“Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
Those immortal words, uttered in another time to another generation of American hockey players, are as relevant today as they were 33 years ago when legendary coach Herb Brooks used them to inspire the greatest moment in sports history.
Just down the hallway from where Brooks addressed the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, in a building that bares his name, another U.S. coach is looking to inspire another group of U.S. hockey players to great things.
Like Brooks, Katey Stone came to Lake Placid, N.Y., not looking for the best players but the right players to make up the U.S. Women’s National Team that was announced Monday morning.
“It’s not going to be an all-star team, it’s going to be a team. And there is a difference,” said Stone, who has won more games at Harvard University than any coach in women’s college hockey history.
“I’m a big believer in team dynamics. Everybody has a role, and it’s time to figure out and get accustomed to it and embrace that role and then do it. But again, there are so many talented players but talent alone is not going to get you what you want.”
The search began long before 41 of the top American female players arrived here a week ago. It dates back to August 2010 and will continue right up until Stone boards a plane bound for Sochi, Russia.
Only seven months removed from a silver-medal finish in Vancouver, Stone met with Reagan Carey, director of Women’s Hockey, and others to chart a course into the future. It was a common belief that the results of the past, albeit dotted with gold-medal successes in IIHF competitions, were not good enough. There needed to be a refocus of energies and efforts to win consistently on the biggest stages, and that meant returning to the top of the Olympic podium, something that hasn’t been achieved since 1998.
“We’ve said it from the beginning. There has been tremendous talent in this program but the results have not been satisfactory,” said Stone, who was officially announced as the Olympic Team coach last June.
“We need to figure out a way to change things and one of those ways is to create an incredible team bond and team dynamic where everyone believes in each other and their own preparations. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
In preparing for this selection camp, the staff looked at rosters from past events, assessed the abilities of every player ever involved in the program and came up with list of 41 to invite to Lake Placid.
Players were told heading into the camp that they were participating in “the most competitive job interview you will ever encounter.” To that point, they have been watched both on and off the ice, scrutinized on every shift and every drill.
They encouraged players to bring the confidence that they have developed over the years and not try to be a “jack of all trades” and a master of none. They are looking for players to fill very specific roles.
“Sometimes people make the mistake of showing up at these things and trying to do more or trying to something different than what got them here,” said Lyndsey Fry, who was one of 14 forwards named to the team.
“I’m not the player who’s going to score a million goals but I am going to do my job as best I can and that’s being big in the corners and being a big presence. That’s my focus the next few games is just be that player and be what this team needs me to be.”
Stone feels that she has the right combination of speed and skill, grit and guts to mold into a cohesive unit. It will be a long and slow process, one that has been methodically plotted out and will feature a handful of exhibition games against Canada, both at home and north of the border. Along the way, Stone and her staff will look to push these players as they have never been pushed before, all in the name of bringing home the gold.
The next chapter in that preparation process began Monday morning when the players learned their fate. For the 16 players who will not be making the journey, Stone offered words of encouragement to use this experience as motivation for the future.
For those who will meet up in Boston at the end of August to begin the next step in the process, Stone could have very well borrowed another line from Brooks.
“This is your moment. You're meant to be here.”