If there was ever any doubt that the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team was tough, riding out a Category 3 hurricane together is all the proof you need.
A few short days before Hurricane Irma was due to take aim at the west coast of Florida, the women of Team USA began their residency in Wesley Chapel, near Tampa. Some members of the team had already been there for weeks, and with many of them hailing from the north, Florida’s high temperatures and tropical storms were foreign to them. While most revealed they didn’t leave home without packing sunscreen, a hurricane survival kit was not on that list.
Forward Brianna Decker — who won an Olympic silver medal with the team in Sochi — admitted that it was her first hurricane, but “we weren’t concerned because we knew [USA Hockey director of women’s hockey Reagan Carey] and our coaching staff had a safe and comforting plan for us.”
Since they were not in a mandatory evacuation area, the team hunkered down to ride out the storm – unlike Tampa’s resident NHL team, Tampa Bay Lightning, which left the Friday before. The national team planned to remain in a secure location at their hotel, where they had been living together in the build-up to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
With the hotel chosen as one of the places to house evacuees, the team was among hundreds of people who took shelter for the night.
In the end the natural disaster ended up being another bonding experience for the group. “My teammates and I enjoyed our long hours together, laughing and making memories,” Decker said. “I played a lot of cards and dice games.”
The team, which is comprised of 23 players, features 12 members of the silver medal-winning 2014 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team. Despite this not being the first Olympic foray for many of the women, making the national team still means everything to them.
Captain Meghan Duggan — who was named to the roster for the team-leading 11th time (along with Hilary Knight and Kacey Bellamy) — explained it as, “It’s my life. It’s how I base everything around. So it’s exciting. I’m proud and honored.”
It’s a feeling that is echoed by even first-time national team members like goalie Maddie Rooney, who said her selection “means everything. I grew up watching this team and dreaming about being a part of this team. And now it’s here and I’m honored to train with the top players in the country.”
All but two on the roster were among the 21 members of the 2017 world championship team that won a record fourth straight gold medal, and it’s a team that forward Knight said is more cohesive than in the past.
“The chemistry we have off the ice is unparalleled to anything we’ve ever had,” the two-time Olympic silver medalist said. “And I think that speaks to our core group of leadership, and also to our dedication and commitment to one another. We have a shared responsibility to push and elevate the game of hockey.”
Decker agreed that with this new team it’s all about the chemistry, as well as “the preparation, the focus — day in and day out — is what separates us from the teams in the past, I think. We get along great on and off the ice, and you have to have that moving forward.”
Now that they can put the hurricane behind them, the U.S. women are looking forward to doing what they came to Florida to do.
“I can’t wait to see what we’re going to do over the next couple months to get prepared for PyeongChang,” said defenseman Bellamy. “It’s an absolute honor every time I’m able to put that jersey on, and I do not take it for granted one bit.”