I'm one of the veterans on the U.S. women's national team, but when I look at the younger players, I'm humbled to think that I was in their shoes not too long ago. In fact, I remember being absolutely terrified as a 17-year-old playing with the national team.
I was in my first Four Nations Cup all the way back in 2000, and I'm pretty sure I've missed the tournament only once since then, due to the timing of my freshman midterms. At that point, I figured I should probably focus on being a student in order to avoid possibly failing out -- a good choice in hindsight!
Fast forward to today, where we're in the midst of yet another Cup, and while it's my 12th time here, it's our first major tournament of the season. We'll play Canada, Finland and Sweden in four games that run throughout this week. We already have one in the "W" column: We beat Sweden 4-0 today in our opening game. We're happy with the result, and still have plenty of room to improve. With only a few practices together as a full team before today, we expected to have some kinks to work out in the first game or two.
Our major rival here is Canada. We lost to the Canadians in overtime at the world championships in April, which definitely provides a little (OK, a lot of) extra incentive to get the job done this time around. We're evenly matched in a lot of ways, so the only way to get the edge is to play as physically as possible within the rules. People are usually surprised when they see their first women's hockey game in person for just that reason. There's no full body checking, but there's still plenty of contact. Oh, and for the record, we have full face masks, so we also have all of our teeth (I get that question a lot!).
Our coach, Katey Stone, is big on saying, "Go fast, but don't hurry," which is great advice no matter how long you've been in the game. But for the younger generation, I also hope we can stress that though they're skilled players, there's always room to get better. In addition, I want to show them that working hard doesn't always mean pain and suffering. As much of a cliché as it may sound like, it can really be fun, too!
Speaking of which, we were completely spoiled last week at training camp at the Madison Square Garden Training Center just outside New York City. We're used to living in public rinks, so when we walked into an absolutely beautiful lobby, I quickly realized we were in for a treat. In addition to the Rangers, the Knicks and the Liberty also work out there. We even got to meet some of the Knicks players! It was like fantasy camp, complete with an amazing dining hall. Seriously, we had to stop ourselves from eating too much.
Though we did get a chance to soak in the high life, we all know we have a lot of work to do here in Finland. Yes, we want to win, and we also want to prove ourselves individually. I'm just one of many shooting for a spot on the 2014 Olympic roster, so each girl knows it's just as much about performing for a single game as it is about making a place for yourself in the future of USA Hockey. Of course, I also understand that thinking too far in advance can rob today of some pretty great things. Staying in the moment is definitely the way to go.
Hopefully I'll have more good news to share after our games this week. We play Canada tomorrow, so go USA!