It’s summer. It’s muggy. The Winter Olympics are six months away. So why are we talking Olympic hockey?
Because for the last five days, 41 of the best women’s hockey players in the United States practiced and scrimmaged at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine for the Women’s National Festival, the final chance to impress U.S. Olympic coach Mark Johnson.
Today at 1 p.m., USA Hockey will announce the 23 players chosen for the Qwest Tour, the Olympic team’s 10-game run-up to Vancouver. The team will live and train here, and players who haven’t already relocated to the Twin Cities will have a busy couple of weeks finding places to live. Two more players will be cut in mid-December to reach the Olympic limit of 21.
Of the 41 hopefuls, 19 have Minnesota ties. That includes out-of-staters who relocated here last year for the Blaine Residency Program, established at Schwan for players who exhausted their college eligibility but needed a place to practice and train. Only eight of the 41 have Olympic experience, including forward Jenny Potter of Edina, who is trying to make her fourth Olympic team.
University of Minnesota products Gigi Marvin, Rachael Drazan, Anne Schleper and Erica McKenzie are in the mix, along with Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, who transferred from the U to North Dakota after the season.
Though Johnson offered few hints about who he might pick, we can confidently predict six we expect to make it: assistant captains Julie Chu, Angela Ruggiero and former Minnesota standout Natalie Darwitz; forward Hilary Knight and goalie Jessie Vetter of Wisconsin; and Potter. Evidence? These six have been invited to September’s Olympic Media Summit in Chicago. Stranger things have happened, but it seems silly to invite someone on the bubble.
“I’m sure media and players and family can look at people and say, ‘No, she’s a lock, she’s a lock, she’s a lock,” said Marvin, of Warroad, who is hoping to make her first Olympic team. “But if you ask them and talk to them, they say, ‘No, no, I’m working just as hard as everyone else.’ And I have the same mentality. So it’s kind of nice that way.”
We’ll pass along the 23 names as soon as we know. For more about the National Festival, including a full roster, go here.