Allie Thunstrom’s return to international hockey seemed improbable but she was well-prepared when she got the call.
The former Boston College hockey standout had been out of the national team picture for the last few years, and since 2012 her attention had turned to pursuing the Olympic Winter Games as a speedskater.
Then, Thunstrom joined the Minnesota Whitecaps this season to continue her professional hockey career and, before she knew it, was back helping the U.S. Women’s National Team defeat Canada for its sixth Four Nations Cup championship, held earlier this month in Sweden.
“It was amazing,” Thunstrom said. “Everything you dream of and hope for, it was pretty much that. Just getting to be with the team, working together and obviously accomplishing our goal was huge.”
It was a surreal feeling for Thunstrom, who still isn’t sure how it all came together so perfectly.
The process began when the Whitecaps reached out about joining the team for their season. Then, a few days after the opening weekend of the Whitecaps’ season, Thunstrom received a phone call asking her to compete in the second Four Nations Cup of her career.
“I was pretty shocked and super excited,” Thunstrom said. “It was a little bit of a whirlwind when it all happened and I got invited. I was beyond happy and excited. It was a really great day and probably the most excitement I had in a long time.”
Although speedskating has been her primary focus over the past few years, Thunstrom embraced the opportunity to join the Whitecaps and compete in both sports.
“I thought, ‘Why not?’” Thunstrom said. “I love the game of hockey and I missed having that team atmosphere. I thought it would be really fun to get back together with old friends and have a good time.
“[The Four Nations Cup] definitely wasn’t why I joined. It wasn’t in my mind at all, but I’ll take it.”
Hockey was life for Thunstrom, who grew up in Maplewood, Minn.
Thunstrom, a three-sport standout in high school, was awarded the 2006 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award and also named First Team All-State the same season at North St. Paul High School, which she now coaches. She continued her hockey career at Boston College, scoring 86 goals and 138 points in 141 games.
“I always dreamed to play hockey as a career and make it to the Olympics,” Thunstrom said. “It was a heartbreak when it didn’t happen and I was no longer part of the program. Fast forward four or five years, to get that phone call and opportunity to represent my country is an amazing experience.”
Thunstrom played in the 2010 Four Nations Cup before falling out of the active national team pool. Already an elite athlete, her conditioning and recent professional hockey experience caught the attention of USA Hockey scouts and opened the door for the opportunity to go back to the tournament this year. It was particularly sweet for Thunstrom, who scored in a win against Finland. Teammate Kelli Stack grabbed the puck and made sure to give it to Thunstrom on the bench.
“It was one of the best moments of my life,” Thunstrom said. “I still have [the puck] and carry it with me in my backpack. I have a shelf of old trophies and pictures and I’ll add it there eventually, but for now I’m going to carry it with me.”
Thunstrom’s future within USA Hockey isn’t certain but a solid showing has put her back into active consideration and as she says, she’s ready to contribute when called upon.
Until then, Thunstrom will focus on her Olympic speedskating dreams. Two weeks before she left for Sweden, Thunstrom finished sixth in the 500-meter race at the World Cup trials, one spot from making the team. There is a second path to the World Cup in January, and beyond that a three-race series called the American Cup where skaters gain points based on race placement.
“It’s been crazy, but I’ve been able to do speedskating workouts and hockey,” Thunstrom said. “Luckily, they haven’t fallen on the same weekend. I’m giving my everything.”
Thunstrom started speedskating in 2012 as a way to fill a competitive void after graduating from college. She joined a club in Minnesota, purchased equipment needed and fell in love with the sport.
“As a hockey player, I was that person that said, ‘Who wants to skate in circles?’” Thunstrom said. “But there’s something about it that’s exhilarating and pretty awesome.”
Thunstrom admits a difficult transition at first, but she has figured it all out, putting time and effort into both speedskating and hockey without allowing one to suffer.
“It’s gone OK, and luckily there’s an overlap in some of the skill set,” Thunstrom said. “Speedskating can take care of some of the conditioning for hockey and work those muscles.”
Thunstrom said the stride and skates are among the biggest differences.
“In hockey [the stride] is real explosive and high intensity, but in speedskating there is a lot more power,” Thunstrom said. “Speedskaters’ feet aren’t always moving, but they’re putting so much power into the ice.
“Speedskates are really uncomfortable, custom molded to your feet with a 17-inch blade, while hockey skates are closer to a shoe size, the blade is the same size as the skate and they don’t go up as high on your ankle. When I first started it was a weird transition, but after years of getting used to it, it’s not that much different.”
Thunstrom explained that technique can suffer when she goes from hockey to speedskating, but she ensures focus on technique with her coach throughout practices.
“We’ve focused on that after I play hockey, getting my technique back and making sure I’m doing the right thing,” Thunstrom said.
That said, her participation in the recent Four Nations Cup has forged the opportunity to potentially compete against the top U.S. players in upcoming camps and earn a spot with future national teams.
Overall it was a welcome experience that was well worth it for Thunstrom.
“It felt like old times with best friends,” Thunstrom said. “I learned a lot and got to play great hockey, and there’s nothing better than that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”
Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future.
USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.
On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.
The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1.
SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.
The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.
The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.
These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.
Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.
In order to comply with new requirements from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), USA Hockey will be implementing a national level background screening program. This program will replace all USAH Affiliate coordinated background screen programs.
Why must officials be screened?
Per USA Hockey and USOPC policy, all coaches, officials, board members, employees, volunteers, billets and anyone else who will have regular contact with, or authority over, minor athletes are required to submit a background screen before any contact with minor athletes.
Who is required to be screened?
Officials who are 18 years-old (or older) prior to June 1 of the current year.
Any official, 18 years-old (or older) without a completed valid background screen (national or USAH Affiliate coordinated) after April 1, 2019.
All national background screens are valid for two seasons, and starting on June 1, 2020 a national background screen must be completed and in good standing before receiving an officiating card and crest.
What are the timelines for launching the national background screen program?
Beginning on April 1, 2020, background screening will be conducted by our national background screen vendor, National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI), and information on background screening will be included following your registration.
As of March 22, 2020, applicants will no longer be able to submit new USA Hockey background screens through USAH Affiliate vendors, and will not be able to submit new screens through NCSI until April 1, 2020.
If you were screened after April 1, 2019 for the 2019-20 season, your screen is valid for the 2020-21 season, and you will not need to be screened under the new system until prior to the 2021-22 season. If your most recent screen is from prior to April 1, 2019, you will need to be screened under the new system, after April 1, 2020, in order to participate in the upcoming season.
All new screens submitted through the new NCSI national screening program after April 1, 2020 will be valid for two seasons. For example, a screen submitted and approved on April 15, 2020 will be valid through the end of the 2021-22 season, which is August 31, 2022.
How can members complete their required background screen?
A link to submit for screening will be included in your membership registration confirmation email and posted in the drop-down menu under the OFFICIALS tab at USAHockey.com.
Background screens through NCSI under the national program will cost $30 for all domestic screens. For international screens (members who have lived outside of the U.S. for six consecutive months in any one county during the past 7 years) the flat rate fee is $150. If that country is solely Canada, the flat rate fee is $75.
Where can members go with questions about the national background screen program?
Please refer to the USA Hockey Background Screen webpage at USAHockey.com.