For a week and a half, they kept the good news under wraps, telling only their immediate families. Five current or former Gophers — Gigi Marvin, Megan Bozek, Amanda Kessel, Anne Schleper and Lee Stecklein — were named to the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team on Dec. 20, but they were sworn to secrecy until Wednesday’s formal announcement.
The lack of surprise didn’t take any of the sparkle off a landmark day. The five got just as big a thrill when they were handed their Team USA jerseys for the first time, while they watched the second period of the NHL’s Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., and were introduced during a live national telecast. “It was tough to keep it quiet,” Bozek said. “But to put on that jersey and celebrate as a team, it was the moment of a lifetime.”
The U.S. women’s roster for next month’s Sochi Olympics includes 11 Winter Games veterans and 10 first-timers. Three are Minnesota natives: Marvin (Warroad), Schleper (St. Cloud) and Stecklein (Roseville), ranking only behind the five players who come from Massachusetts. Marvin is a two-time Olympian, while the other four will make their Winter Games debuts.
U.S. coach Katey Stone assembled a group that blends youth and experience. The speedy, skilled Americans play an up-tempo style, in contrast to the bruising physicality of chief rival Canada. Marvin, Bozek, Schleper and Stecklein make up the bulk of the U.S. defense in front of veteran goalies Jessie Vetter and Molly Schaus, and Kessel epitomizes the quickness of a team that ended pre-Olympic play with four consecutive victories over Canada.
“We’re thrilled with the team that we have,” said Stone, the Harvard head coach who also will make her Olympic debut. “We have spent countless hours working on making sure we have the right group. We’ve got a great mix of seasoned veterans and youthful enthusiasm and a tremendous amount of skill and talent and speed.”
Bozek and Kessel helped the Gophers win back-to-back NCAA titles in 2012 and 2013. Stecklein was part of last season’s run, which ended with a 41-0 record, and Schleper was part of the 2012 championship team. Kessel and Stecklein have eligibility remaining and took leaves of absence from the Gophers this season to train toward the Olympics.
Kessel has not played in any of the team’s international games this season because of a lower-body injury, but Stone has said repeatedly that Kessel will be ready to play in Sochi.
Stecklein, 19, is the youngest player on the roster. The oldest is four-time Olympian Julie Chu. The team also includes forwards Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux, who played one season for the Gophers before finishing their careers at North Dakota.
All 21 players on the team have competed at the world championships, and 18 of them — including all those with Minnesota ties — were on the team that won the 2013 world championship last spring.
“I feel very confident with where we are right now,” said Bozek, who led U.S. defensemen in scoring with three goals and seven assists during the pre-Olympic schedule. “We’ve worked hard, and I feel like we’re peaking at the right time. I’m excited to see how good we can be come February.’’
The team will continue training in the Boston area and will open the Olympic tournament on Feb. 8 against Finland. Two other former Gophers — goaltender Noora Raty and defenseman Mira Jalosuo — are on Finland’s Olympic team.
The U.S. will be aiming for its first Olympic gold medal since 1998, when it won the first ever awarded in women’s hockey. Canada has won all three Olympic golds since then, though the Americans have won four of the past five world championships.
During the pre-Olympic schedule, the U.S. lost its first three games against Canada before winning four in a row, including a 3-2 shootout victory at Xcel Energy Center on Dec. 28. The turnaround coincided with upheaval in Canada’s program. Coach Dan Church resigned unexpectedly on Dec. 12, saying he believed others did not have confidence in his abilities, and was replaced by former Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen.