The United States heads into a new season looking to get back on top in women’s hockey after a year that included silver medals at the 2021 worlds and the Beijing Olympics.
A critical piece for Team USA will be its goaltending as the trio of Nicole Hensley, Maddie Rooney and Aerin Frankel look to backstop the Americans to gold in Denmark.
For the first time since 2015, the Americans will not have five-time world gold medalist Alex Cavallini (pregnancy), who was in net for the gold-medal game at the Beijing Olympics.
Without Cavallini and a new head coach in John Wroblewski, the door is open for one of Hensley, Rooney and Frankel to seize the No. 1 job.
Here is how they stack up against each other.
Team: PWHPA Minnesota
In five games at the worlds in 2021, the 28-year-old Hensley had a .939 save percentage and 1.00 GAA with two shutouts as she backstopped the Americans to silver.
She played in only one game at the Olympics in Beijing, stopping all 12 shots she faced in a win over ROC.
Former Team Canada goaltender and two-time Olympic gold medalist Sami Jo Small says Hensley reminds her of another Canadian netminder.
“Hensley is more patient, I would say she’s way more technical,” said Small. “She’s your consistent goalie that you know what you’re going to get from, game in and game out, almost like [Geneviève] Lacasse.
“It’s never going to be too up, it’s never going to be too down, but she’s going to be consistent.”
The Littleton, Colo., product has won two world titles (2016-17) and won Olympic gold in 2018 as the third goaltender for the Americans in PyeongChang.
Team: PWHPA Minnesota
Rooney rose to prominence in 2018 when she backstopped the Americans to gold at the PyeongChang Olympics.
This year at the Beijing Olympics, the 25-year-old played in two games, recording a .846 save percentage and 3.07 goals-against average.
Previously winning gold with the United States at the 2017 and 2019 worlds, the Andover, Minn., product missed the 2021 edition after suffering an injury shortly before the start of the tournament in Calgary.
“Rooney is so unpredictable at times,” said Small. “She can stifle opponents because she doesn’t necessarily do what most goalies would do in those situations, which leads to some poor decision making.
“I think she is beatable, but she is very confident, and I don’t know that games get under her skin very often. So, she’s just kind of calm, cool, collected in big moments, which is also really good.”
Team: Northeastern (NCAA)
Frankel comes into the worlds off her fifth season at Northeastern. She appeared in 32 games, recording a .956 save percentage and 1.07 GAA with 11 shutouts.
The 23-year-old was added to the 2021 world roster after Rooney was hurt but did not appear in any games for the Americans.
The Patty Kazmaier winner as the best player in women’s NCAA hockey in 2020-21, Frankel remains untested at the senior level, having yet to start a game for the United States and did not centralize with the team last year ahead of the Olympics.
“My overall thoughts are just that watching her play, she’s a little risky,” said Small on Frankel’s style of play. “She’s really good, she’s really fast. But I don’t know if a coach that isn’t a goalie is going to believe in that style.
“It’s a really hard style to convince coaches that you’re making the saves and that you’re doing the right things because that kind of is extra aggressive, which is awesome at the NCAA level. It obviously boded well for her at that level.
“I think she’s a little bit too risky, but I do think she is overall the most skilled and athletic of [the trio].”
Small also notes that the United States is rolling with smaller goaltenders for the worlds, with Hensley being the tallest at 5-foot-6 followed by Rooney and Frankel, who are both 5-foot-5. In comparison, the American goalies at the women’s U18s in the spring ranged between 5-foot-10 and 6-feet tall.
“[It’s] interesting that these are all kind of the small goalies,” said Small. “That’s kind of been the knock against Aerin Frankel, is that she’s been small and didn’t necessarily get a look even going into college, but then fought her way into [the] No. 1 position [at Northeastern].
“If I were the goalie coach, I would start her and see how she does because I think that she could be the future of US goaltending.”