As 25 hockey players were ushered into a ballroom at a Florida resort Monday, waiting to hear which 23 would be named to the U.S. women’s team for the upcoming Winter Olympics, Dani Cameranesi couldn’t be certain whether she was in or out.
Once the Plymouth native’s name was called, she felt both excitement and relief. And as one of six current or former Gophers to make the team, Cameranesi couldn’t suppress her pride. Eight women with Minnesota connections — more than one-third of the roster — will represent the U.S. in February at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as the Americans pursue their first Olympic gold medal since 1998.
Other Gophers alumnae on the team include Gigi Marvin of Warroad, who will play in her third Olympics, and two-time Olympians Lee Stecklein of Roseville and Amanda Kessel of Madison, Wis. Hannah Brandt of Vadnais Heights, Kelly Pannek of Plymouth and Cameranesi are Winter Games rookies.
The team also includes Minnesota Duluth goaltender Maddie Rooney of Andover, who is taking a year off from college hockey, and former UMD defenseman Sidney Morin of Minnetonka. The seven Minnesota natives are the most of any state, followed by Massachusetts and Wisconsin with three each.
“Being able to go on this journey together, wearing red, white and blue instead of maroon and gold, is such a great honor and privilege for us,” Cameranesi said. “It will be awesome being there with so many Minnesotans. It really showcases the talent that comes from our state.”
The team, coached by former Gophers goaltender Robb Stauber, includes 10 returnees from the group that lost to Canada in the gold medal game at the 2014 Olympics. Joining Marvin as three-time Olympians are Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, who began their college careers with the Gophers before transferring to North Dakota; former Wisconsin forwards Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight; and defenseman Kacey Bellamy, who played at New Hampshire.
The final cuts included one former Gopher — defenseman Megan Bozek — as well as forward Alex Carpenter. They were part of the original 23-member national team roster announced in May, which has trained in Florida for four months and was expected to remain intact through the Olympics.
Late last year, though, Stauber said the team felt a “need to tinker with some things.” Morin, Boston College defenseman Cayla Barnes and former BC forward Haley Skarupa were added to the roster, which meant three players would have to be cut to reach the Olympic limit of 23. Forward Annie Pankowski was released in December.
Bozek played in four world championships and was one of the top defensemen at the 2014 Olympics, making the all-tournament team after contributing four assists and a goal. Carpenter also played at the Sochi Olympics and scored a team-high four goals.
In a statement, Bozek wished the team well. “I can truthfully say I have no regrets,” she said. “Although it is truly a disappointment not being added to the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team roster, I put my best foot forward every day, and I can walk away with my head held high.”
The tinkering likely will continue. The U.S. has gone 3-5 against archrival Canada since October, losing the final four games of the pre-Olympic schedule. It was outscored 9-3 in those games, including a 2-1 overtime loss at Xcel Energy Center on Dec. 3.
With the roster set, Cameranesi said the team can refocus.
“We’ll have that weight off our shoulders and be able to play hockey the way we know how,” said the forward, who led the team with five assists during pre-Olympic play. “It will be nice to see a lot of those nerves go away. People can loosen up their grip on their sticks and not be afraid to make mistakes, knowing if they do, there’s an entire team rallying behind them.”
Canada’s roster, named on Dec. 22, includes three former Minnesota Duluth players: defensemen Jocelyne Larocque and Brigette Lacquette and forward Haley Irwin. Former UMD assistant coach Laura Schuler is Canada’s coach.