Last fall, USA Hockey brought 17 of its top women's players to Blaine to train throughout the fall and winter for international tournaments. Some facts about the program:

Who's involved? The group includes many Olympic veterans, including forward Jenny Potter of Edina and defenseman Angela Ruggiero of Michigan, who have played in three Winter Games. Forwards Natalie Darwitz of Eagan and Julie Chu of Connecticut have played in two Olympics; defensemen Caitlin Cahow, Molly Engstrom, Jamie Hagerman and goalie Chanda Gunn have played in one. Goalie Megan Van Beusekom of Loretto, forward Erin Keys of St. Paul and former Gophers forward Erica McKenzie of Hastings also are on the team. Coaches are Tom Osiecki, who coached the boys' and girls' teams at Burnsville High School, and former St. Cloud State women's coach Jason Lesteberg.

Where do they play? The team is based at Schwan's Super Rink in Blaine and plays in a men's elite league there. It also plays the Minnesota Whitecaps, part of the Western Women's Hockey League for North America's top players, as well as women's college and boys high school teams. Games are open to the public. The schedule can be found at www.usahockey.com

What else do they do? Hockey is the top priority for these players, all of whom have finished their college eligibility. Several players pick up extra games with the Whitecaps when the national team isn't playing, and they train about four hours a day. Off the ice, Darwitz is an assistant coach for the Gophers; Ruggiero is pursuing a master's degree at the U; Potter is a mother of two; Cahow works with young players at the Herb Brooks Training Center in Blaine; and Jessica Koizumi is an assistant girls' hockey coach at Totino-Grace High School.

Want the inside story? Cahow writes a witty blog detailing her teammates' adventures. Read it at www.facebook.com/notes.php?id=62768135292

What's next? The team will continue to train in Blaine through mid-March, then move on to a training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., to prepare for the world championships April 4-12 in Finland. The selection camp that will choose the preliminary roster for the 2010 Olympics is tentatively scheduled to be held in Blaine this August. The Olympic team will train in Blaine for the five months leading up to the Winter Games in Vancouver and will play a 10-game pre-Olympic schedule, with Minnesota stops at Xcel Energy Center, Warroad Gardens and Ridder Arena.

RACHEL BLOUNT