International Ice Hockey Federation

Rested, tested, focused

Rested, tested, focused

Time in Tampa motivates Team USA

Published 23.11.2017 05:25 GMT+10 | Author John Sanful
Rested, tested, focused
Emily Pfalzer (left) and Lee Stecklein (right) at their temporary home in Florida. Photo: John Sanful
The U.S. women’s national team prepared for the Olympic Winter Games in Florida. We visited them during the 2017 Four Nations Cup.

Team USA had an impressive showing at the 2017 Four Nations Cup in Tampa, Florida. They finished undefeated and in the final game defeated Canada to claim first place. It was the second time in the tournament Team USA beat their North American rivals.

As preparation continues for the Winter Olympics in Korea, the American women are riding a high coming off this tournament.

Team USA stayed at the Saddlebrook Resort, 480 acres of lush, green beautiful terrain with three pools, 45 tennis courts, two Arnold Palmer signature golf courses, volleyball and basketball courts, and just about everything you could imagine.

Spending a sunny Florida morning in the middle of November at the Saddlebrook with Emily Pfalzer and Lee Stecklein talking hockey was probably as good a start to the day as was the coffee at the resort.

Stecklein has represented Team USA at the 2014 Olympics. Pfalzer is hoping to make the team for the first time. And based on her impressive showing at the Four Nations Cup, Pfalzer has made a strong case for inclusion.

During the tournament, Team USA not only displayed team chemistry on the ice but off it as well. Staying at the Saddlebrook, there was plenty of time for rest, relaxation, focus and preparation.

“We have loved it so far being here,” said Stecklein of staying at the Saddlebrook. “We looked forward to our off days to prepare for the tournament, but also to enjoy the area, maybe get some time in the pool here. Tampa has been great for that.”

Playing at the Florida Hospital Center Ice and then Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Team USA put up strong performances and did so in front of enthusiastic audiences.

“It’s been great to have the tournament here,” Pfalzer said. “So nice to see fans come out. Word is spreading and promotion of the tournament went well so it has been great to be here in a community that is growing hockey-wise.”

After games, the USA women made themselves available to sign autographs and meet fans. The lines are long and so many of those sticking around to meet them are girls who are looking at these national team competitors as role models.

“It means a lot being a role model because it wasn’t long ago we were looking up to people and there are still players on our team who we are still looking up to,” Stecklein said of the responsibility they carry. “We were in autograph lines after one of the games in the tournament, a friend asked, ‘does it get old when you have to stay after and sign these things?’ But when you see that first girl, who is nervous and excited to see you and playing hockey because they look up to you is huge and in moments like that we are hopefully we are fulfilling our USA Hockey mantra that we are participating in something bigger than ourselves.”

Stecklein is focused on the upcoming Winter Olympics. In fact, she’s been looking forward to it since Team USA’s bitter loss to Canada in the gold medal game at the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia. The Americans were holding on to a 2-0 lead with under seven minutes left in the game before giving up two goals to send it into overtime where Canada scored the game winner and nabbed gold with a 3-2 win.

“It is something that never leaves you,” Stecklein recalls. “It is what drives us every day. South Korea is our focus. Nothing we can do to change the result of 2014 so we are very focused on South Korea and have been since the last Olympics. It is a shame you have to wait four years. Our team has had an eye on that for a while.”

Pfalzer is looking forward to making the team for her first Olympic experience. She opened some eyes in Florida, contributing three goals and six points, placing her second in team scoring. Her emergence over the past few years has come while playing professional women’s hockey. After four years at Boston College, Pfalzer was drafted by the National Women’s Hockey League’s Buffalo Beauts. A native of the Buffalo area, Pfalzer would be going home to play pro. In her second season, the Beauts won the Isobel Cup, the championship trophy of the NWHL.

“Coming back to a brand-new league with the team in Buffalo was a dream come true,” Pfalzer said. “What are the odds that is going to happen! It was an amazing experience and Buffalo rallied around our team. Would not expect anything but that from Buffalo fans.”

Having accomplished professional success so early, she is focused on making the Olympics team and helping Team USA.

“It means everything and is something I have dreamt about since I was a little girl,” she says of the opportunity. “To play for my country I think is the most amazing honour and doing it with 23 other amazing girls and USA Hockey in general would be memorable.”

Having assessed the talented three nations here in Tampa that they will be facing in Korea, there is still work to be done.

“Overall the competition has grown and continues to grow,” Stecklein said. “We are focusing on ourselves and our game and how we can play better.”

This means focusing on details and special teams. A critical element that was discussed after games and at the Saddlebrook is being able to adjust in a game based on conditions at the time and what they can do to adapt to their opponent’s style.

“We focus on what we are doing and what we can control is how we react to a team so it is essential to read what their forecheck is, how they are pressuring us on the power play, all of those things and recognizing them and adjusting to that on the fly is what we are working on,” Stecklein offered of their approach.

Team USA’s depth and experience should help and Pfalzer is well aware of that.

“I have learned something from so many players on my team,” she said. “The professionalism in our locker room is unbelievable. How people prepare on and off the ice is second to none.”

 

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