Prime Time Players

The Kids Were More Than Alright In Olympic Debut

BEIJING – Who could blame Jincy Dunne for not sleeping in the hours leading up to her Olympic debut? A lifetime of hard work and sacrifice in the making, this was the culmination of a lifelong dream that took her from O’Fallon, Mo., to halfway around the world in mainland China.

 

So if sleep was the farthest thing from her mind, it would be understandable. But in the hours leading up to Team USA’s first game of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games against Finland, Dunne slept like a baby.

 

“Oh no, I napped,” she said. “This time change is still kicking my butt a little bit.”

 

The hours before puck drop also gave her time to reach out to family members who have been with her every step of her hockey journey and would surely be here with her if Covid protocols hadn’t slammed the door in their face.

 

Like the rest of her teammates, Dunne knows they’re here with her in spirit. Besides, she has a family of 22 sisters who are sharing this journey with her and were just as much in awe as she was to step on the Wukesong Sports Centre ice emblazoned with the Olympic rings.

 

“I was talking to girls and was like, ‘we’re playing in the Olympics. That’s so cool,’” Dunne said as her smile beamed from behind the cage of her protective mask.

 

First-time Olympian Grace Zumwinkle embraces her injured teammate Brianna Decker after Team USA's 5-2 victory over Finland.First-time Olympian Grace Zumwinkle embraces her injured teammate Brianna Decker after Team USA's 5-2 victory over Finland.If the moment was too big for the 24-year-old, she certainly didn’t show it. Paired on defense with Olympic veteran Megan Bozek for most of the game, Dunne logged 14:05 minutes of ice time and assisted on Alex Carpenter’s first-period power-play goal.

 

Abbey Murphy felt like she was floating above the ice during the warmups but came back down to earth during her first of 12 shifts in the game.

 

“It was an unreal experience. The first step on the ice it didn’t feel real. It took a while to kind of get adjusted now and it’s exciting to be out there,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for it for a very long time and now it’s finally here and we’re ready to go. Of course there’s nerves, there always is, but I was more excited than nervous.”

While the health of three-time Olympic veteran Brianna Decker was at the forefront of his mind, U.S. head coach Joel Johnson did find a silver lining in this dark cloud hanging over his team in the play of his eight Olympic newcomers.

 

“I thought they were great,” he said. “It’s a big stage and it’s a good opponent. I thought all of our players, whether they were veterans or this was their first Olympic game, played great.”

 

As for Johnson, himself coaching in his first Olympics, the mask on his face couldn’t hide the emotions he felt from the minute he walked into the rink.

 

“I had a smile on my face right up until Dex goes down,” he admitted. “That’s obviously a little bit of a buzz kill for everybody.”

 

While the injury creates a void in the U.S. lineup, it also creates opportunities for others to step up, which they did here tonight in a 5-2 victory over Finland.

“I was really impressed with the adjustment that our lineup made and moving some people that as of four hours ago hadn’t played center or had certainly never played center in the Olympics,” said Johnson, who singled out a pair of newcomers for stepping up to fill some very big skates. 

 

“Jesse Compher steps in and Abby Roque shuffles around and Kelly Pannek shuffles around and I didn’t think we missed a beat. That’s a credit to the depth that we have.”

It’s not just the newcomers who are basking in the Olympic spotlight. Hilary Knight, who is competing in her U.S. record-tying fourth Games, is trying to soak it all in with the same level of excitement and exuberance that she felt in her first Olympics back in 2010 in Vancouver.

 

“If it’s your first time here, you’re just excited. If it’s your fourth time here, you’re still excited. But it’s a little bit different for the new girls and I think it’s something that you can feed off of ,” Knight said.

 

“Obviously they’re extremely talented and it’s really cool to see the level of talent that’s coming up through the pipeline in our development system. But to see the smile on their face every single day, it’s sort of rejuvenating in many ways.”

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