So it all comes down to this.
All the months of hard work, the on and off-ice training sessions, the countless practices, drills and scrimmages have come to an end. To borrow a line from political parlance, it’s all over but the counting.
For the 41 players participating in this week’s U.S. Women’s National Team Selection Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., the next 12 hours will be the longest of their young athletic lives.
“It’s tough. It’s really tough. We’ve put the work in all week and now it turns into a waiting game,” said Meghan Duggan, who went through it as a member of the 2010 U.S. Women’s Olympic Team.
“It’s very high tension and high anxiety. It’s just the nature of our business. Everyone’s feeling it. We’re all so emotionally invested in this team.
“I can’t imagine a lot of the girls will sleep tonight. I know I won’t. I’ll be anxious, nervous, excited, all of those emotions.”
And anyone who thinks it will be any easier for Katey Stone and her staff doesn’t understand how much time and effort they have invested in the process.
“I can’t imagine what it will be like [for the players]. As an athlete, I was never in a position to be vying for the highest opportunity in my sport,” said Stone, who was a four-year letter winner at the University of New Hampshire in the mid-1980s, before there was a U.S. Women’s Program.
“I’m sure there’s just an array of emotions going on. I imagine that they’re all a little uneasy right now, which honestly is not a bad thing from our standpoint because we recognize how much this means to them and how much they’ve invested.
“At the end of the day, as a human being, you feel bad that they have to go through this kind of gauntlet to get on the other side.”
How the players will spend the hours leading up to the decision depends on the individual. Some will replay every shift of every scrimmage during the week, trying to figure out what they did well and what they could have done better. Others will try to think about anything other than hockey.
“Everyone is their own person and deals with their own anxieties and their own emotions in different ways,” Duggan said. “I know there’s going to be chunks of girls who are going to want to sit around all night and be like ‘what about this play and that play,’ or ‘you did this, you did that, you were great.’ And other people may just watch TV and try to fall asleep.
“We’re all just going to be supporting and encouraging each other and trying to help each other deal with their emotions and anxieties this evening and early tomorrow morning.”
Long before the first puck dropped here in Lake Placid, Stone and her staff, which includes Reagan Carey, director of Women’s Hockey, have worked long and hard to scrutinize every selection with one goal in mind – to bring home the gold from the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. As Stone has repeatedly said, she’s not looking to assemble an all-star team, but rather a team that includes players who can fill different roles.
“It’s agonizing, that’s the only way I can say it. They’ve made it as hard as it can possibly be, that’s exactly what we wanted,” she said. “We wanted the best kids who created the best environment to make the most difficult decisions to put us in the right spot. So it’s agonizing.”
So when they meet with the players Monday morning, they want to make the announcement as quick and painless as possible, like peeling off a Band-Aid. The list of the 25 players will be read in alphabetical order and they will then be escorted out of the room to begin a long day of interviews and photo sessions. The remaining 16 players will receive a few conciliatory words from the staff before being escorted to a nearby airport.
“Going from 41 to 25 in a matter of five minutes, it’s always tough,” said Megan Bozek, who has played on the last two U.S. National Teams. “It’s disappointing but you have to know that you’ve done all you can and the coaches are trying to pick an Olympic Team. You just have to trust in what they’re doing.”
It’s promises to be a tough scene in the room, as the players have developed strong friendships not only over the course of the weeklong camp, but playing on other U.S. teams. For those who are left, the news can be bittersweet.
“There’s a huge emotional component to both sides,” Duggan said. “Obviously if you’re a player who is selected for the roster you’re so excited that your hard work has paid off.
“On the flip side, there will be 15 or 16 girls in the room who didn’t make that roster. They’ve put in all the hard work and all the training, their heart is in it and they’re emotionally invested as well. It’s tough but that’s the nature of our business.”
Once the dust settles Monday, the real work will just be getting started. After a brief break, the team will gather in Boston at the end of August for a long residency program before they embark on the Bring On The World Tour, with a number of games scheduled against Canada.
“[On Tuesday] we’ll have a conversation with those who are still here and the message is that now is the time to go to work,” Stone said. “They’ve gotten themselves to this point, but I think everyone who is on the roster recognizes that personally and collectively we have to move on."