How Canada and the US differ in their roster philosophies during Olympic cycles

While the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are still over a year away and the memories of Pyeongchang are still fresh in many fans’ minds (with only one World Championship taking place since then) centralisation for both Canada and the USA is rapidly approaching. Countries historically pick their rosters around late May, beginning of June in the year prior to the Olympics to allow time for players to train, bond and participate in exhibition games before the final roster selection occurring just a month before the big event. What goes on during those 9 months prior to skating out of that Olympic ice surface is largely kept a secret with roster decisions often being announced in a somewhat cut-throat manner and additional players often being drawn in from outside the bubble to the surprise of everyone. Throughout this article, we will be looking at the survival rates of skaters on National Teams over the past 30 years and investigating what this means for roster selection heading into Beijing.

In 2018 between the two teams there were only 3 first time players. Cayla Barnes and Sidney Morin both lined up for the USA on the big stage while Sarah Nurse did the same for Canada. That is of course not to say these players didn’t have prior international experience. Nurse made her national team debut at the 2015 4 Nations Cup and had also represented Canada at a U18 level. Cayla Barnes while just 18 at the time of centralisation had played for the United States 3 times at U18’s including Captaining them to a Gold medal that very year while Morin had previously represented the USA at the 2017 The Time Is Now Tour. While there were only 3 ‘true’ rookies between the two teams that was not to say this was the same line-up as the previous Olympic in Sochi with Team Canada having 8 players missing from their gold medal-winning Sochi side, and the USA missing 7.  I have put their names below as we will return to them later.

CANADAUSA
Caroline OuelletteAlex Carpenter
Catherine WardAnne Schleper
Gillian AppsJosephine Pucci
Hayley WickenheiserJulie Chu
Jayna HeffordKelli Stack
Jennifer WakefieldLyndsey Fry
Lauriane RougeauMichelle Picard
Tara Watchorn 
Skaters from the 2014 rosters not included in the 2018 rosters

This meant that approximately half the roster for both USA and Canada were participating in their first Olympics and in a sport where we often talk about the ‘core’ of a team needing to be stable and experienced to gain success information like this can make us question just how likely is a player to survive from one Olympic cycle to the next.

To look into this we are using data gathered thanks to HerHockeyCounts from every World Championships from 1990 to 2019 and every Olympics from 1998 to 2018. Players whose first tournament was with the national team was 1990 were removed as we could not accurately estimate what stage of their career they were at, as many older players potentially would have been selected for many years prior had a national team existed, and players that were still active at the 2019 WWC excluded as we do not yet know how many years they will be playing on the national team for. Additionally, countries that had only made 1 appearance at the elite level (usually due to Olympic home country rules) were also removed from the dataset. This left us with a list of 680 players from 13 different countries that have participated in either the top-level World Championships or the Olympics.

To look into the lifespan of a National Team skater we will be using Survival analysis which is more commonly used in medical and engineering studies and is also known as ‘Time to Event’ analysis. The concept of using it in hockey is loosely based on Namita Nandakumar 2017 work on NHL prospect curves which can be found here, here and here.  We will be using this method to be measured in the number of years a player competes internationally for their Country and will take into account gaps for events such as childbirth or injury.

Using the chart above we can see that top tier national teams have on average a 50% roster turnover ever 2 years. However with all 13 countries involved it is hard to say what is happening on the rosters of our group of 5 nations such as Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

By isolating these 5 countries we are able to gain a deeper understanding of the ‘lifespan’ of a national team player. The USA, Finland, and Sweden all turn over 50% of their roster approximately every 3 years, this means that players have a coin flips chance of surviving between Olympic cycles with the USA and Finland both exhibiting an almost 75% drop off over 4 years. Russia fairs a little better with their 50% turn over rate sitting at the 4-year mark while Canada leads the pack in player retention with 5 years which is more than a full Olympic cycle.

One could, of course, relate Canada’s retention rate to player reimbursements however since most of the advancements made regarding the payment of national team players have only occurred during recent years and thus largely affected those who are still active on the national team and thus not included in this analysis. For more information on the pre-2017 funding landscape, I would suggest this article by Kirsten Whelan which breaks down the situation nicely.

Instead, let us briefly revisit the 2014-2018 Olympic turn over for the USA and Canada that we spoke of earlier. Canada lost Caroline Ouelette – 16 tournaments, Catherine Ward – 6 tournaments, Gillian Apps – 11 tournaments, Hayley Wickenheiser – 18 tournaments, Jayna Hefford – 17 tournaments, Jenifer Wakefield – 8 tournaments, Lauriane Rougeau, and Tara Watchhorn – 4 tournaments, between Sochi and Pyeongchang with many of these players being the literal backbone of Team Canada with many of them making it three, four or even five Olympic cycles before retiring with an average of an 11-year tenure amongst this Olympic retiring class.

The story on the American side is a little different with players from Sochi that either retired or missed the cut four years later including Alex Carpenter – 6 tournaments (Carpenter did re-enter the national team program in 2019), Anne Schleper – 5 tournaments, Josephine Pucci – 3 tournaments, Julie Chu – 13 tournaments, Kelli Stack – 8 tournaments, Lyndsey Fry – 2 tournaments, Michelle Picard – 6 tournaments. Both Stack and Carpenter were shock exclusions for the 2018 Olympic National team with the former not even getting the call to be part of the centralisation roster despite winning gold with the team at the world championships only a few months prior. This trend can also be seen when we isolate the chart down to just the US and Canada, with Canada clearly having the longer survival curve.

One issue with this method, of course, is the fact that it doesn’t account for active athletes who are more likely to be paid for efforts by either their national association or through participation in professional leagues. However, it is unsure what effect this will have as with players playing professionally for longer there is an expectation that the base skill level of entire national teams thus making the entry point significantly older. Looking back at the Pyeongchang rosters as we head into a year where both Canada and the US will take their first step towards hopefully adding another gold medal to the trophy case, we can see that history doesn’t seem too far off as the national team machine continues to cycle through players in the endless quest to be the best in the world. Only 9 of USA’s gold medal-winning team were selected for the cancelled 2020 Women’s World Championship in Halifax, while Canada saw a slightly higher 10. What this could mean for Beijing is anyone’s guess at this point with the cancellation of 4 Nations, and the WWC making it harder than ever to project. What we do know for sure is that inclusion on the 2021s World Championships Teams will be more important than ever with managers and coaching staff trying nail down who gets that golden ticket the centralisation and who misses out.

CanadaUSA
NameActive YearsNamesActive Years
Bailey Bram6Amanda Kessel6*
Blayre Turnbull4*Amanda Pelkey3
Brianne Jenner8*Brianna Decker9*
Brigette Lacquette4Cayla Barnes2*
Emily Clark5*Danielle Cameranesi3*
Haley Irwin8Emily Matheson (Pfalzer)5*
Jennifer Wakefield8Gigi Marvin10
Jillian Saulnier4*Haley Skarupa4
Jocelyne Larocque9*Hannah Brandt5*
Laura Fortino8Hilary Knight13*
Laura Stacey3*Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson10
Lauriane Rougeau7Kacey Bellamy12*
Melodie Daoust3*Kali Flanagan2
Marie-Philip Poulin11*Kelly Pannek3
Meaghan Mikkelson10Kendall Coyne Schofield9*
Meghan Agosta12Lee Stecklein7
Natalie Spooner9*Megan Keller5
Rebecca Johnston12Meghan Duggan11
Renata Fast3*Monique Lamoureux-Morando10
Sarah Nurse2*Sidney Morin1
2018 Olympics roster tournament counts as of 2020, * indicate selection for the cancelled 2020 WCC

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