For the several handful of fans at Warrior Ice Arena for Saturday night’s preseason game between the Boston Pride and Team Russia, watching the Pride take on Team Russia was more or less like watching both national teams – USA and Russia – in the middle of a tournament. Now with nine members of the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team on Boston’s roster, it should be no surprise that the Pride flattened Russia 5-1, despite the obvious skill and physicality Team Russia had at its disposal. Team USA plays Russia regularly and more often than not, comes out on top.
“I think our team’s starting to gel a bit more,” Boston forward Brianna Decker told media during the post-game scrum. “It’s only a few new faces; we don’t really have to worry about them,” she added. All but one of the new additions to the Pride roster are national team players and are familiar with the majority of the players on the team.
As Olympic forward and newly-minted Pride player Meghan Duggan put it, she’s with “all [her] buddies.” But that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games around the Pride rink.
“It’s exciting,” defender Kacey Bellamy said. “The practices, I’d say, are the biggest difference. Very intense, we’re battling against each other in mini-games. We’re very competitive, so you know every single practice is going to be 100 percent and a great workout. We’re just trying to go for another Isobel Cup, so it’s exciting [to add national team players to the mix].”
One national team player and new addition to the team even took home the Pride’s team-given Player of the Game award, Alex Carpenter, who was awarded the hat for her all-around play that game. Carpenter refused to sit back on her heels and let her teammates carry the load after she notched a goal in the second; her work ethic was on full display Saturday night.
Carpenter laughed when asked why she wasn’t wearing the hat during the interview.
“I didn’t mean to leave it,” she exclaimed, grinning. “I should have worn it up here. I don’t know. Hopefully next time. If there is a next time,” she added.
Although they’re new to the team, their on-ice roles haven’t changed much for the new players, as Duggan pointed out. They were signed because of the roles they’ve played in the past and the things –– tangible and intangible –– that they brought to their previous teams.
“My role, team-to-team, honestly, I just step up out there,” Duggan said. “Try to make things happen; try to work as hard as I can; never back down and do whatever I can to make the team win, regardless of who’s on the team. That’s what I’m going to do.”
As an assistant captain in Buffalo, Duggan frequently ran the board when she was on the ice. A dynamic player whose forecheck is equal to her backcheck, Duggan’s departure left a drastic hole in Buffalo’s offensive squad but made Boston that much tighter. She fit into the team as if it had been planned around her, and was particularly effective orchestrating plays in the neutral zone or taking shot after shot from about ten feet out from the crease.
Her teammates’ familiarity with her game showed in their set-ups and the way they approached the net.
“I grew up playing with a lot of these girls here,” Carpenter said. “I grew up playing with a bunch of them and went to school with some. It’s really nice being on a team where you’re familiar with the players already.”
“I’m playing with my best friends,” Duggan said. “It’s really exciting to be out here, representing Boston with them.”
The national team additions, though, come with pluses and minuses: while they might be very familiar with each other and each others’ style of play, they also have to deal with the additional schedule of Team USA camps, which can disrupt the NWHL season and fatigue players.
“It was a little bit of a grind,” said Decker. “I think today was pretty tough, actually. Just a long week for a few of us on the national team that had camp here at the Warrior rink. Just kind of quick recovery and a little bit of a grind the first period out here. Once we recovered, though, we were moving the puck really well.”