It’s been a tumultuous month for Neepawa’s Halli Krzyzaniak.
On March 29, while preparing with her Canadian teammates for the world women’s hockey championship in Plymouth, Mich., the University of North Dakota blue-liner learned the school she had called home for four years was eliminating its women’s hockey program.
Eight days later, Krzyzaniak was defending on a 3-on-2 break in overtime when American forward Hilary Knight scored the winning goal to give the hosts a 3-2 victory. The impact of both losses is taking time to process.
"Yeah, it’s been stressful, but moreso I think just emotional," Krzyzaniak said Thursday via telephone from Grand Forks, N.D.
"Everything’s just a little bit more emotional. Going through the cutting of the program and the overtime loss. For me, that was just devastating. It’s still difficult to talk about now. I just got back to school, seeing my old teammates and now they’re going to visit other universities and seeing my coaches and knowing they’re going to have to uproot their families. To me, that’s pretty hard to talk about."
Krzyzaniak was able to complete her NCAA eligibility, but she’s been able to help old UND teammates deal with their grief while coming to terms with the overtime loss at the worlds and her third consecutive silver medal as a member of Team Canada.
"Yes, that was definitely a tough one to swallow — just the way it went down," said Krzyzaniak, whose blocked shot at the blue-line was converted into a U.S. breakout that led to the overtime goal. "Things always happen in the game of hockey, but to have it happen in that way just sucks.
"I wouldn’t say that I blame myself but, I mean, you always think about the ‘what ifs,’ what if that didn’t happen and maybe it still would’ve gone down like that, but you never know."
Krzyzaniak, 22, has a bright future ahead nonetheless.
Hockey Canada is expected to name a 28-player centralization roster for the national women’s team shortly and Krzyzaniak would be a top candidate for a spot. In August, those players will convene in Calgary, where they will practise and train together in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The team will play an eight-game exhibition series against the Americans while also participating in the Four Nations Cup.
Krzyzaniak believes concerns about recent American dominance (the U.S. has won four consecutive world titles) are overstated.
"There’ve been a lot of overtimes consistently in last couple of years," Krzyzaniak said. "The last two world championships ended in overtime, so I think it’s hard to say there is a gap between us, but I do think we play two different styles."
The biggest difference?
"The one thing I’ve noticed, being a defenceman, is they do a lot of swinging and building speed, especially through the neutral zone," Krzyzaniak said. "They’re always crossing and building speed and they’re not afraid to turn back if they don’t like what they’re seeing... rather than dump the puck in. That’s probably the biggest difference between (the countries), they’re constantly moving and constantly building up speed and when they attack they’re going full speed all the time."
Retired Team Canada star Jennifer Botterill has also noticed the style difference.
"The U.S. is a very skilled, very talented puck-possession team," said Botterill, who became the first female player to be inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this week. "I think Canada still has a lot of talent, a good mix of veteran players and young players. Are there things they can improve upon? Yes — and I think they are aware of that.
"For them, it’s just in terms of playing together as a team. Their goaltending is great with Shannon Szabados... But in terms of bringing in some of those elements of puck movement, in terms of support breaking out of the zone. Sometimes they try to skate the puck instead of moving it."
Canada and the U.S. appear destined to challenge for gold again in 2018.
"I feel the Canada-U.S. rivalry is still there, very intense," Botterill said.
"Canada’s had a tough time coming out on top at the world championship as of late, but they’ve still come through in the Olympic Games. Those two teams have improved significantly. And I think that gap people have seen in women’s hockey hasn’t closed as quickly as people might like because they’ve improved so quickly. Other countries are getting better, but so has Canada and the U.S."
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