Three from Minn. head to China

Gigi Marvin, Rachael Drazan and Natalie Darwitz will play in the World Championships.

Austin Cumblad

Winter has worn out its welcome in Minnesota, but for the glass-half-full types, perhaps one thing the blustery weather can do is help remind people there’s still hockey being played.

In fact, several members of the Minnesota women’s hockey team – current and former – will be taking the ice on the other side of the globe.

Juniors Gigi Marvin and Rachael Drazan, along with former Gopher Natalie Darwitz, begin competition Friday in the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s Championship, held at Baqu Arena in Harbin, China.

All three bring international experience to the squad. Darwitz is a two-time Olympian and helped the U.S. National Team to a silver medal in Park City, Utah, in 2002 and a bronze in Turin, Italy, in 2006. She also skated with Team USA in the 2004, 2005 and 2007 World Championships.

Joining Darwitz on the team in 2007 was Marvin, who notched two goals and an assist on the way to the gold medal game, where the women fell to perennial powerhouse Canada.

Drazan is one of seven newcomers to the U.S. National Team, but has played alongside much of this year’s team at the Four Nations Cup.

The 2008 World Championship is the 11th sanctioned by the IIHF, dating back to 1990.

The tournament has been thoroughly dominated by the Canadians – they have won gold 9-of-10 times, and it’s been Team USA on the short end of the scoreline every time.

Indeed, Canda won eight straight World Championships before the U.S. finally moved to the top of the podium in 2005. That team boasted three former Gophers in addition to Darwitz.

But this year, it’s not just Minnesota that is well-represented on Team USA. Wisconsin has four players on the roster, all of whom appeared in the 2007 World Championship.

Defenseman Kerry Weiland of the Vaughan Flames was also a part of the team last year. Add to that Darwitz and six other former Olympians, and the U.S. National Team has 13 players familiar with world championship experience.

That leaves seven newcomers, including Drazan, to round out the 20-player roster, creating a combination that Team USA head coach Jackie Barto is optimistic about.

“This team combines experience with youthful enthusiasm and we feel like we’ve got the right mix headed into the World Championship,” she said.

In good company

Marvin’s and Drazan’s trip to the World Championship puts them in esteemed company at Minnesota.

Former Gophers Lyndsay Wall, Krissy Wendell, Kelly Stephens and Darwitz have all appeared not only in the World Championship but also the Olympics.

By being selected to the 2008 U.S. National Team, Marvin and Drazan have taken the first step toward an Olympic berth of their own.

“The majority of kids that come to our program are ones that want to make an impact on the international level and get to the Olympics,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Rachael and Gigi are two among many that are really striving to make that 2010 Olympic team and they were rewarded with making the World Championship team this year.”