By Ren Clayton

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The U.S. Women’s National Hockey team is in residency in Minnesota, preparing to defend their gold medal at the Winter Olympics in February.

On Dec. 20, Team USA will play one of nine total games against rival Canada, that one in St. Paul. After the U.S. took gold from the Canadians in 2018, the feeling leading up to these Olympics is different.

“Just trying to figure out our swagger and what that is,” said veteran Kelly Pannek. “When we’re at our best we play still with a chip on our shoulder, like we have something to prove. And I think that’s kind of what our identity, what we’ve come to re-find.”

The majority of the team is back from the last Olympics, but there are some newcomers, including Grace Zumwinkle. She has that shot that Minnesota hockey fans know so well.

(credit: CBS)

“Her shot is just so heavy,” said Minnesota Gopher Dani Cameranesi. “I wish I had a shot like hers and her speed. And that’s just what a lot of the girls bring. They have great shots, good speed and they work really hard, so there’s really nothing more we could ask for.”

Zumwinkle is a Breck School and University of Minnesota graduate.

“Being close to home it’s super special,” Zumwinkle said. “It’s just something like I take day by day and focusing on the process, because if you focus like too far ahead things can get lost in translation.”

Monday, the White House announced it would stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics in protest of human rights abuses in China. But United States athletes will still compete as normal.

“There are other things that are bigger than hockey as well,” said Team USA veteran Hannah Brandt. “Keep an eye on it and hope things trend in the right direction. But all we can do is prepare for the Olympics, and whatever else happens, happens.”

Ren Clayton