BENSENVILLE, Ill. -- At a quiet rink in suburban Chicago, not far from Cammi Granato's hometown, the next generation of American women's hockey players is moving on without her.
The United States faces Canada at the United Center tonight in the latest stop of an 11-game exhibition tour leading to the Turin Olympics. The Americans beat the Canadians, 2-1, in a shootout in Columbus, Ohio, Sunday, snapping a six-game losing streak to their biggest rivals for gold in Turin.
Chicago fans were among the team's most enthusiastic supporters when Granato, a Downers Grove native, was the captain. Coach Ben Smith cut his team's most recognizable player -- and veteran forward Shelley Looney -- during training camp, but he hopes fans will turn out to see the players who inherited playing time and leadership in the American youth movement.
''[Granato] has been the face of this program for a number of years, even before I was involved with the team, but the game moves forward," Smith said. ''It's time for new faces."
Those new players include several forwards getting a chance to show their skills and leadership abilities, from new captain Krissy Wendell to rising stars Kelly Stephens and Sarah Parsons of Dover, Mass. Smith hopes the team can compensate for its inexperience with enthusiasm.
''It just feels very fresh with all the kids," said Courtney Kennedy, a defenseman on the 2002 Olympic team. ''Everybody is excited about all the little things again. It's more amped up. It was tough at first. [Smith] making that decision was hard on him and hard on us. I miss Shelley, but I trust him. He makes good decisions. He knows what he's doing."
Though it was just one stop on a six-month buildup to Turin, Sunday's victory over Canada was a big boost to the American hopes of contending for gold this winter, rather than being content to rebuild.
The goaltending of former Northeastern star Chanda Gunn was the difference, but the Americans also played strong offensive stretches against Canada's peerless defense. Though Smith keeps the players focused on their own improvements, his players can tell Canada hasn't moved too far ahead.
''I wouldn't go so far as to say you're scared, but that thought is always in your head: 'I don't want to let in goals, I don't want to lose,' " Gunn said. ''I never felt like we couldn't do it. I never felt like we didn't have a good team. I think we're continuing to grow together."
Pam Dreyer will start in goal today, keeping with Smith's regimented three-goalie rotation. He must cut one of his three netminders, but the competition is tight to replace Sara DeCosta and Sarah Tueting, the goalies on the previous two Olympic teams.
Injured forward Rush Zimmerman left the team yesterday. Zimmerman was added to the national team when Natalie Darwitz got hurt before the Four Nations Cup in August.
But forward Julie Chu is expected to rejoin her teammates when they return to Lake Placid, N.Y., this weekend. Chu, who scored two goals in the Olympics in 2002, incurred a lower-body injury during a test event in Turin three weeks ago.
The US will announce its final roster Dec. 27 in St. Paul, Minn. With Zimmerman's departure, Smith must cut just two skaters.