Maine Hockey Journal

U.S. Women’s hockey team find a second home in Maine

(File Image) PHOTO: Rosina Vacchiano

(File Image) PHOTO: Rosina Vacchiano

BIDDEFORD – Maine has become a home away from home for the United States Women’s National Hockey Team as they made their third stop in the last four years in Vacationland.

Less than seven months after taking the silver medal at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, the Women’s National Team held its evaluation camp in preparation of the 2014-’15 season with a stop at the University of New England’s Harold Alfond Forum this weekend.

Last season, the Team USA began its pre-Olympic tour with a 4-0 win over the Portland Jr. Pirates U18 team at the University of Southern Maine. In 2010, the Women’s National Team hosted an exhibition game at Bowdoin College’s Sid Watson Arena, defeating Sweden, 4-1.

“We are always interested in bringing our team to any place that has girl’s hockey,” said Reagan Carey, who is the Director of Women’s Hockey at USA Hockey. “We want to make sure we are bringing awareness to the female game.”

Carey also said that USA Hockey looked at places with a close proximity to their players that are attempting to make the roster ahead of the Four Nations Cup, which is scheduled for November in Kamloops, British Columbia. Nearly half of the 36 players at the evaluation camp are located within New England with eight players coming from Boston College, one player each from Boston University and Harvard and another five players from the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Quinnipiac and Vermont each also have a player at the camp.

“This camp is the beginning of our season and it’s an evaluation camp for the top 36 players,” Carey said. We have nine Olympians in the mix right now and a lot of players that want to be there in four years. More importantly, it’s about the here and now for us with our next tournament.”

The season ends with the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) Women’s World Championships in Malmo, Sweden, which runs from March 28-April 4.

The US National Team also has a Maine connection behind the bench with former NHL defenseman Ken Klee leading the way. Klee was a member of the Portland Pirates which claimed the 1994 Calder Cup championship. The 14-year NHL veteran played in 934 NHL games, scoring 55 goals and 140 assists and has been coaching kids since retiring in 2009.

“Basically I got an email and a phone call to ask if he had any interest,” Klee said of coaching the women’s team. “It’s not many times as a coach you get to step in and coach some of the best women players in the world. Whether its boys or girls, it doesn’t matter, if they can play hockey. That’s what I learned in my first experience.”

He started coaching the women’s team in August during the U22 Series, which was a three-game series with Canada in Calgary, Alberta where he got a first glance at some of the players heading to the camp at UNE. He led the Americans to the three-game sweep of the Canadians.

Klee said all the players are fundamentally sound and his goal is to refine their game by teaching the little things to improve on situational play.

“All these players can skate, pass, and shoot very well,” Klee said. “Now it’s how you can gain a half of a second to make a play or what to look for to refine their game to take it to the next level.

This is Klee’s second visit to Maine this summer as he was a part of the Pirates’ 20th Anniversary celebration of winning the team’s only AHL championship. As was in July when he was at the newly renovated Cross Insurance Arena (formerly the Cumberland County Civic Center), he’s amazed of the quality of facilities that are growing in Maine over the last several years.

“It night and day difference of the (Cross Insurance Arena). It’s been changed and transformed,” he said. “The new (Alfond Forum) facility is outstanding. We were there for the first time (Friday) and it is an impressive building. When you add great buildings and have great people running them, your programs will go in the right direction.”

Klee isn’t the only former Portland Pirate on the staff as Assistant Coach Robb Stauber appeared in 30 games during the 1996-97 season. He went 13-13-2 with a 3.06 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage in his lone season in Portland.

The 1988 Hobey Baker Award winner spent nine seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota from 1999-2009 before taking the job with USA Hockey.

Camp will wrap up Monday morning with a scrimmage at 10am.

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