During a five-day training camp in Blaine, four members of the U.S. women’s hockey team got a chance to revisit their Minnesota connections. But a fifth player with local ties — Gophers forward Amanda Kessel — did not make the trip.
Kessel is continuing her rehabilitation from an undisclosed lower-body injury. While former and current Gophers Gigi Marvin, Anne Schleper, Megan Bozek and Lee Stecklein practiced and worked out at the National Sports Center, Kessel stayed at the team’s base in Boston to work with USA Hockey’s athletic training staff. The camp ended Tuesday, and the team’s pre-Olympic tour continues Friday with an exhibition against Canada in Grand Forks, N.D.
Kessel has not played in any of the team’s seven games against international opponents this fall. She played in games against Boston-area boys’ teams, and U.S. coach Katey Stone said Kessel will “absolutely” be fully healthy by the time the Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7.
“She’s got better resources right now [in Boston], and that’s why she’s there,” Stone said. “She’s doing great. She’s coming along well.”
Kessel is a key member of the national team. She scored the winning goal against Canada in the gold medal game of the 2013 world championships and finished the tournament with a team-high seven points. In three seasons with the national team, she has 23 goals and 45 assists in 42 games.
The U.S. roster includes 23 players after defenseman Jincy Dunne and forward Kate Buesser were released earlier this month. Two more players will be cut to get to the final Olympic roster of 21, which will be announced on Jan. 1 during the second intermission of the NHL Winter Classic.
The U.S. men’s Olympic roster will be unveiled after that game.
The women’s team will retain goaltenders Jessie Vetter, Molly Schaus and Brianne McLaughlin. It has 12 forwards and eight defensemen, including former Gophers Bozek, Marvin (Warroad) and Schleper (St. Cloud) and Gophers sophomore Stecklein (Roseville). But Stone said that doesn’t mean the cuts will come from the defensive corps.
“Our options are open,” Stone said. “There is a lot of discussion. It will be the best 21 players.”
After Friday’s game, Stone will have two more chances to assess her players in competition. The U.S. will play Canada at Xcel Energy Center Dec. 28 and in Toronto Dec. 30.
Marvin, Schleper, Bozek and Stecklein attended Tuesday’s Wild-Vancouver game at Xcel Energy Center and delivered the “Let’s Play Hockey” chant before the puck dropped. All four women played for the U.S. in the 2013 world championships, and all but Marvin — a 2010 Olympian — are hoping to make the Olympic team for the first time.
Bozek has stood out during the team’s international schedule this fall, playing all seven games and leading the defensemen with eight points. Marvin has three goals and three assists in six games, while Schleper has one goal and one assist in six games. Stecklein has no points in four games.
“We have a strong, physical defensive corps, which I think is really important for the style of play we’re pursuing,” said Bozek, who helped lead the Gophers to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2012 and 2013. “We’re not sure how the 21 players are going to be picked. The way we approach it is that every day is a tryout.”