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What to know about Team USA and Team Canada’s National Women’s teams coming to Pittsburgh this week

Big time women’s hockey is in Pittsburgh this week, including Amanda Kessel. Find out what to know!

The Today Show Gallery of Olympians Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images

(Ed. Note: we’re joined by Michelle Jay, manager of our fellow SB Nation blog The Ice Garden to talk about a major hockey event going down this week in Pittsburgh while the Penguins are out of town!)

This week, Team USA and Team Canada’s National Women’s Teams are holding a joint training camp at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township. In addition to the practices, the teams will face off in two exhibition games on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

It’s an unusual situation to have the two biggest rivals in hockey practicing in the same place at the same time. So let’s answer some questions about it and women’s hockey as the spotlight of the sport comes to Pittsburgh this week.

Why is this happening?

Typically the Four Nations tournament is held in early November. However, this year the annual tournament was cancelled because the Swedish National Team was boycotting their association for numerous reasons. As one of the four teams and hosts, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association cancelled the tournament. Though the boycott was recently resolved, the tournament - which also features Finland - remained called off.

So USA Hockey and Hockey Canada came together to create this joint training camp and two exhibition games in place of the tournament.

If the situation with the Swedish team sounds familiar, you might be thinking of 2017 when Team USA announced their boycott of USA Hockey ahead of the World Championships in Plymouth, Michigan.

Who is playing?

Since it’s the early stages of an Olympic cycle, there’s a fair amount of mixing it up in the rosters.

While the big names like Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight will be there, some of the younger players in the pipeline are also in Pittsburgh. There’s a chance to see current college players crack the senior team, names like Sarah Fillier, Claire Thompson, Sydney Brodt, and Sophia Shaver. The camp and games are undoubtedly a chance for some of the younger players to play their way onto the 2020 World Championship roster.

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando are making their first appearance for Team USA since winning gold at the 2018 Olympics and since having their sons.

Who should I watch?

Canada-

All of the college players. A number of Canada’s top talent was left off this roster in place of college talent. That’s huge because in the last Olympics Canada trended towards an older roster.

Victoria Bach. While she had a solid college career at Boston University, the forward really made a name for herself in her first year in the CWHL last season. She’s been struggling to crack the senior roster but this could be a great chance for her.

USA-

Annie Pankowski. The forward was one of the Top 3 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the top women’s hockey player in college hockey, last season. While Pankowski has long been highly regarded, she had a prolific March and April. In seven NCAA playoff games, she scored 11 goals helping her Wisconsin Badgers win the National Championships in her senior year. Then, she netted seven points in seven games at the 2019 World Championships with Team USA. Panko has twice been a late cut from the Olympic team and is still searching for that elusive spot, but has been making a name for herself since then.

Related: Womens’ Hockey Top 25 Under 25: #1 Annie Pankowski

Katie Burt. The goaltender spots for USA Hockey has been quite crowded which explains why Burt has been left off so many times. But the Boston College alumna had a great rookie NWHL season on top of a great NCAA career. She’s rostered here along with Team USA veterans Alex Cavallini (née Rigsby) and Maddie Rooney (even though Rooney is younger than Burt). This is a great chance for her to show off what she can do.

How can I watch?

In person! The training camps are open to the public for free. The exhibitions are ticketed.

But they will be streamed on HockeyTV (most likely under a paid subscription). Penguins fans will hear a familiar voice with Josh Getzoff doing play-by-play while Tara Mounsey, gold medalist with the 1998 Olympic Team, will provide the color.

What else is happening in women’s hockey?

In an extremely simplified retelling, it’s kind of a crazy time in women’s hockey honestly.

In March, one of the two professional leagues in North America - the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) - folded without warning. The six-team league had just finished its 12th season. Players were paid stipends, not salaries, and almost all worked full time jobs.

The only professional league remaining in North America is National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). Based in the US, the five-team league is in its fifth season, and currently on a two week break (because of what was supposed to be the Four Nations tournament). Like the CWHL, players are paid stipends, not salaries, and almost all work full time jobs. Games are played on the weekends and streamed on Twitch.

However, around 170 players are sitting out of professional hockey in North America, asking for better pay and better conditions. They’ve organized themselves into the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). It is not a true union or players association, despite their name. Their playing schedule is a lot more loose as they don’t play in a league. They created the Dream Gap Tour, with three stops thus far. They’ve taken a break for the rest of 2019 and will be holding more stops in 2020.

If you want to watch the National Teams, USA and Canada have their second Rivalry Series slated for December 2019 and February 2020.

College hockey is a great place to watch the current and future stars as well. The closest team to Pittsburgh is Robert Morris, a team that’s trending upwards this season.