It's been almost fifteen years since the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, but for the two members of the U.S. Women's Hockey Team who were told in December 2001, that, after twenty-one games, after months of living out of a suitcase with 25 of their teammates, they would not be going to Salt Lake City in February to play for their country in the Olympics, the pain undoubtely lingers to this day.
When I saw the team beat Sweden 11-1 on December 11, 2001 to run their pre-Olympic record to 18-0-0, I could sense that every one of the 22 players on the team was in the fight of their lives; that they were playing their best because so much more than another W was at stake. The eight players who are competing to go to the Olympics for the first time were hustling and extremely focused. Yet I could feel that the entire team was concentrating on being a team first, and thinking about themselves second. This speaks to the reason why each one of these athletes is skating at the elite level.
2000-2001 AHCA Division I All-American Northeastern University goalie Erika Silva (Middletown, RI/Providence Country Day) summed it up best before the game: " I had the wonderful opportunity to practice and try out for the Olympic team this summer, but I was cut from the team in September. Now I need to work much harder so that I will make the 2006 Olympic team."
I said at the time that Silva had the right combination of spirit, drive and determination it takes to become an Olympian. Instead of hanging up her skates, she ended up cheering her former team mates on in February, studying their games and improving on her own between her long hours in the weight room, ice rink and studying. [As fate would have it, Erika never made it to the Olympics. After playing professionally for two years in National Women's Hockey League, she went on to become a coach, and in entering her third season in 2013-2014 as assistant coach at Boston University.]
Don't think it hurts elite athletes to get cut? That they have been competing for roster spots all their lives, so they should be used to it by now? You bet it hurts- - it always hurts.
"I know all of my teammates deserve to be on the team," said forward Julie Chu, one of the new players hoping to go to the Olympics for the first time (following in the footsteps - or should that be skate steps? - of former MomsTeam.com contributing writer Angela "Rugger" Ruggiero, Julie was a Choate School graduate on her way to Harvard in the fall of 2002). "It weighs on each of our minds." Adds goalie Sarah DeCosta, who was a surprise pick four years ago over Erin Whitten, "It's probably the hardest thing you can go through. We have all gotten so close to each other. We're so happy for ourselves if you make the team, but it's so hard to see someone else not make it."
Angela's roommate, Kathy Kauth, was one of the players to be cut last week. This was particularly difficult for Ruggerio and the entire team. "We were such a close team before September 11th but when Kathy's father was killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the closeness took on a new meaning".[Update: Kauth made the 2006 team, earning a bronze medal at the Turino Games].
"You say you want to keep emotion out of it, but everyone's human," says Smith. "We've been in close contact with each other all the time. This is a pretty together group." A group that will grow even closer together after the final cuts next Monday.