International Ice Hockey Federation

Bold moves

Bold moves

How do major roster cuts affect Olympic results?

Published 25.01.2018 01:30 GMT+10 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Bold moves
Alex Carpenter and Megan Bozek, who earned Olympic silver in Sochi and multiple Women's Worlds golds, were cut from the 2018 U.S. Olympic roster. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
When the U.S. announced its Olympic women’s hockey roster on New Year’s Day and Alex Carpenter and Megan Bozek weren’t included, there was widespread surprise.

Naturally, turnover from one Olympics to the next is a reality. Retirement, injuries and other commitments can take players away from the sport they love. And especially in the U.S. and Canada, the reigning superpowers of women’s hockey, new talents are always emerging and pushing for Olympic roster spots. The U.S. currently has 75,832 registered female players, while Canada has 86,925. That gives them far more choices than any of the other six nations competing in PyeongChang.

That said, from the outside, it’s hard not to see these roster cuts as a major gamble by U.S. head coach Robb Stauber and his staff.

“The entire program cares a lot about (Bozek and Carpenter) and they’ve done phenomenal things for the program,” Stauber told The Athletic. “But at the end of the day, we’re going to Korea for the Olympics, and we have to make decisions that we think give us the best chance to win.”

Such decisions could not have been easy to make.

Carpenter, the 23-year-old daughter of former NHL 50-goal scorer Bobby Carpenter, led the silver-medal Americans with four goals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. After winning the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2015 with Boston College as U.S. college hockey’s top player, the dynamic forward got the gold-medal overtime winner against Canada at the 2016 Women’s Worlds in Kamloops. Carpenter, currently with the CWHL’s Chinese team Kunlun Red Star Shenzhen, is a four-time world champion.

What makes Carpenter’s omission particularly striking is the late-November addition of Haley Skarupa. She and Carpenter are long-time friends and linemates, dating back to the 2010 U18 Women’s Worlds. In fact, Skarupa, a three-time world champion who’ll play her first Olympics at age 24, collaborated with Carpenter on 107 of Boston College’s 621 goals in their three seasons there.

Meanwhile, Bozek, another three-time world champion and a Sochi tournament all-star, is still regarded as one of the world’s best defenders. The 26-year-old also led the University of Minnesota to two NCAA titles (2012, 2013) and sparked the Buffalo Beauts to the 2017 Isobel Cup, topping NWHL playoff scoring among blueliners with four points.

“Although it is truly a disappointment not being named to the 2018 U.S. Olympic roster, I put my best foot forward every day and I can walk away with my head held high,” said Bozek on Instagram.

It unavoidably creates high expectations for Cayla Barnes and Sidney Morin, both making their senior-level debut on defence in PyeongChang. Barnes has a particularly intriguing resume: she’s the youngest (19) and shortest (5-foot-1) American player, and was named Best Defenceman in two of her three gold-medal runs (2016, 2017). Like Skarupa, she was originally a late cut when the initial U.S. roster was set in May.

Teenagers can shine on the Olympic stage. At 18, Marie-Philip Poulin famously scored both goals in Canada’s 2-0 win over the U.S. in the 2010 Olympic final in Vancouver. Clearly, the Americans want an injection of youthful energy.

“I understand that at times people can get fearful of young players but I don’t,” Stauber told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s just not who I am. I trust them and I believe in them and they’re here.”

What’s ultimately driving these bold moves, of course, is USA Hockey’s determination to beat Canada in an Olympic final for the first time since 1998. Between October and December, the Canadians won five out of six exhibition games with their archrivals, outscoring the U.S. 16-9. That said, Carpenter’s three points (1-2-3) were tied for third overall, and among defenders, only Canada’s Laura Fortino (2-1-3) outscored Bozek (2-0-0).

This is Stauber’s opportunity to put his stamp on a team already widely viewed as the world’s speediest and most creative. However, history shows that reading too much into pre-Olympic meetings is perilous. And late cuts of big-name players have yielded mixed results over the years.

Sometimes dubbed “the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” power forward Angela James won four Women’s Worlds with Canada in the 1990s, including a tournament-best 11 goals at the 1990 inaugural event in Ottawa. James, fellow Canadian Geraldine Heaney, and all-time U.S. leading scorer Cammi Granato made history in 2008 as the first three women inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame.

Yet James was controversially omitted from coach Shannon Miller’s roster for the first Olympic women’s hockey tournament in Nagano in 1998. The move backfired when favoured Canada couldn’t match the U.S. firepower, losing 7-4 in the round-robin and 3-1 in the gold medal game.

Prior to the 2002 Olympics, the most eye-popping cut was Canadian forward Nancy Drolet. The 28-year-old ace had built a clutch reputation, scoring in overtime to bring Canada gold at the 1997 and 2000 Worlds. However, she was less productive in the run-up to these Olympics as the U.S. won eight straight exhibition games against Canada.

When coach Daniele Sauvageau declined to bring Drolet to Salt Lake City, she unsuccessfully appealed the decision. Her replacement, Cherie Piper, was the youngest player on the team at age 20, and Piper finished with three goals and two assists. More crucially, Canada captured its first Olympic gold medal with a 3-2 victory over the U.S. as Jayna Hefford potted the winner.

At the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, it was impossible to overlook Granato’s absence from the U.S. roster. “Like all players, if they choose to try to play forever, their number’s liable to come up,” said coach Ben Smith when the decision was made in August 2005.

However, the 34-year-old star, who had carried the Olympic torch with skier Picabo Street at the Salt Lake opening ceremonies, was sorely missed when the Americans suffered an unprecedented 3-2 semi-final shootout loss to Sweden. They would settle for bronze, while Canada beat Sweden 4-1 for gold.

Granato’s influence lingers on. Five-time world champion Kendall Coyne, for instance, says her earliest memory of the Olympics is “a signed photo of Cammi Granato with her gold medal that would hang in her room.”

Some female stars have achieved big things after being cut. Case in point: Tessa Bonhomme. The long-time Team Canada blueliner, dubbed “The Face of Women’s Hockey” in a 2012 Hockey News cover story, couldn’t crack the Turin or Sochi rosters, although she shone en route to home-ice gold in Vancouver. Since retiring in 2014, Bonhomme has earned kudos as a TSN broadcaster.

Make no mistake: it is heart-breaking for any of these players to get cut. The Olympics are the pinnacle of women’s hockey. Unlike NHL or KHL stars, the women who have trained relentlessly for years don’t go back to rich pro salaries.

You can argue that Carpenter and Bozek are young enough to crack the next U.S. Olympic team in Beijing in 2022. But it will be hard on both of them to watch what happens in PyeongChang, whether Canada marches to its fifth straight Winter Games gold or the Americans end their 20-year drought.

If it’s the second scenario, USA Hockey can justifiably take pride in its bold moves.

 

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