Women's team unveiled on big stage
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Hilary Knight has known for a week or so that she was officially a member of U.S. Olympic women's hockey team but had to keep the news under wraps. For the most part.
"I was debating if it would be a Christmas present to my parents if I should tell them and then tell them not to say anything," Knight told ESPN.com.
She allowed herself that one exception.
On Wednesday afternoon, in front of the more than 100,000 hockey fans packed into Michigan Stadium for the NHL Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto, the rest of the world got to find out.
Knight and the rest of Team USA's women's hockey team were officially unveiled, a talented group expected to challenge for a gold medal after its silver-medal finish in Vancouver in 2010. During the second intermission of the Winter Classic, the players took center stage out in the cold, side by side as the team was announced.
"It's all about moments you share with your teammates and support staff," said Katey Stone, the first woman to serve as head coach of the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team. "To be able to involve our 2014 Olympic team in an atmosphere like the Big House, it's hard to put into words how important that is to us."
More important than the stage in which it was unveiled was the quality of players being introduced to thousands of hockey fans who will get to know them better while following their quest for gold in Sochi next month.
"We're thrilled with team that we have," Stone said. "We've spent countless hours making sure we have the right group. We believe we have the right group to compete for a gold medal."
The roster includes 11 Olympians and 21 world champions. It has experience in players like Julie Chu, Knight and team captain Meghan Duggan, as well as talented Olympic newcomers like Alex Carpenter, Lyndsey Fry and Amanda Kessel. Kessel, the younger sister of Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel, has been rehabbing a lower-body injury, but is expected to be healthy for the Olympics.
This will be Chu's fourth Olympic Games and she agreed this is as talented a women's roster as the Americans have sent to an Olympics.
"The amazing thing about women's hockey is the growth of the game. My first Olympics was in 2002. Just seeing that team and where we've grown until now, it's just day and night," Chu told ESPN.com. "I hope years from now, in 10 years, players are going to be saying the same thing about the 2014 team. 'We're so much better than those players.'"
Chu highlighted the speed of the forwards up front, a group that can move the puck and attack offensively, along with the size and physicality of the defense. She credits the exposure from the 1998 Olympic team for giving the Americans such a deep pool of talented players to chose from.
Reagan Carey, GM of the U.S. Olympic team and USA Hockey's director of women's hockey, also attributes the depth in talent to the mix of post-graduate players continuing their hockey careers with young talent being established in the developmental program.
"It's competitive from both ends. For us, those last final pieces are really tough," Carey told ESPN.com. It makes for a finished product she was excited to unveil on the big stage Wednesday.
"What a great day to be a part of hockey overall," she said. "This was an incredible event. For us to be a part of it was special."