Jessie Vetter considers herself lucky.
“Throughout my career I’ve been very lucky to play for so many great teams,” the stalwart U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team goalie said. “At Wisconsin I had some of the best players in front of me my entire time there, and here with the U.S. team, again, it’s the best players in the nation. I’ve just been lucky. I’m just soaking it all up and enjoying it.”
Vetter’s teammates might consider themselves to be the lucky ones.
Or perhaps it is just a coincidence that the Wisconsin Badgers went to the NCAA title game four times with Vetter in net, winning the championship in 2006, 2007 and 2009. And perhaps it’s a coincidence, too, that Team USA earned an Olympic silver medal in 2010 and then world championships in 2011 and 2013 with the Cottage Grove, Wis., native serving as the last line of defense.
This U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team in Sochi, however, might be the best team Vetter has played on yet. And on Wednesday, the squad faces its first big Olympic test when it renews its fierce rivalry with Canada in a preliminary-round game. Opponents in each of the world championships finals and three of the four Olympic finals, Team USA and Canada are prohibitive favorites to meet in the 2014 gold-medal game as well.
Vetter is one of 11 returning players from the silver-medal-winning 2010 squad, and one of many players who lived and trained together in Bedford, Mass., in the run up to the Winter Games.
“The three years most of us had together has really enabled us to make ourselves the best team we can be,” Vetter said. “Whatever opponent we’re facing, it is what it is. We just have to go out there and give everything we have.”
Vetter, who shares netminding duties on the 2014 U.S. squad with Brianne McLaughlin and Molly Schaus, opened the Winter Games for Team USA Saturday by making 14 saves in a 3-1 win over Finland. Schaus was in goal for Team USA’s 9-0 win over Switzerland on Monday. U.S. coach Katey Stone hasn’t announced who the starter will be against Canada.
Before the Games, Stone praised Vetter’s veteran leadership.
“Vetts doesn’t act like she’s 28,” she said, “but that’s the beauty of an Olympic experience, different than a college experience — that you’re going to have a wide disparity in age, and that’s what makes it special.”
Vetter’s love for the sport started when she was just a toddler going to her three brothers’ hockey games, and she was on her own team by age 5.
“I grew up playing every sport possible,” Vetter recalled. “I played three sports throughout high school, and I didn’t go to one sport until college. I had fun and loved having a little variety not being too restrictive to one sport.”
Hard work far outweighs any good fortune that Vetter says is part of her career. Among her many accomplishments, the humble 5-foot-8 netminder finished her four-year career at Wisconsin with an NCAA Division I record 39 shutouts, a .941 save percentage and 91 total wins. She was a two-time All-America First Team selection (2008, 2009) and won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award — the Heisman of women’s hockey — as a senior in 2009.
That was just the beginning.
In 2009, she was also named Wisconsin’s Female Athlete of the Year, Sports Woman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation and USA Hockey’s Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year. As a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, Vetter has played in six IIHF Women’s World Championships (four gold, two silver medals) and seven Four Nations Cups (three gold, three silver, one bronze).
It’s hard to believe an athlete of her caliber keeps all of her awards tucked away in a drawer.
“My silver medal is in a top drawer at my parents house,” she said laughing. “Whatever (awards) I got is at my mom and dad’s place, so they’re excited for me to buy my own home so they can give me all my crap. I’m sure that will be a big day for them!”
Vetter credits her family as being a huge reason behind her success because they’ve allowed her to keep pursuing her hockey dreams. In the time between Winter Games, she has also enjoyed coaching high school girls’ hockey and working as a trainer to help individuals “be a better athlete and better person.”
“My family has been a support throughout my career — emotionally and financially — and that has allowed me to do the work that needs to be done,” Vetter said. “It’s not easy trying to find a job that allows you to travel, train and continue to work, but it’s all worth it anytime you have an opportunity to wear a U.S. jersey.”
Melissa Parrelli is a freelance reporter in the Boston area who covers sports, hard news and entertainment. Her work has been published in national magazines, various online sites and local TV. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.