Melissa Samoskevich and Caitrin Lonergan are both newcomers on the U.S. women's national team.
When the U.S. women’s ice hockey team won the gold medal this past February at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Melissa Samoskevich and Caitrin Lonergan were at home, watching the women they had practiced so much with in the lead-up to those Games.
“I didn’t make (the Olympic team), but I knew exactly how hard they worked to get there and how hard it is to win a gold medal,” Samoskevich said. “It made me think about how hard I need to work to get there.”
With the 2018 Games now in the rearview mirror, Lonergan and Samoskevich have a golden opportunity in front of them. They are among the six women who making their Four Nations Cup debut this week in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Four Nations is an annual tournament featuring four of the top teams in women’s hockey: the U.S., Canada, Finland and Sweden. Team USA won its first game Tuesday, 5-1 over Finland.
Lonergan and Samoskevich, who both play forward, have represented Team USA in the Under-18 and Under-22 series. But the senior national team presents a new challenge. Team USA has won the past three Four Nations Cups, and Lonergan is eager to help her team keep the streak alive.
“Obviously now that the United States is a gold winner, every team is out to get them,” Lonergan said. “Every team is looking to beat them. Staying on top is something that the whole program is trying to do.”
Since women’s hockey was added to the Olympics in 1998, the U.S. and Canada have been the top two teams. They are the only countries to ever win gold in women’s hockey, with the U.S. winning the first and most recent editions. They’re also the only two countries to ever reach the final at the world championships.
Such competitiveness over the years has created a fierce and intense rivalry. And while Lonergan and Samoskevich haven’t competed against Canada at the senior level, they are familiar with the disdain these two teams have for each other.
“I want to beat them every single period, every single shift,” Lonergan said. “That's my mentality every time I play Canada. I know they're a team that wants to win, but we want to win more.”
Samoskevich works with a mental skills coach at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut to learn how to change her thinking about pressure. Specifically, she has worked on dealing with the pressure that comes from playing hockey on such a big stage.
“Pressure is from the outside,” said Samoskevich, a native of Sandy Hook, Connecticut. “From media, from your families, your friends. But we can shut that out and just focus on playing our game.”
Expectations will always be high for the women of Team USA, but Lonergan is a part of a group that knows what it takes to meet those expectations.
“What the girls on this team have been doing is the correct thing,” said Lonergan, who is from Roslindale, Massachusetts. “I’m going to follow what they're doing and listen to the coaches and rely on my teammates and myself and play the best hockey I can, and control what I can control."
Lonergan and Samoskevich are among the 11 athletes who are also playing for their college team. Samoskevich is a freshman history major at Quinnipiac, and Lonergan is a Boston College junior studying applied psychology with minors in business and communications. Juggling the responsibilities of being a Team USA athlete and college athlete all at once can be a lot, but they take it in stride.
“If you asked me this two years ago as a freshman, I would have said that was a challenge,” Lonergan said. “But as a junior now, I'm a lot more organized. I've learned the ropes of how to balance being a college athlete.
“Being on the national team is a dream of mine, so I know I'm going to have to balance everything around it in order to make that a goal.”
Maggie Hendricks is based in Chicago and has covered Olympic sports for more than 10 years for USA Today and Yahoo Sports. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.