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Four Nations Tournament highlights exciting time for USA Bandy

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Following an impactful 2023 that saw the United States earn a podium finish at the Federation of International Bandy (FIB) Women’s World championships, an exciting tournament promises to build on the momentum. With the dates of March 19-23, 2024 circled on the calendar, the wondrous women of the US are ready to cross the Atlantic.

Joined by distinguished competitors Finland and Norway, the US shall grace the ice in Gothenburg, Sweden. Hosted by the Swedish Bandy Association, the Four Nations Cup shall take place at Ruddalen Indoor Arena. As a side note, Sweden captured the gold medal at the 2023 Women’s Worlds, their 11th in event history.

Adding to the emotion of the event is the fact that this year marks the 20th Anniversary of the inaugural Women’s Worlds. As the US appeared in the medal round for the 2022 and 2023 editions, hopes are high for a strong showing at Four Nations. Starting on March 19 with an exhibition game versus the Swedish Under-21 team, Finland provides the opposition on March 21. The following day sees the US faceoff versus Norway while a Saturday afternoon tilt on March 23 against Sweden concludes the tournament.

With a highly skilled roster comprising of talent that have previously played NCAA ice hockey at the Division 1 or Division 3 levels, the national bandy team has a solid foundation to build upon. Worth noting, the roster also includes proud linkages to the iconic Minnesota Whitecaps ice hockey club, including Isobel Cup champions Kalli Funk and Allie Thunstrom. Both bringing exceptional star power to the national team, they are among numerous homegrown talents finding new glories in Bandy.

Goaltender Sarah Ahlquist has worn the Stars and Stripes for six world championships, while Amy Stech has enjoyed five appearances. The leadership for this group includes team manager Katie Swor, an alum of Dartmouth College, general manager Magnus Skold, head coach Chris Middlebrook and assistant coach Daren Richardson, also a member of the men’s team.

Having served in the capacity of team manager for five World Championships, Swor also wore the US jersey for a pair of games at the 2018 Women’s Worlds in Chengde, China. With the team short of substitute players, she admirably took stick in hand for a match versus Sweden, followed by an appearance versus the host Chinese. Discussing the quality of talent on this year’s team, Swor emphasizes the combination of veteran talent and new faces.

“Sarah (Ahlquist) Schneider and Briana (Jentner) Carlson played with the Whitecaps starting around 2004 and were great players who helped build the foundation for pro women’s hockey. Kalli Funk, another Whitecaps alum, also played in Sweden after her D1 career.

Katie Noonan and Hannah Behounek were teammates at RPI, and our rookies this tournament include Gabby Billing from Dartmouth. Amy Stech (Maine) and Thunstrom led Mammoths and SISU in scoring this year, respectively.”

With 17 bandy teams in Minnesota, the presence of the sport is making a growing impression in the State of Hockey. The current breakdown includes six Elite Teams, six D1 Teams, along with five Rec Teams, consisting of approximately 300 players. Considering that men’s bandy is also a growing staple in Minnesota’s sporting conversation, the prospect of a men’s International Bandy Tournament from June 5-8 in Las Vegas is poised to raise greater awareness stateside. In preparation for the 4 Nations Cup, the US Women faced off versus a pair of men’s teams.

On January 29, an outdoor exhibition against the Saints Bandy Club took place at the the impressive Guidant John Rose OVAL. Located in Roseville, the OVAL is celebrated as the largest artificial full-sized outdoor rink in North America, having also hosted the 2006 and 2016 FIB Women’s Worlds. Augsburg Arena served as host venue for a March 10 affair versus the Flying Sparrows Klub (spelled with a K), the result a thrilling 5-5 draw.

With the women’s team sporting beautiful powder blue jerseys, graciously provided by WSI Sports, it exemplifies another aspect of teamwork. Akin to many other sports teams and/or associations in their development, the financial aspects can prove the most challenging. The current state of Bandy is one where it stands as self-funded. Although elements of the game such as ice time, equipment and travel can become luxurious, making crowdfunding an essential focal point, the likes of WSI and Traust Consulting have played an essential role in providing the national team with an encouraging step forward.

Equally encouraging is the launch of a club championship. Fittingly, the OVAL is home for this important new chapter in American Bandy as the genesis of the Jamison Cup brings new relevance. With a strong rivalry existing, the first two editions of the Jamison Cup have seen the SISU Bandy Club and Mammoths face off. Contested at the end of February, both Cup finals have seen SISU emerge victorious. This year’s clash saw SISU enjoy a 2-0 win as Katie Noonan scored both goals while Sarah Ahlquist earned the shutout. As Swor shares some background on the event’s origins, its purpose establishes strong roots for a very promising future as the US look to establish a greater footprint domestically and internationally.

“The Jamison Cup started last year when we finally had two women’s teams competing in D1. So far, the two Jamison Cups have both been between the Mammoths and SISU. Yet, we are looking to add a third women’s team next season and make the trophy even more competitive. Karen Jamison was a bandy player who started playing in the 1980s, organized international trips, and was the first American woman to play overseas when she played for IK Gota in 1987.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Acknowledgements: Allie Thunstrom, Katie Swor and Chris Middlebrook

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In this article: #Awards, #Championships, #Champs, #TeamUSA, #WomenInSport, #Womenshockey, #WomensWorlds, Federation of International Bandy, FIB, Four Nations Cup, grow the game, Hockey, International Hockey, NCAA Hockey, USA Bandy, World Championships
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