This upcoming January, the best female bandy players from all around the globe will congregate in Chengde, China to compete in the 2018 Women’s Bandy World Championship. Among that group of elite athletes will be a United States squad that is coming off its best-ever finish at a World Championship competition.
The USA Women’s Bandy team went 3-3-1 in the 2016 World Championship, which was hosted at their home rink, the Guidant John Rose Minnesota OVAL, in Roseville, Minnesota. The American ladies outscored their opponents by a total of 19 to 16 in those seven games, which was – by far – both the best offensive and defensive performance in the program’s history. The team narrowly missed out on earning a spot in the medal round of that tournament and ultimately finished in 5th place.
Team USA returns the majority of its roster from the 2016 tournament, and after almost two years of added experience, the American players are hungrier and readier than ever to get back onto the world stage and compete for a coveted World Championship medal.
Leading the way for Team USA is their head coach, Mikael Sandberg. The former Swedish professional player has been at the helm of the women’s program since 2011 and this will be his fourth-consecutive Women’s Bandy World Championship. Sandberg put his team through rigorous training sessions at hockey rinks this past summer and fall, and has watched the players improve immensely, both as individuals and as a cohesive unit. Coach Sandberg is very hopeful that this group will become the first-ever USA Women’s Bandy team to earn a medal at a World Championship competition.
Sandberg’s most experienced player is veteran goaltender and team Captain, Sarah Ahlquist-Schneider, (South St. Paul, MN; Princeton University). This will be the fourth World Championship competition for Ahlquist-Schneider, who burst onto the bandy scene in the 2012 World Championship, in Irkutsk, Russia. There, she led her team to a thrilling victory in the 5th place game against Norway, (the US program's first and only victory over the Norwegians in international competition) and she has continued to improve steadily since that tournament. Ahlquist-Schneider recently became the first USA Women’s Bandy player to earn a major award at a World Championship competition when she was named the “Best Goalkeeper” of the 2016 Women’s Bandy World Championship. The goalie looks to build upon that distinction in 2018, by hopefully leading her team to a medal.
Joining Ahlquist-Schneider is a core group of veterans, as six players will be making their third appearance in a Women’s Bandy World Championship in 2018: Captain, Amy Stech, (Duluth, MN; University of Maine) Captain, Kelly McGinty, (Long Lake, MN; Cornell University) Allie Thunstrom, (Maplewood, MN; Boston College) Mikayla Rogers, (St. Paul, MN; University of Maine) Kelsey Kennedy, (Eagan, MN; Gustavus-Adolphus College) and Jenna Christensen, (Albert Lea, MN; Gustavus-Adolphus College). The team will rely heavily on this seasoned bunch to set the tone in games and to score timely goals. Particularly, the team will lean on Allie Thunstrom to put up big numbers in 2018, as she set a US record for goals and points in a single tournament in 2016, (8 and 11, respectively). It could be argued that Thunstrom is the fastest female bandy player in the world; she is also a member of the USA Speed Skating team, and will be joining the bandy team in China fresh off of the US Olympic trials for that sport. Powerful forward, Amy Stech will also be looked to for goal-scoring in 2018. Stech picked up 3 goals and 2 assists in 2016 and currently boasts the hardest shot on the team. She is a superbly-conditioned, hard-working athlete with an insatiable will to win, and the team will look to her for leadership both on and off the ice. Kelly McGinty and Kelsey Kennedy will provide speed and smarts in the middle of the ice for Team USA. The veteran midfielders are two of the smoothest skaters and craftiest players on the team, and their experience and drive to succeed is invaluable. On the back end of the US ice, look for Jenna Christensen to set the tone for breakouts in 2018. The swift-skating defender has excellent ice vision and a knack for getting her team out of jams. And finally, amongst this talented group, the USA Women’s Bandy team is thrilled to welcome back defender, Mikayla Rogers, who is currently a senior at the University of Maine and a member of the Black Bears Women’s Hockey team. Rogers’ coach allowed her to join the USA Bandy team in China and the group is thrilled to have her on board. Rogers missed the 2016 World Championship because of hockey commitments, but she played a key role for the US squad in both the 2012 and 2014 tournaments. She is a prototypical “complete player” and will be an extremely valuable asset to the US defensive corps.
The 2018 USA Women’s Bandy team will boast a sizeable contingent of players making their second appearance in a Women’s Bandy World Championship, as five 2016 rookies will pull on the Red White and Blue jersey for a second time in their international bandy careers. Meagan Wanecke, (Delafield, WI; Gustavus-Adolphus College) Mollie Carroll, (Eagan, MN; Gustavus-Adolphus College) Maddie Bergh, (Eden Prairie, MN; Gustavus-Adolphus College) Kari McClintick-Roden, (Chaska, MN; St. Olaf College) and Margot Fleming, (Wayzata, MN; St. Olaf College) will all look to build on solid performances in the 2016 Women’s Bandy World Championship. Meagan Wanecke, a fleet-footed forward, made USA Women’s Bandy history when she scored the program’s first-ever goal against Sweden in the teams’ group play match in 2016. She had 3 goals in that tournament and will look to build on that outstanding performance in 2018. Margot Fleming scored a huge goal late in Team USA’s 2016 group play match against Norway to secure a tie for her team in that game. Both of these forwards bring speed and scoring touch to the table for Team USA and they will give the squad a scary amount of depth up front. Kari McClintick-Roden and Maddie Bergh each had solid defensive showings in 2016, and with two more years of experience under their belts, look for them to be even more confident and effective in 2018. Both of these players possess a great amount of strength and the ability to chip the ball out of the zone; they will both be key pieces to the 2018 US defense. Mollie Carroll will play an absolutely crucial role for the team in 2018. Carroll, a utility player who can play pretty much any position, (and who showed off some scoring prowess in 2016 when she netted a hat trick in pool play against Finland) will be relied upon to step into the role of sweeper for her team, in place of 2016 starting sweeper, Briana Jentner-Carlson, who is off for most of this season on maternity leave.
Joining the team and making their first-ever appearance in a Women’s Bandy World Championship are four fresh new faces: Kalli Funk, (Roseville, MN; St. Cloud State University) Marah Sobczak, (Stillwater, MN; Gustavus-Adolphus College) Tam Meuwissen, (Chaska, MN; Gustavus-Adolphus College) and Jill Reynolds, (Wayzata, MN; Wesleyan University). Marah Sobczak, a goaltender, has played bandy for just over a year now and will serve as a very capable backup to Ahlquist-Schneider. Sobczak brings a great team-first attitude to the mix, to go along with her excellent goaltending skills, and she’s already had a taste of international bandy, as she participated in the 2016 World Cup of Bandy in Kungalv, Sweden. Tam Meuwissen, a forward, also started playing bandy about a year ago and has improved by leaps and bounds in that short amount of time. Though she’s not among the tallest players on the ice, she is easily one of the strongest and brings a sense of unrelenting tenacity to the rink every day. Look for her to have a very solid showing in her first opportunity on the world stage. Kalli Funk is a talented former Division-I athlete with a hard shot. She also boasts excellent strength and will most likely play a defensive role for the US in 2018. Jill Reynolds is extremely new to the sport of bandy, but is a very gifted hockey player, so undoubtedly that skill set will translate to success on the bandy rink.
A familiar face that will unfortunately not be accompanying the team to China for the 2018 Women’s Bandy World Championship is veteran, Sarma Ozmen. Ozmen had participated in an incredible seven-straight World Championships up to this point, but cannot make this trip due to family and work commitments. In addition to recently giving birth to her first child, Ozmen is the head coach for the Minneapolis Girls’ High School Hockey team, who will be in the heart of their season when the bandy team travels abroad.
Like the players who will be competing on the ice, the off-ice leadership for the 2018 USA Women’s Bandy team is as strong as ever. In addition to Head Coach Sandberg, Assistant Coach Chris Middlebrook will join the ladies’ staff in 2018. He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the group, having coached the USA Men’s National Team for the past several years. Additionally, invaluable Team Manager, Katie Lundquist-Swor will participate in her third consecutive Women’s Bandy World Championship in 2018, and longtime General Manager, Magnus Skold will again travel with the team. The US program will also bring a world-class doctor to China in 2018. Team Doctor, Howard Fidler will accompany the squad on their journey to the other side of the earth. Fidler is no stranger to international competition. This past July, he was on the medical staff for Team USA at the 2017 Maccabi Games, which were held in Jerusalem, and he also worked with the USA Fencing team at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
USA Women's Bandy goalie, Sarah Ahlquist-Schneider earned the "Best Goalkeeper" award at the 2016 Women's Bandy World Championship and will look to lead her team to a medal in 2018. Photo: Jeremy Olson
USA Women's Bandy forward, Amy Stech battles with a player from Team Finland during a game in the 2016 Women's Bandy World Championship. Stech will be relied upon heavily in 2018 for leadership and scoring. Photo: Jeremy Olson
USA Women's Bandy player, Mollie Carroll skates with the ball in her team's group play match against Norway at the 2016 Women's Bandy World Championship. Carroll will play a key role on the 2018 US team, as the squad's starting sweeper. Photo: Slade Kemme