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Team USA Goalies Share Uncommon Bond

01/14/2014, 3:30pm EST
By Tony Lee - Special to USAHockey.com

BEDFORD, Mass. -- Eleven of the 21 members of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey Team are returning Olympians. And three of those 11 play in net, forming a veteran trio that is not only talented but as in sync as a group of goalies could be.

Jessie Vetter, Molly Schaus and Brianne McLaughlin are all returning for their second chance at Olympic gold next month in Sochi, Russia. Collectively known to other players as, quite simply, “The Three Best Friends,” their partnership extends beyond the ice.

“It’s definitely a comfort thing, we’ve been on the same team for four, five years, so we know each other,” Schaus said. “We know when to help, when to step back and let them do their thing, so I think we have a really good working relationship on and off the ice.”

Support and friendship do not directly translate into gold medals, but it certainly can’t hurt. Each member of the trio discussed the rarity of such a bond among goaltenders, players who by default are vying with one another for playing time at the one singular position on the ice.

“I think everyone has some horror story of their goalie partner they didn’t get along with,” McLaughlin said. “Because it is hard. Only one of you can play, and you have to be supportive of the one in the net. All of us being so close friends, it’s easy to watch your friend do something great and cheer for them and support them. When I’m on the net I get the same support.”

Watching the goalies in a pre-Olympic practice lends support to this notion. There is focused discussion with one another during drills, and every so often beaming smiles are visible through the facemasks, enjoyment for a partner’s success or recognition of an inside joke that only close friends can share.

The 28-year-old Vetter played four of the five games for Team USA in Vancouver four years ago, stopping 68 of 71 shots for the silver-medal winners. Schaus, 25, assumed some starting duties during IIHF Women’s World Championships in 2012, but Vetter has regained some footing in a tight battle.

U.S. coach Katey Stone has not revealed her starter for Sochi, but recently she lent some support to keeping things status quo.

“[Jessie’s] playing some of her best hockey right now, so that’s exciting,” Stone said after a recent practice in Bedford, Mass.

Vetter, who was 3-2 with a 2.16 goals-against average during the team’s 10-game “Bring on the World Tour,” lives with Schaus, the two of them minutes away from McLaughlin. While Vetter might enter the majority of the games with the mindset of being the last line of defense, she knows it will be a time-share and considers the goaltending work to be a group effort each and every night.

“We’ve put our egos aside and know when our name is called we can go out and give it our all, but if not we’re going to be cheering our team on and the goaltender that’s in net that night,” Vetter said. “I don’t think it’s very common.”

Although the goalies are often left on their own in practice, these three have been able to draw upon their experiences in 2010 to assist some of the Olympic rookies on the roster. Each of them remarked about the conversations they have had with newcomers who are asking questions about the experience.

Vetter’s take on the matter illustrates her veteran know-how.

“It’s just another hockey tournament,” she said of the Olympic Winter Games. “If you think about it too much it’s going to get to you, so we’re definitely going to have a few conversations with the people that haven’t been there before.”

In addition, each of the netminders has had four years under the tutelage of goaltending coach Robb Stauber, whose style was at first difficult for the goalies to adjust to.

“He had so many new ideas for us, and we all struggled hard at first,” McLaughlin, 26, said. “He had us doing all kinds of crazy stuff and we were, like who is this guy? One by one we dove in little by little with him and it’s paid off a ton.

“Luckily we all had our breaking point [with Stauber] at different times so we all didn’t crash at once.”

Instead, in an effort to get through the tough times, they sought solace and advice from their best friends and perhaps the only ones in the world who could understand their situation. Such is the nature of a unique, yet ideal, goaltending situation for Team USA.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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