Kacey Bellamy, the heart of U.S. hockey, retires after 15 years on national team

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Kacey Bellamy, the consummate, accountable, integral defender for the U.S. women’s hockey program since 2006, is retiring.

Two months after making her 14th consecutive national team at age 34. And nine months before what could have been her fourth Olympic Games.

“As tough as a decision that this is, I know in my heart it is right,” she said. “So I’ve decided to step away from the game and start the next chapter of my life.”

Goalies rotated from game to game since Bellamy made her first national squad in 2006. Star forwards took turns in the highlights and atop the stat sheet. Bellamy was the one defender who was there every year, at its heart.

She and prolific scorer Hilary Knight share the record for most gold medals in U.S. hockey history between the Olympics and world championships — nine. Knight has 117 goals for the national team and is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Bellamy scored 11 times, but was no less important, coming to anchor a defense while others shifted from blue line to forward and in and out of the roster.

“That’s the beauty of Kacey is that team player, knowing what her role was, knowing the impact she would have even if it wouldn’t get written up,” said Angela Ruggiero, a 2010 Olympic teammate who, eight years later, draped the gold medal around Bellamy’s neck in PyeongChang. “She was a no-brainer for every team over the past 10 years.”

Bellamy began playing at age 5 in Westfield, Massachusetts, looking up to Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and her older brother, Rob. Always serious. Arms folded in pictures. Intense.

She had to be while playing in the boys’ league up until her teens. She sensed that no one wanted her there. Not even the other parents.

“It was kind of devastating,” she remembered at a 2019 luncheon presentation. “You don’t belong in the locker room. You’re not wanted. That made me have thick skin at a very young age. My parents asked me if I wanted to continue playing hockey. I said, yes, of course. I love it. Why would I quit?”

She funneled that aggression on the ice.

“If we were playing teams and boys would make fun of me, I would use that and just hit ‘em,” she said.

Entering high school, Bellamy made the first pivotal decision that shaped her hockey career. She moved away from her family and into boarding school, an hour away, so she could play regularly on a girls’ team without her parents having to drive hours back and forth.

“At that time, I had no idea I was going to play hockey for the rest of my life,” she said.

Then, after four years at Berkshire School, she chose the University of New Hampshire. Not so much for selfish reasons, but so that her family members could more easily travel to both her games and Rob’s at the University of Maine.

One day between her freshman and sophomore seasons, Bellamy was sitting in her college dorm when she received an email inviting her to try out for a national team for the first time. She ended up getting cut from that U-22 roster and spent the three-hour drive back from Lake Placid in unforgettable silence.

Bellamy wrote that she considered quitting the sport. Instead, she emailed the coach and asked what she needed to improve. That coach’s response ended up shaping the U.S. blue line for the next 15 years.

Complacent
Plays with unawareness
Goes through motions
Affected by others
Work on release

Bellamy marked those words on Post-its and stuck them around her dorm room. In her car. On her mirror. In every notebook and binder she owned.

Two months later, Bellamy got another chance. This time, a tryout for the senior national team. She made it and competed at the Four Nations Cup, the third-biggest tournament after the Olympics and worlds, as a teenager.

She made the first of 11 consecutive world championship teams in 2008. She made the first of three consecutive Olympic teams in 2010. Bellamy gained a reputation as a cerebral player with vision. She wasn’t the tallest defender, but she played bigger than she was and had the intimidation to match.

Ruggiero said Bellamy could dictate play from defense like a quarterback.

“She can see the play develop before it’s there,” 2010 Olympic teammate Erika Lawler said. “People say that about Gretzky.”

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, an Olympic teammate in 2010, 2014 and 2018, called Bellamy “a generational player.”

“A quiet leader,” she said. “When she does speak up, people listen, but mostly leads by example.”

Everybody said Bellamy also made teammates laugh. A natural comedian who delivered one-liners and dance moves in the locker room.

Lyrical, too. After the PyeongChang Olympics, Bellamy published an 80-page book of poems titled, “Unbroken Heart of Gold.” Her first one, written in 2011 at a general manager’s request, became the intro (that she voiced) to a team hype video.

Each playing for the crest on the front of the jersey and sticking up for every name on the back
Mistakes lead to success
Errors lead to victory
Pride leads to gold

In 2010 and 2014, Bellamy played on teams that lost to Canada in Olympic finals. The latter was particularly painful.

The U.S. was up 2-0 with three and a half minutes left when Canadian Brianne Jenner‘s errant shot deflected off Bellamy’s right leg and into the net. Canada tied it with 55 seconds left. Bellamy remembered walking past a row of silver medals to the locker room after regulation. Canada won in overtime.

After returning to the U.S., Bellamy’s routine became waking up at 5 a.m. to lift on her own, then working as a coach at Merrimack College during the day and practicing from 7-9 p.m. Repeat.

Then came the 2018 Olympics. Bellamy, the oldest defender on the team by six years, didn’t watch a single round of the epic shootout with Canada. A teammate gave her the play by play rinkside.

“As soon as she said, ‘Maddie saved it! Maddie saved it!’ I just jumped over,” Bellamy said, referencing goalie Maddie Rooney. “We hugged. We started crying. A sense of euphoria came over my body.”

Bellamy made the world championship teams again in 2019, 2020 (tournament canceled) and 2021 (tournament postponed to August). She would have broken Cammi Granato‘s record as the oldest woman to wear a U.S. jersey at a world championship. Instead, she decided to retire in the same year as three of her teammates from the last three Olympics.

Meghan Duggan, Lamoureux-Davidson and twin sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando recently hung up their skates, all as moms.

Bellamy and Knight were the lone remaining active national teamers who played in Vancouver, a silver-medal Olympics that rooted a new golden generation of U.S. women’s hockey.

“I’m just as proud to hold my two silvers,” Bellamy said, “as I am gold.”

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Kacey Bellamy, the heart of U.S. hockey, retires after 15 years on national team originally appeared on NBCSports.com