Veteran Team USA Forward Looks Back On Early Career
The 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship, underway in Buffalo, New York, has produced some amazing hockey so far. It’s been fun to watch and brings back some amazing memories.
It’s hard to believe the first time I donned the USA sweater was eight years ago at the Under-18 Women’s World Championships in Ottawa, Ontario. Although I was a wide-eyed 15-year-old, I vividly remember arriving to training camp the previous August horrified and elated.
For me, it was both nostalgic and humbling to attend my first USA Hockey August Festival at the historic Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. I couldn’t help but think of the great American hockey players who skated on the same ice and, of course, the 1980 Olympic Team.
I distinctly remember meeting Olympic greats Julie Chu, Angela Ruggiero and Natalie Dartwitz. I did hold back my urge to ask for an autograph. Besides seeing the Olympians, I was floored that you could get your skates sharpened whenever you wanted, for free!
I was so excited and ready to play I couldn’t wait to lace up my skates and hit the ice. Who would have thought the first time I got a chance to hit the ice at the Olympic Training Center would be in someone else’s skates. It took about an hour for me to face my first hurdle at training camp. I arrived to the rink but my luggage—most importantly my hockey equipment—did not share the same fate.
As I’m sure you could imagine finding equipment was a bit of a challenge. I was weighing an impressive 105 pounds, and barely breaking 5-feet-tall—needless to say, not many of the women had gear that would fit. I was freaking out my first day. I went from awestruck and excited to feeling overwhelmingly distraught.
Luckily, Erika Lawler, who was at the University of Wisconsin at the time, swooped in to save the day by letting me wear her gear for the on-ice conditioning test and practice. A day later my equipment showed up to the rink, and I was ready to learn from the best women in the world.
As camp ended, we headed to our three-game series against Team Canada. I remember walking into the dressing room for the first time, seeing a Team USA jersey hanging in my stall, pulling out my camera (an actual camera, not an iPhone) and taking a picture. This was my first taste of international hockey and I couldn’t be more nervous, yet excited.
I remember how excited I was to see my name on the final roster, but that excitement was short-lived. It wasn’t long until we were off to the inaugural Under-18 World Championship in Calgary, Alberta at the Father David Bauer Arena.
The whole tournament was surreal. Coming from a boy’s hockey world and seeing amazing female players from around the world was so cool. To think that the tournament is almost eight years in the books is mind-boggling. Two weeks ago, I was reminiscing with Brianna Decker at Winter Training Camp about our the under-18 experiences we shared together, and it is amazing that there are players getting married, having kids, coaching college teams, or simply keeping up with the game as much as possible like Decks and I. Looking back, we both feel the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 National Team allowed us to play with and against the best players in the world, which prepared us for international play at the next level.
Being fortunate enough to play in three Under-18 Women’s World Championships, I felt each opportunity made me hungrier than the last. Not just hungry to win a gold medal at the end of the tournament, but to eventually make the U.S. Women’s National Team. Playing for the under-18 team inspired me to work harder and harder every year, to get bigger, faster, stronger, and try to compete with players like Julie Chu, Angela Ruggiero and Natalie Dartwitz.
Ultimately, I am so blessed that I was able to compete with the best under-18 players for three seasons because they made me better and pushed me beyond my limits.
When the 2011 Women’s World Championships in Zurich, Switzerland, rolled around and I was announced to the final roster, I was obviously nervous (for those that know me best), but I wasn’t that wide-eyed, 15-year-old anymore who was most excited about getting my skates sharpened for free.
Having the opportunity to play with the national team team players throughout camps during my under-18 years instilled the confidence needed to play at that level. I knew what was expected, and I was ready to attack the challenge.
Overall, I think the under-18 national team experience prepared me for the ultimate dream of many female hockey players, and that was to compete in the Olympic Winter Games. I was pushed out of my comfort zone as a 105-pound, 15-year-old girl and got a taste of international play, while winning two gold medals. I built lifelong friendships and shared moments that are still in the forefront of my memory. The under-18 national team is was a crucial part of my career and prepared me to take the next step, which was the national team and, ultimately, representing the U.S. in Sochi, Russia as a member of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team.
I hope all participating players from each of the eight countries relish the experience and, of course, I wish the current U.S. team the best of luck in their quest for gold!