Johnson’s Team USA ready for Vancouver

first_imgCurrent UW junior Hilary Knight is one of seven Wisconsin Badgers on the US. Olympic National team.[/media-credit]Every four years countries across the globe call upon their most talented athletes to assemble their national representatives in several sports to take on the top competition the rest of the world can offer in the Olympic Games.For the diehard fans of the Wisconsin women’s hockey team, however, Team USA may have captured imaginations in gathering a sort of “Badger Dream Team” as seven current and former UW skaters have made the final roster for this year’s Winter Games in Vancouver — all led by Wisconsin’s sabbatical head coach Mark Johnson.As Olympic teams gather players from far and wide, familiarity among the players and coaches oftentimes becomes a legitimate concern — but not for the US since exactly one-third of the roster consists of Badgers.Forwards Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight, who have a combined three years of college eligibility remaining, have taken a year off from the Badgers to participate in this year’s Games. They join UW alumni Molly Engstrom, Erika Lawler, Jessie Vetter, Kerry Weiland and Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej in the run for gold.While most of them have played with each other in college, every one of them have received at least one year of tutelage under Johnson at Wisconsin.“It’s awesome, especially having Coach Johnson,” Lawler said. “I think it really helps a lot because you know what he’s looking for and what his coaching style is.”“And, you know, Meghan Duggan is one of my best friends,” she continued. “Any of those (Wisconsin) girls I can go to with just about anything and without them this experience would have been a lot harder and definitely not as much fun for me.”Although the U.S. National squad can benefit from team familiarity, Olympic experience is shorthanded. Of the 21 members of the team, only six have seen the world stage before — including Engstrom.The grand stage is not necessarily uncharted territory for some of these rookies, however.Duggan, Knight, Lawler, Vetter and Zaugg-Siergiej were a part of three NCAA championships under Johnson at Wisconsin. Vetter, meanwhile, took home the top individual trophy in women’s hockey last year, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.Five other finalists for last year’s award, including Knight and Lawler, have made their way onto the team as well. Nevertheless, Johnson knows the veterans will have to offer insight to the younger players.“I think all our veteran players, you look at Angela (Ruggiero), you look at Jenny (Potter), this is going to be their fourth Olympics and we’re going to rely on those players and their experience to help our younger ones,” Johnson said. “Molly (Engstrom) is no different. She’s been there, she understands it.”In preparation for the competition they will face in Vancouver, Team USA toured all over the country to test their mettle against some of the best college programs as well as various all-star teams.The US made it through those games unscathed, winning by an average of 7.14 goals. However, in a six-game series against neighboring Canada, the US lost all six by an average of 2.1 goals.Canada enters the 2010 Olympics as the No. 1 seed, while Team USA comes in at No. 2. The Americans open play against China on Feb. 14 and are not scheduled to play Canada in the group stages of the tournament, but many expect to meet them in order to fight for the gold.Knight — who has blazed a trail through defenses during the tour, leading the team in goals, 13, and assists, 17 — knows what to make of winless meetings with their northerly neighbor.“As a team I think we’re where we’re supposed to be,” Knight said. “I mean, it goes back to ‘oh, well you guys haven’t played that well versus Canada,’ but to be honest we’re not trained for the exhibition games.“We’ve made it clear that we’re trained for February. It’s a long journey but at the same time we have to take different things from our games versus Canada.”Johnson and his crew understand the exhibition matchups against Canada are only worth a measurement toward intangibles — the score is not what is to be concentrated upon.In a short tournament, Johnson says, there are no guarantees.The leading scorer for the famous “Miracle on Ice” Olympic team that won gold, Johnson illustrated this idea by comparing his own Olympic playing experiences with the stage that is being set for his women’s team.“I know a lot of people are talking about Canada-U.S.,” Johnson said. “But I lived a situation 30 years ago that everybody thought the Russians were going to win the gold medal back in 1980 and unfortunately (for the Soviet Union) funny things happened.”last_img

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