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.