Chasing a childhood dream: Kelsey King competes for Team USA in Rivalry Series

Minnesota State senior forward Kelsey King now knows firsthand how intense the ice hockey rivalry is between the United States and Canada. 

How does she know?

“You could hear a pin drop when we scored,” said King, who spent two weeks competing for Team USA. “There was nobody cheering for us at all.”

The legend of the United States versus Canada in ice hockey is one for the ages. Whether it be Olympic men’s or women’s rosters or National Development Team rosters, the rivalry between the two countries has never shied away from the spotlight.

In the latest rendition, King earned the opportunity to engrave her name in one of hockey’s greatest rivalries as a part of the 2022-23 Rivalry Series. 

The Rivalry Series was first introduced in the 2018-19 hockey season, which featured a five-game slate for the two powerhouse hockey countries. It has been one of the most successful additions to the international hockey scene, and rightfully so. 

The United States and Canada have competed in the gold medal game in every single IIHF Women’s World Championship and Olympic Winter Games, with only two exceptions: the 2006 Olympics and the 2019 World Championship. The teams have also set multiple attendance records in the process for international women’s hockey games, most recently re-setting the American attendance record in Seattle with 14,551 fans Nov. 20.

Despite the attendance record, hockey is still growing in the United States and has a long way to go until it reaches the standards of its rivals in Canada. King and the rest of Team USA prevailed in both their Canadian soil contests, however, winning 4-3 in a shootout Nov. 15 and 2-1 in regulation Nov. 17. Team USA then returned home to Seattle, Wash. where they completed a three-game sweep over the Canadians in a 4-2 win Nov. 20. 

A lot changed for the Minnesota State senior forward when she first arrived off the plane, from leaving everything she knew back home in Minnesota to being plunged straight into the highest level of hockey of her life. 

Unlike this past summer where King and several other of her teammates competed in the Collegiate Rivalry Series, King was the only Maverick to attend the Olympic team Rivalry Series contests this time around. It was hard for her to prepare herself for such a rigorous transition, but King looked at the bright side of things which helped her succeed in her two weeks on the road. 

“Something that I always live by is trying to force myself to be uncomfortable because I feel like you play the best hockey, you train the hardest, you work the hardest when you’re in an uncomfortable setting,” said King. “You have the most growth when you’re uncomfortable.”

“Being placed in that position of knowing that I have to gain some people’s respect, put me in a position to where I was like, this is uncomfortable, but I’m gonna put my head down and I’m gonna work because ultimately they’ve all established themselves on that team. I’m the new kid that has work to do to gain their respect and to also get better.” 

King kept strong to her philosophy during her two weeks with Team USA, and even worked herself up in the line chart for a period in USA’s 2-1 win Nov. 17. This was a big feat for King, who came into the Team USA Olympic roster as a first-timer and one of only six current NCAA athletes on the team. 

The remaining 16 players on the roster currently play in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, several of which have years of National experience on Team USA. 

As one of the youngest and few current NCAA athletes on the team, King had a lot to take in, not only from a networking standpoint but also from what she could learn on the ice from her fellow teammates and coaches. 

“I got the opportunity to be around the best in the world, which offered a great opportunity not only to get to know them off the ice and the type of people that they are and how they carry themselves, but especially the wisdom that they showed on the ice,” said King.

“The context of the culture through USA Hockey that they’ve cultivated, that starts from the leadership, from the players and from the coaches. The advice here and there, you hold on to those things because that advice is something that you’ll carry on for the rest of your career, because they know. They’ve lived it.”

“One thing that people always say, especially, was that we weren’t playing for a medal or anything, but even playing a game, you’re a contributor. Everybody on the team is a contributor and you all share a bond over playing Canada. Those three games against Canada, none of us, all the players that played together, will ever forget that. We’ll share a forever bond from those three games, and I think that that’s the coolest piece of it all.”

King and her fellow Team USA teammates also made it a priority to involve themselves in the Seattle hockey community. Most notably, the team attended some of the Seattle Kraken’s development program skills days where the players would skate with young kids and help them learn how to play hockey. 

Growing up in Elk River, it was one of King’s dreams to play for Team USA, and being able to give back to the community as a player herself, was one of her most outstanding achievements while on the road. 

“You dream about that as a little girl and then to see these players that I look up to so much, to be able to have the opportunity to be out there with them and learn from them and grow with them, is really special.”

King has had a remarkable career with the Mavericks, most notably completing a breakout junior season this past year. The Elk River product played in all 35 games her junior year and was second on Minnesota State in scoring, collecting 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points in those contests. 

Now in her fourth year at Minnesota State, King will look to collect her third straight WCHA Scholar-Athlete and All-Academic Team honors in addition to her WCHA All-Rookie Team honor in 2020.

Mavericks’ senior forward Kelsey King autographs Rivalry Series posters for fans alongside fellow Team USA teammates. King competed in three games for the United States, helping the U.S. win all three contests. (Dave King)

Header Photo: King earned her second Rivalry Series invite this season to compete for Team USA in a three-game slate against Canada. (Chris Mast/USA Hockey)

Write to Kole Buelow at Kole.Buelow@mnsu.edu

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