Swift forward steps in for departed captain Granato
Posted: Thursday February 16, 2006 4:32PM; Updated: Thursday February 16, 2006 5:59PM
Krissy Wendell was voted team captain after Cammi Granato was left off the roster.
TURIN, Italy -- Seven months before the Turin Games, U.S. women's hockey coach Ben Smith unceremoniously booted two-time Olympic captain Cammi Granato, 34, from the team because he thought she was too old. Confused and stunned, the players turned to Krissy Wendell, a swift, aggressive forward from Brooklyn Park, Minn., to fill Granato's role.
"It didn't surprise me that the team voted for her," says Granato, the leading scorer in U.S. history and now an NBC analyst. "She's the kind of player you build a team around. I played my best hockey when I played on the same line with Krissy."
Smith's controversial decision and an underwhelming performance against archrival Canada (the U.S. lost six of eight pre-Olympic matchups against the Canadians) has translated into a turbulent season for the U.S. team, and the new captain's resilience is welcome relief heading into Friday's semifinal against Sweden.
Wendell was one of four players to score in a five-goal, third-period rally that saw the U.S. erase a 3-2 deficit en route to a 7-3 win over Finland earlier this week. That came on the heels of easy victories over Switzerland (6-0) and Germany (5-0).
The U.S. expects to meet Canada in the finals, on Feb. 20, for the third consecutive Olympics and plans to rely on Wendell, its most consistent player and top scorer this season with 27 points, to lead it to its first gold medal since 1998.
Wendell has been just as dependable off the ice. She had the unenviable task of keeping 19 teammates happy when assigning roommates at the athlete's village. "I got Kathleen Kauth," says forward Julie Chu. "Perfect!" She has even taken it upon herself to sit next to Smith on the plane. "He snores," she says. "He's loud, too."
Wendell has helped in mentoring rookies such as Sarah Parsons, an 18-year-old from Dover, Mass., who graduated from Noble & Greenough in 2005. Parsons had one assist in the opening match against Switzerland. After a talk with the captain, Parsons has emerged into a dangerous scorer with consecutive two-goal games. She is tied for the lead with three-time Olympic veteran Jenny Potter with seven points. "I feel like I can turn to Krissy for anything. She's such a comforting person," Parsons says. "In the first game, [Wendell] told me to not get frustrated with myself. I wouldn't necessarily listen to that advice from someone else. But coming from her, I can always trust her."
Young and inexperienced, the team boasts 11 Olympic newbies, including starting goalie Chanda Gunn, who eats McDonald's for dinner because it's a free meal in the athlete's village. Thankfully, they don't remember the sting of the 3-2 loss to Canada in '02.
Says Granato, "This team has better chemistry than in 2002, when a bunch of veterans competed for the top line. Skillwise, the '02 team was the best team that's ever played. We were so deep, but when it came time to shine, we couldn't rely on our chemistry. These girls have a lot of energy and are naive to the pressure, and that can take them a long way."
U.S.-Sweden: Sweden's ace goalie Kim Martin is expected to suit up for the semis after sitting out the Canada match because of a minor knee injury. After a scare from Finland, expect an aggressive start from the U.S. for a 3-1 win.
Canada-Finland: It took 156 minutes before Canada allowed a goal, but don't expect them to let it happen again. The defending champs are 36-1 against round-robin opponents Italy, Russia and Sweden. Expect some high scoring from Canada's star player, Hayley Wickenheiser, during a 7-0 bruising.