The U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team is recognized at halftime of the SheBelieves Cup game on March 4, 2018 in Harrison, N.J.
HARRISON, N.J. -- The temperature certainly was fitting of what one might expect for the U.S. women’s ice hockey team. And so was the roaring crowd of 25,706 fans.
Less than two weeks after the U.S. beat Canada in a dramatic shootout to win the Olympic gold medal — Team USA’s first in 20 years — the victory tour is in full swing, and on Sunday that included a stop at the U.S. women’s soccer game at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.
Uniformly bedecked in their finest red, white and blue, the hockey players shared the spotlight with their soccer counterparts.
They exchanged hugs and high-fives on the field before the soccer team played France in the SheBelieves Cup tournament, and then occupied midfield at halftime to bask in the adulation of a near-sellout crowd, all wearing their Olympic gold medals.
In a victory tour that has included similar events at NHL and NBA games in Los Angeles, Tampa and Washington D.C., Sunday’s event had added meaning in that it was shared with another world champion U.S. women’s team.
“It’s super fun to be at a different venue and a different sport,” forward Kelly Pannek said. “We’re all big fans of the soccer team as well. To not only get recognized but also watch them play and be a part of this atmosphere is really fun.”
The hockey players had already appeared for a recording of Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, been feted at the Los Angeles Kings-Las Vegas Knights’ hockey game in California and the Tampa Bay Lightning-Buffalo Sabres’ game near their training base in Florida, and celebrated at a Washington Wizards-Toronto Raptors NBA game in D.C.
On Saturday, the team was in Annapolis, Maryland, to be recognized during the NHL Stadium Series game between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sunday’s appearance kicked off a final New York stretch, which was to include an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” on Monday as well as at New York Rangers’ and New Jersey Devils’ games on Tuesday.
“This is one of our best stops,” forward Gigi Marvin, a three-time Olympian who scored Team USA’s first goal in the shootout, told the New Jersey crowd to a thunderous response. “We love being here.”
It was a daylong party — albeit in low-to-mid 40s weather — starting with pregame, where the players gathered in front of the U.S. soccer players’ bench, posed for photos and signed autographs for young girls pressed up along the rail bordering the field.
After the soccer team entered the field for pregame warm up — and players from both sides greeted each other with warm, smiling embraces — the hockey players took a page out of their grass-oriented counterparts, forming a circle and partaking in a little soccer juggling and one-touch along the sidelines.
“We’re better with one-touch. We don’t do many multiple touches,” Pannek said, jokingly referring to a lot of balls that went astray during the kickabout. “We just try to get it up in the air and keep it up there. Using walls is always fair, sometimes some hands — it may be cheating, but…”
The hockey players’ presence and their gold medals were clearly appreciated by the crowd, which included the U.S. Military Academy’s women’s soccer team from West Point, New York, about 60 miles away. The hockey players were treated like royalty, watching the game from the comfort of a midfield suite, some venturing to the outdoor seats to yell and cheer like casual fans.
On the field, the soccer team played to a 1-1 draw with France in the second of three SheBelieves Cup games. The crowds and support that the U.S. women’s soccer team can generate was clearly appreciated by their hockey counterparts.
“The U.S. women’s soccer team, they’re awesome,” Marvin said. “I grew up watching ’99 (Women’s World Cup)… so it’s really cool to see how far women’s soccer has come. And we’re obviously hoping for the same thing for women’s hockey.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.