The U.S. women’s hockey team has a busy winter schedule planned as it trains in Wesley Chapel, and much of the activity will take place right off I-75 at Florida Hospital Center Ice, including the Four Nations Cup, which drops the puck tonight.
Canada plays Sweden this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. at FHCI to get the action started, and the U.S. takes on Finland at 7 p.m.
Formerly known as the Three Nations Cup before Sweden joined the United States, Canada and Finland in 2000, the tournament has featured the top national teams in women’s hockey since 1996. Although Canada won 11 of the first 15 Three/Four Nations cups, the U.S. has won four of the last six, including the last two.
Also at FHCI this week, the U.S. plays Canada on Wednesday, November 8 (the game is sold out) and Sweden on Friday, November 10.
The match against Canada, winner of the women’s hockey gold medals at the last four Olympics, will pit the two top teams in the world. The U.S. has split games with Canada, winning 5-2 on Oct. 22 in Quebec City, and losing 5-1 in Boston on Oct. 25.
Although all eyes are on the Four Nations Cup, what is really driving the U.S. women is erasing the memory of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where they lost a 2-0 lead in the final four minutes to Canada in the gold medal game before falling 3-2.
The U.S. women have reasserted themselves as arguably the best team in the world, winning every world title since then, and seven of the last eight.
“The way we see it, pressure is a privilege,’’ says forward Meghan Duggan, a former University of Wisconsin Badger who won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, given to college hockey’s best female player, in 2011. “We are coming off three world championships, so we’re feeling pretty confident. I’m proud of this team, and we’re looking forward to showing the world what we have in this next tournament.”
That talent will be on display all winter long at FHCI, as the team continues to train at the not-even-one-year-old facility in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
So far, the members of the team are happy to have landed in Wesley Chapel.
“Honestly, it’s been fantastic,’’ said Duggan. “I think Wesley Chapel and a lot of the different pieces of the puzzle coming together for us is a big reason why we’re down here.”
Those puzzle pieces include an area that is ripe with off-the-ice activities that have included lots of golf, shopping and hanging out at the pool (and outstanding accommodations) at Saddlebrook Resort, plus a new hockey facility that Duggan says is state of the art.
The experiences in Wesley Chapel haven’t been limited to hockey and hanging out, either. The U.S. team, like the rest of us in the area, got to experience its first hurricane when Irma swept through town last month. Bad weather is nothing new for players from the snowy and cold north, but a hurricane was altogether different, as Irma’s approach made for some nervous hockey players.
“I’ve never been through anything like that, where trying to get water and stuff was difficult,’’ said Jocelyne Lamoureux. “That raised the anxiety a little.”
The team spent less than 24 hours in a shelter at Saddlebrook, which was only subjected to windy conditions that reminded Lamoureux of the straight-line wind storms she’s experienced in her home state of North Dakota.
Hurricanes aside, Duggan says Wesley Chapel has been an ideal spot for the team.
“We scoped (the area) out in April and May with wide eyes and excitement,’’ she said. “It’s going to be hard to leave after the Olympics to go back to our colder climates.”
For additional information, please visit TeamUSA.USAHockey.com