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Women’s Olympic hockey team to make Blaine its training headquarters

The U.S. women’s Olympic ice hockey team will be based in Blaine beginning this fall and use the National Sports Center’s eight-sheet ice rink as its main training camp on the road to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, learned today.

In a major coup for Blaine’s Schwan Super Rink, Team USA — which will undoubtedly have a gaggle of local players — will set up a home base in the Twin Cities to prepare for the 2009 World Championships and then be in residence right up to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, according to Paul Erickson, Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission executive director, and Jim Johannson, USA Hockey senior director of operations.

A newly constructed locker facility will be built for $30,000 to $40,000, Erickson said, and USA Hockey is expected to cover that improvement via payments for the ice time it purchases from the National Sports Center.

The Schwan rink, touted as the largest skating facility in the world with its four NHL-size rinks and four, larger international-size rinks under one roof, will be the major training facility for Team USA. However, Lake Placid, N.Y., long the home for the women’s squad, will still be used for key team selection camps, Johannson said. Schwan Super Rink has a full-scale weight and exercise facility, called the Herb Brooks Training Center, that Team USA also will use.

As the women’s game matures — Vancouver will be only the fourth Olympic hockey tournament for women — its players extend their careers. Some are mothers; many are married. USA Hockey has been seeking a centrally located site where the women “can also have a life,” Johannson said. That was difficult based in remote Lake Placid.

Another key issue: competition. With a base in the Twin Cities’ northern suburbs, Team USA will have access to high-level women’s college teams to play against and, as they’ve done in the past, some men’s teams.

Minnesota’s top players — such as former Gopher Natalie Darwitz  — will be right at home. Players from outside the state will settle in apartments and town homes, most likely in and around the Blaine rink, National Sports Center officials said.

While no contract has been signed, both Erickson and Johannson said a formal agreement is imminent.

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