last seven tournaments.
Even with the vast experience on the roster, there are a number of first-timers involved for the 2015 tournament.
“The second we step on the ice everyone’s equal,” Duggan said Wednesday night as the team waited for its flight to Sweden. “We’re out there trying to work together towards a common goal. We’re just motivating each other in the right ways and making sure everyone’s on track all the time, and hopefully we come home with what we want.”
What they want is, of course, gold, and the first step toward that goal begins Saturday against rival Canada.
We chatted with Duggan about the upcoming Worlds, the CWHL’s future and playing outdoors.
Q. Has the new blood on this year’s roster rejuvenated the rest of the group?
DUGGAN: “Yeah, for sure. Any time you can add some young studs to your roster it really brings the energy up and gets everyone going. It’s exciting, the younger players that have joined our roster this time around are phenomenal athletes. They work hard for our team. They earned the right to be here. We’re just excited for them to have their first experience with the world championships.”
The first game of the tournament is versus Canada. Is it good to get that game off the top, knowing how emotional and intense it likely will be?
“Yeah, obviously it’s no secret us and Canada are huge rivals, and anytime we get a chance to play them it’s a fantastic hockey game. We’re excited whether it’s in the round robin, whether it’s in the final, we get jacked up. That’s not to say we don’t get jacked up for other games, I think there’s great contenders in the tournament every year. The Swedes and the Finns always bring a tough game. You look at Switzerland winning the bronze medal at the Olympics last year. You can’t overlook any game, and we certainly won’t, but it’s definitely exciting to kick the tournament off against Canada on Saturday night.”
The Montreal Canadiens recently announced a partnership with the CWHL’s Montreal Stars. A few other NHL teams have partnerships with CWHL clubs. Is that what the league needs to survive long-term? Support from the NHL and/or its teams?
“I think support from the NHL helps and it was obviously fantastic to see that the Canadiens signed on with the Montreal Stars. It obviously provides funding, but it also gets the word out there about the league, and people that follow the NHL can learn more about women’s hockey and what it has to offer. That’s just something we strive to do every day. We’re trying to grow the game and get it out there. The girls that I’ve been around on teams that I’ve played on have done a great job at that and I can only hope it’s going to go further in the future.”
Where would you like to see the CWHL in five years?
“I think five years would be great to expand the league, have some more teams in the U.S. and Canada because right now the league only has five teams in it. It’d be great to double that. And then get to a point where the league can pay the players and the coaches and all the support staff, the people that work so hard to help the league survive.”
Do the players sense the growing attention and coverage placed on the women’s game?
“You look at the gold medal final in Sochi between the U.S. and Canada and I think over 10 million people watched that game. You’d like to think people would like to follow it in a non-Olympic year. Every month that passes, every year that passes women’s hockey is gaining more notoriety. That’s something that we take pride in. That’s something that’s definitely exciting for us. We make it kind of a point to help grow the game and I can only hope it just continues to grow every year.”
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this but there’s a great idea that was expressed recently about having the CWHL involved in next year’s NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park, with perhaps your Boston Blades facing off against the Montreal Stars. You didn’t play in Wisconsin's 2010 outdoor game at Camp Randall due to national team participation. Do you see all these outdoor games and champ at the bit to participate in one yourself?
“It’s certainly exciting. I’ve had the great opportunity to skate out at Fenway Park a couple times with the U.S. team, both on the 2010 and most recent tour before 2014. It’s a great feeling to skate outside there and just practice, and it’s exciting. For me being a Bostonian, it was certainly something special to skate out on Fenway. I would never turn down an outdoor game. I’ve been to a couple of them. We were at the Winter Classic last year at the Big House when the announcement was made, so it’s very exciting. I think it’s an awesome trend that started in hockey and anytime I have a chance to be part of one I would love that.”
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