LAKE PLACID - The players and staff of the United States National Women's Ice Hockey Team have gold medals on their minds.
The first one they are eyeing is at the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championships, which began in Ottawa on April 2 and end with the gold and bronze medal games on April 9.
After hopefully finding success north of the border, the Americans then can turn their attention toward a bigger prize - Olympic gold at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Photos by Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
Plattsburgh native Kelley Steadman, a former captain for the Northwood School girls team, carries the puck for the United States during a scrimmage at the Olympic Center on March 29.
To prepare for world championship play, the U.S. Women's National Team returned to its former training headquarters in Lake Placid for a weeklong camp that started on March 25 and ended March 31. The camp started with 28 of the top players in the country and on March 30, the team announced a roster of 23 players who will compete in the IIHF World Championships.
Plattsburgh native and Northwood School graduate Kelley Steadman was one of the players named to the U.S. roster. The forward and former Huskies captain will compete with the senior national team for the second time at the world championships. She also skated on the U.S. squad that won the gold medal two years ago.
Canada and the USA have been the only teams to win the world championships in the 14 years the tournament has been held, and they've also combined to capture all the silver medals.
The two rivals squared off April 2 at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place in a opening-round game that could be a preview of the final if the event's history holds true to form. In that contest, Canada scored twice during the final nine minutes of regulation to erase a two-goal deficit and went on to claim a 3-2 shootout victory over the U.S..
The Americans will be looking for some revenge from last year's world championships in Burlington, Vt. that saw Canada claim the gold medal with a 5-4 overtime win against the U.S. in the final. Team USA routed Canada 9-2 in first-round action there.
"They have an empty feeling, no question about it," U.S. head coach Katey Stone said after her team's March 29 scrimmage at the Olympic Center. "It was bittersweet for sure. Burlington was a great host, the crowds were great, it was great for women's hockey, but we didn't get the result we wanted."
In what has arguably become one of sports most competitive rivalries, Canada and the U.S. have been the only gold medalists in the history of the world championships, as well as the Olympics. Canada has a big edge in both with 10 titles at the worlds and three gold medals in the four times the Olympics have hosted women's ice hockey. The Americans took top honors at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games when the women's game was first played as an Olympic sport.
The Canadians captured eight straight world championship titles starting when the tournament began in 1990, but the American women have won four out of the past six crowns since claiming their first gold medal in 2005.
The Americans finished their on-ice preparations in Lake Placid with a March 29 scrimmage against a team of area high school boys. That boys team featured a number of players who are competing this week as the Plattsburgh Roadrunners at the under-16 national championships in Troy, Mich. The women triumphed 7-1 in the scrimmage, which was played in front of a sizable crowd at the Olympic Center's USA Rink. The on-ice session ended with the Americans practicing their shootout skills.
Stone, as well as the senior national team manager Reagan Carey, said the training camp in Lake Placid was enjoyable and valuable.
"Any time the girls can put on the USA hockey jersey is a great experience, and it's the same case here in Lake Placid," said Carey, who is also the director for all the USA Hockey women's programs. "This is a very special place for the game."
"Everything we need is right here. We have the ice and the OTC is awesome," Stone added. "We enjoy being here. It's an awesome time of year to be here."
The spotlight will be shining a little brighter on this year's world championships with the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi less than a year away. Stone, who is in her third as the head coach of Team USA and also leads the women's program at Harvard University, said her staff also has been looking toward the Olympics heading into this week's world championships. After paring down the roster to 23 players who will compete in Ottawa, Stone and her staff are only permitted to have 21 skaters in their Olympic lineup.
"We are definitely thinking ahead, but right now, our kids are focused on the task at hand," Stone said. "We are excited to be going to Ottawa. We're are expecting big crowds and great energy.
"We are going to do whatever we can to win a championship," Stone added. "We will be prepared for each and every game. These kids can play. They are right where they need to be."