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Anne Schleper: Hockey-wise beyond her 23 years

09/17/2013, 11:15am EDT
By Doug Williams - Special to USAHockey.com

Anne Schleper always has brought more to a team than just her skills on the ice.

At the University of Minnesota, she took on a leadership role as an assistant captain, was a three-time conference all-academic selection and was presented with the Big Ten Medal of Honor for her achievements as a student-athlete.

She also was a consistent volunteer in the community, eager to help kids and causes.

And as a player she was a rock. She set a program record by playing 158 games for the Gophers — often battling through injuries to never miss a game — in a career that ended with an NCAA championship in 2011-12.

Every game, coach Brad Frost could depend on Schleper to do her part. She finished her college career as a first-team All-American and the Gophers’ No. 2 all-time scorer among defensemen.

Said Minnesota coach Brad Frost during her senior season: “She’s been a stalwart.”

So when Schleper commits, she’s all in.

Now as a member of the U.S. National Women’s Team, Schleper is trying to contribute in any way possible to a quest that she hopes will end with a gold medal at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in February.

Schleper is one of 25 women on the roster that eventually will be pared to 21. Though she wasn’t selected for the U.S. team that won a silver medal at the Vancouver Games in 2010, she’s been a part of the national team since 2008, when she was just 18. She’s helped Team USA win gold medals at the 2013 and 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, and a silver medal in 2012.

She might only be 23, but her hockey age is older, what with her experience on the national team and in pro hockey with the Boston Blades. Now she’s hoping to use that experience to help some of the younger players thrive.

“My role is I want to kind of take the younger ones under my wing because I know exactly how they’re feeling because I was there once and I had the older ones kind of take me under their wings,” she said.

Schleper said the recent team-building exercises the players went through with mental skills coach Colleen Hacker have been inspiring and make her want to embrace even more of a leadership role. She cited a section in one of Hacker’s books that made an impact.

“It talked about how we’re all leaders and it’s not about who’s following you, it’s how you can make a leader out of the other ones around you and those who are following,” she said. “I think that’s an important thing because anyone’s going to have to step up at any time during the game, and they need to be prepared and ready and know what to expect when that time comes.”

In her own play, Schleper has been able to rise to the occasion.

In this year’s World Championships final, a 3-2 victory over Canada, Schleper helped put the U.S. up 2-1 in the second period by assisting on Megan Bozek’s goal. Over her three World Championships, Schleper has played in every possible game (15 total) and the offensive-minded defender had two assists in the 2012 worlds and a goal and assist in the 2011 tournament.

Plus, she has a knack for winning. Aside from her NCAA title and two golds with the U.S. team, she helped the Blades win the Clarkson Cup for the championship of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in March.

She says playing for the Blades this past season after college was just what she needed.

“It’s very competitive and it’s very fast-paced,” she said. “Even from a college level, it’s another step.”

And with Boston she found herself playing with and against many of her current teammates on Team USA — as well as some who’ll be playing for Canada at Sochi.

Schleper says the U.S. can’t focus on beating the defending Olympic champs, however, even if it comes down (again) to the U.S. vs. Canada for the gold medal. Over the next few months, the Americans’ goal has to be about their own game, not Canada’s.

“What it comes down to is not necessarily thinking, ‘Oh, we’re playing Canada,’ but concentrating on playing our game,” she said. “Hands down, that’s what it’s coming down to, because if we’re sitting back on our heels, Canada’s going to take that right from us.

“We’re not necessarily thinking about our opponent, because even before we play Canada there’s going to be other opponents that we have to face and we have to treat them like it’s a gold-medal game. Playing to our strengths and concentrating on ourselves and being prepared are the most important things going up to Sochi.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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