SOCHI, Russia — The bus was waiting. The team was about to leave for Boston’s Logan Airport for the flight to Sochi.
Amid the excitement, Colleen Coyne, Vicki Movsessian and Sandra Whyte stood in the dressing room. They had played in 1998 in Nagano, when the United States won the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey – when the United States won its only Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey. They had something to say to the current players in the last 10 minutes before their trip.
And they had something to give them.
It was a homemade hardcover book, about 90 pages. On the cover was a photo of the 1998 team celebrating, and inside were photos and words from every single woman who had played hockey for the United States in the Olympics before this group – memories, advice, encouragement, quotes, poems. Some entries were long. Some entries were short. All were inspirational.
“They got to read through it quickly,” said general manager Reagan Carey, smiling, “and that made us late for our bus a little bit.”
[Photo gallery: Team USA swamps Sweden, advances to gold medal game]
The book has been on nightstands in the Olympic Village as the tournament has progressed, and now this team has a chance to write its own chapter. After a dominant 6-1 victory over Sweden in the semifinals Monday, the Americans will go for gold Thursday against Canada.
“I just think of all the past players,” said defenseman Anne Schleper, a 24-year-old Olympic rookie. “They’re in my mind a lot, and I’m doing it for them. I mean, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.”
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The United States has been one of the world’s top two women’s hockey powers along with Canada. But after Nagano, the Americans won silver in Salt Lake, bronze in Torino and silver in Vancouver.
A couple of years ago, at a summer camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., the players brainstormed ideas for a mantra.
“Really for hours, we were there trying to figure out, ‘OK, what resonates with us?’ ” said forward Julie Chu, who was heading toward her fourth Olympics. “Because it’s easy for someone to come in and say, ‘OK, this is your team motto.’ If it doesn’t come from us, it might not really resonate.”
They settled on this:
“We are part of something bigger than ourselves.
“We are Team USA.
“We are team first.”
They say those three lines together at the end of every practice before cheering: “UNITED STATES!” They look at those three lines in the dressing room every day.
The idea for the book came from the first line. Carey wanted to use every resource she had to help the current players and build upon the Team USA tradition. Starting last summer, she reached out to all 41 of the program’s Olympic alumni asking for contributions. She sent emails. She made phone calls. She saw alumni who came to games.
[Related: U.S. outshoots Sweden 70-9, gets to play for gold]
“As you imagine, it takes a little while to track down everybody,” Carey said. “But I think that’s a testament to the project that it was. They all knew that they wanted to be part of what this team is doing, but also represent the teams they’ve been a part of.”
Using the iPhoto app on her Mac, Carey put everything together and had it printed. Some alums sent pages of words; others sent a few sentences. There are personal photos; there are team photos from each Olympics.
“It’s an amazing treasure,” Carey said. “It’s things that they found were important to them. In reflection, they thought about maybe what would have been helpful had they known certain things. So it was a range of everything, but it’s all really special and it gives you goosebumps to read through a lot of it.”
There’s that word again. Goosebumps.
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The Americans rolled through their first two preliminary games. They beat Finland 3-1. They beat Switzerland 9-0. Then they lost to Canada 3-2. It was a bitter loss to their archrival, a team they had beaten in the last four meetings, but it doesn’t matter now. They learned a lesson – not to sit back, to stay on their toes, to push the pace. They are focused on the final and putting the United States back atop the podium.
The book is back at the village, and the mantra is up in the room.
“We are part of something bigger than ourselves.”
“It’s really come in handy,” Schleper said. “We sit in our rooms and sift through that thing, and it brings a lot of light to us. It’s awesome to hear from them.”
“We are Team USA.”
“It’s pretty touching and pretty amazing that every single former Olympian wrote in it,” said forward Jocelyne Lamoureux, a 24-year-old who played in Vancouver. “It’s pretty special that they all came together to do that for us.”
“We are team first.”
“I think we always talk about, everyone’s part of this process,” Chu said. “Whether they’re still on the team or not, they helped us get to this point, and so they’re the ones that almost give us that extra boost to think about them. …
“We’re going to do it as a team. We’re going to execute and be the best group that we can be. I love that we got ourselves into a position to compete for a gold medal. That’s what our goal was. That’s what our dream was. Being able to at least reach that step, that’s what we want.”
That would be the storybook ending.
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