Lexie Laing has been playing competitive hockey since she was 6, so there’s nothing new to her about lacing up her skates and putting on a uniform.
Yet when she slipped on her USA jersey for the first time as a member of the Women’s Under-18 National Team, she admits it was special.
Laing, 16, a promising forward from Marblehead, Mass., was getting ready to take the ice against Russia in the opening game of the International Ice Hockey Federation U-18 Women’s World Championship in Finland on Dec. 29 when she knew she’d crossed a threshold.
“This moment will most likely be in my memory for the rest of my life,” she wrote recently from Finland in an email interview. “That first time I pulled the jersey over my head a bunch of feelings started rushing through my body. Nerves, excitement, anticipation and any other happy emotion you could think of rushed through my body.
“That moment, everything had changed and everything had become real. I was about to represent USA.”
Nerves or no nerves, Laing played well in her debut, getting an assist in Team USA’s 7-0 victory over the Russians. In her second game, she added another assist in a 10-0 win over the Czech Republic. The U.S. continued to roll, beating Sweden 8-0 and then topping the Czechs again in the semifinals, 10-0 — with Laing recording another assist — to set up a showdown with Canada for the gold medal, which the Canadians won 2-1 in overtime.
For Laing, the entire experience of traveling to Finland, getting to know new teammates and coaches and competing for the national team in an international tournament for the first time has been tremendous.
Though Laing has had a successful youth career and comes from a family rich in hockey experience, her participation in the U-18 World Championship has been an eye-opener. For one thing, the talent she’s playing with and against has forced her to adapt and play a different game than even what she’s been used to on a very successful Assabet Valley club program in Massachusetts.
“I’ve learned to keep my head up and move the puck to the open player right away, instead of making another stickhandle and either losing the puck or making a bad play,” she wrote. “Another thing I’ve learned is to be a lot faster, because as soon as I touch the puck someone is on top of me, especially at such a high level of play.”
She says playing with new teammates and raising her game was “challenging, at first,” but she believes she grew.
The trip, however, has been about more than just hockey. The flight, the jet lag, the new people, a foreign country (and a new language), new friends and essentially being on her own turned it into a learning experience.
The first thing she noticed upon arriving in Finland was its beautiful countryside and “a lot of snow” — on the roads and in piles everywhere. At first, because of the time difference, she had trouble sleeping and kept waking up in the middle of the night. Eventually, though, she settled in. The Finns were friendly, and many of the workers at the rink took time to teach her words and phrases in their language.
For Laing (who prefers to go by Lexie rather than her given name of Alexandria) it’s all been one more step in her hockey and life education.
Her father, Dennis Laing, a coach and former college and pro player, got his youngest daughter on skates almost as soon as she could walk, and she soon was playing hockey just like her older sisters Denna and Brianna. Denna now plays for Princeton, and Brianna — a goaltender on the U.S. team that won a silver medal at last year’s IIHF U-18 World Championship — has committed to play at Harvard.
When she was first learning to skate, Lexie says she initially thought she might want to be a figure skater, but that passed, and soon she was winning championships and accolades in hockey. She’s helped Assabet Valley win three USA Hockey national championships (2008-09, 2012), won the 2009 USA Hockey Easton Skills Competition for 12-and-Under and helped her Noble and Greenough School to championships in 2011 and ’12.
She says her father has been the biggest influence in her hockey career, but her sisters, too, have been invaluable supporters.
She said it was Brianna who gave her advice before going off to Finland, telling her to trust in her game and work hard.
“Before I left she told me, ‘You know how to play, so just go out and play because if you think about each mistake and each play then you will start to make more mistakes.’ ” Also, her sister told her: work hard, take advice and have fun.
When Laing returns to the States, she hopes to help Assabet Valley win another national title. Eventually, she’d like to play college hockey like her sisters, with her sights set on someday being part of a U.S. Olympic Team — and perhaps pulling on another Team USA jersey at an Olympic venue.
That, she says, would “fulfill my dreams as a little girl to be an Olympian.”
For now, though, her goal is simple: work as hard as she can to reach her “fullest potential.”
So far, she’s skating in the right direction.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.