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Women's hockey team hopes international experience translates to national championship

Rebecca Johnston plays for Team Canada

Rebecca Johnston '12 playing for Team Canada. She took the 2009-10 year off from school to compete with the team in the Olympics. Photo by IIHF/HHOF/Provided.

At the beginning of the 2009-10 season, few outside the Cornell women's hockey locker room gave the Big Red much of a chance to finish in the top half of the ECAC Hockey standings, let alone make an impact on the national stage. After all, Cornell's best player, Rebecca Johnston '12, had taken the year off from school to compete in the Olympics with Team Canada.

But after a dream season that saw Cornell fall in the national title game in triple overtime, an octet of players with international playing experience has the Big Red's eyes firmly placed on finishing the job next spring and bringing a national championship to Ithaca.

When the Canadian U22 program called in the top talent in the country for the U22 National Team selection camp over the summer, nine members of the Cornell squad were among the 42 players invited. And when the camp ended, and the final roster had been set, eight Big Red players were among the final 22-player roster -- far more than any other collegiate program in the country.

Goaltender Amanda Mazzotta '12, defensemen Laura Fortino '13 and Lauriane Rougeau '13, and forwards Johnston, Jessica Campbell '14, Brianne Jenner '14, Chelsea Karpenko '12 and Catherine White '12 were the eight selected for the Canadian Select Team that faced the United States in a three-game series in August. Freshman defenseman Hayleigh Cudmore '14 was also invited to the camp, but was not among the 42 named to the series against the United States.

The camp gave the eight players several weeks of high-level training and games, facing off against the best players the United States and Canada have to offer. The camp was a blessing for Cornell head coach Doug Derraugh.

Amanda Mazzotta during ECAC Hockey title game

Goaltender Amanda Mazzotta '12 during last year's national title game. Photo by Jim Rosvold/Provided.

"It really helps us at the start of the season, when we only have one week of practice before we start playing games," Derraugh says. "With those players training and playing at a high level, it gives us a good head start going into the season."

The camp allowed nearly half of the Big Red roster to experience the high level of international competition and to help set the standards of what to expect this season at Cornell.

"It was huge having a good number of people understanding what the standards are and what the potential of this team is," Karpenko says. "It helps us when we bring that attitude here, getting everyone on board and pushing the bar higher and having everyone work harder toward our goals."

The camp also gave the incoming players -- Campbell, Cudmore and Jenner -- a chance to get to know a few of their soon-to-be teammates with the Big Red before even arriving on campus.

"Coming to Cornell and knowing so many of the girls already helped me know that I'd fit in right away," Campbell says. "Knowing I'd played alongside so many of them with the Canadian team made a big difference."

"It was nice getting to know the freshmen before school so that when they came in, there would already be people here they were comfortable with, and we were already able to develop that chemistry with them on the ice," Johnston says.

And now that the season has begun, the members of Canada's U22 team have put aside that allegiance for the time being, coming together under the Cornell banner for what should shape up to be a memorable year.

"Now that we're here, there are no divisions in the team," Karpenko says. "Everyone brings something different and special to this team. There are so many different personalities, it's really a lot of fun, and it really does create a great atmosphere."

"There's definitely great chemistry here, and that's something I noticed last year when I came down to visit the school," Campbell says. "The spirit within the team was special, and not many teams have that. We wouldn't be where we are as a team without the whole group contributing and pushing each other."

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