Wednesday, August 7, 2002
Steamboat Springs Behind Emily Elliott and Kelly Smith's facemasks is a young Tara Mounsey.
Mounsey sees it. She remembers being 13 and learning hockey, but her role models were the men of the National Hockey League. Elliott and Smith admire the women of the U.S. Women's Olympic team instead.
"I've always wanted to skate with them," Elliott said. "They were even better in person."
Mounsey, Karyn Bye, Laurie Baker and Sara DeCosta are in Steamboat Springs for the Gold Medal Hockey Clinic, which runs from Monday to Friday.
Several months removed from a silver-medal finish in Salt Lake City, the women were on the ice at Howelsen Ice Arena Wednesday showcasing their skills while teaching others the importance of fun and fundamentals in ice hockey.
Smith, a member of the Colorado Select team this summer, went to the Olympic gold medal match pitting Canada against the United States back in February. It was the matchup everyone expected and wanted. The American women had not lost in 35 straight games before the Olympics, including eight consecutive wins over the Canadians.
Canada won, 3-2.
"I don't think there was one United States fan there that wasn't crying," Smith said.
That was about all she could say on the topic. Hockey is her first love. When she isn't dressed in pads, she wears a Salt Lake City cap and a T-shirt thanking everyone who believes she plays hockey like a girl because there really isn't any other way to play it.
Times have changed a bit. Bye sees it.
After the U.S. won gold in the 1998 Games in Nagano, there was an explosion in girls hockey, and it has continued to grow gradually since. Instead of admiring NHL players solely, young girls now have women to look up to as well. They also have a dream.
"Ever since they went to Nagano, I've wanted to play in the Olympics," Elliott said.
"They are being coached by their role models," Bye said. "They can relate to us."
Which means a lot to both parties teachers and pupils. When Bye and Mounsey were growing up, they played hockey with boys. It wasn't bad. It was just different than today.
"I love these girls," Smith said. "I love seeing them. I love seeing the way they play."
Spending most of Wednesday morning's 9:15-10:45 session in instruction, the U.S. players have minimal chances to demonstrate their skills, but every once in a while, a woman clad in navy with USA on her sleeve and heart emerges from the huddle to demonstrate a drill with speed, power and precision.
Instead of hoots and hollers and applause, perfection is met with rattles of sticks slapping the ice.
"It becomes our job to make it fun," Mounsey said.
Judging by the smile Smith wore and the fact she hasn't really left the ice since the women arrived Monday, it might be safe to say the members of the Olympic team have struck a different type of gold in Steamboat.
"It's real fun seeing them," Smith said. "You talk to every little girl hockey player. They want to be with the Olympic team."