As expected, the U.S. Women's National Team swept the two-game exhibition series against Team NWHL. Though the Olympic team won both games, the talented NWHL squad put up a good fight -- and managed to score twice.
The first game of the exhibition series saw Metropolitan Riveters netminder Katie Fitzgerald stonewall the U.S. team through forty minutes of play. The Olympians finally broke through when Gigi Marvin, formerly of the Boston Pride, put her team on the board just 2:08 into the third period.
Amanda Pelkey added a shorthanded goal later in the period, with Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson adding a third goal toward the end of the game.
Fitzgerald had 30 saves, while Emily Field and Kelsey Koelzer each registered two shots on goal. For the Olympic team, Lee Stecklein, Marvin, and Hilary Knight each registered four shots on goal. Maddie Rooney played all 60 minutes and stopped all 14 shots faced.
The teams reconvened on Monday afternoon for the final game of the exhibition series.
Team NWHL got on the board first this time, with Buffalo Beauts forward Hayley Scamurra leading the way for her team. They held onto the 1-0 lead through the rest of the opening frame, but Team USA came out roaring in the second period.
Monique Lamoureux-Morando scored twice in the second period, while Brianna Decker, Hannah Brandt, and Haley Skarupa also added goals to put Team USA up 5-1 after forty minutes.
Jordan Smelker scored for Team NWHL early in the third, but Skarupa also added a goal, and Team USA skated away with the 6-2 win.
This time, it was Brittany Ott in net for the NWHL squad, and she seemed to have a more difficult time than Fitzgerald had two days prior. Ott still managed to register 34 saves, while Alex Rigsby stopped 14 of the 16 shots that she faced at the other end of the rink.
This exhibition series was a great partnership between the NWHL and USA Hockey, showcasing many of the best players in women's hockey and allowing each entity to show off their top talents. It gave the Olympic team some much-needed practice prior to PyeongChang, and it gave the NWHL players a chance to try something different and test their skills while facing off against an incredibly talented team -- many of whom are their former teammates.
However, there were a few points in the execution of these games that were less than. The games were broadcast via HockeyTV, a subscription website. If fans wanted to watch the games, they were required to purchase a $30/month subscription. The streams weren't high-quality, and at times, this made it difficult to even read the names on the backs of players' jerseys.
Then there was the broadcasting crew itself, who were obviously not up to the task. I won't list every error or cringeworthy remark they made, but just some examples included repeatedly saying that Brittany Ott was in net Saturday (it was actually Katie Fitzgerald, a fact the broadcasters didn't seem to become aware of until the third period!); calling Team NWHL "the All-Stars" repeatedly; and mispronouncing names like Duggan, Koelzer, and Lamoureux.
They also showed off their lack of knowledge about women's hockey and, at times, blatant sexism, with comments on topics such as the fact that the Lamoureuxs are both married but still chose to continue playing hockey; that women are fast because they don't weigh as much as men, and continually referring to the players as "feisty" while managing to spend blocks of time talking about topics that were completely unrelated to the game.
The only refreshing part of this was the NWHL's official Twitter account, which brought some snark as they continually called out these errors throughout the course of the games. Obviously, this isn't the first time we've seen such lackluster broadcasting in women's hockey, but unfortunately, it also probably won't be the last time. The broadcasts would have been significantly more enjoyable if people with a background in and knowledge of women's hockey could have worked the game, such as any one of the NWHL's regular broadcasting crews. Instead, fans who watched were forced to either listen to the awful dribble of the commentators, or watch on mute (which is what I did after a certain point!)
Despite the poor broadcast, there was some fantastic hockey played in the pair of exhibition games. At times, it seemed almost troublesome that Team USA didn't seem dominant; after all, these are the Olympians, and what does that say for their chances in Pyeongchang? But thinking further on it, these talented players are still finding themselves as a team, and this pair of exhbition games allowed them to test out line combinations, find chemistry together, and continue to grow, which they'll keep doing in the weeks ahead.
Following the pair of exhibition games, the NWHL players will return to their respective teams as the league prepares for a three-game weekend. The USWNT will continue to prepare for the Olympics, which will kick off February 10 with Japan vs. Sweden and Switzerland vs. South Korea. The United States opens their tournament the following day to face Finland, while Canada will face the Olympic Athletes from Russia.