Two-time Olympic medalist Brianne McLaughlin-Bittle relished the opportunity to give back during the November joint training camp near Pittsburgh between the U.S. and Canadian Women’s National Teams.
“It was great to have the best female hockey players in the country right here, and all the girls I coach to be able to watch the best hockey from the U.S. and Canada in their hometown,” McLaughlin-Bittle said. “Ever since the players left, that’s all I’ve heard about. Every girl is still talking about it at the rink, and it’s a huge part of their dreams and motivation. To see it first-hand was pretty cool for them.”
The U.S. and Canada were left with holes on their calendars when the 2019 Four Nations Tournament — originally scheduled to be played in Sweden in November — was canceled. The joint training camp between the international rivals, which culminated with two exhibition games, took place at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. That’s the practice facility of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a quick car ride for McLaughlin-Bittle, who starred collegiately — and still coaches — at nearby Robert Morris University.
“It was nice for the camp to be in Pittsburgh because I live here,” McLaughlin-Bittle said. “That was the first time I didn’t really have to travel. It was nice to experience this because ever since I went to school here, it’s been a big part of my life to grow the game from the women’s side.
“When I originally moved here in 2005, there wasn’t much in girls’ hockey, but if you fast-forward that, there’s a whole girls’ league now. It’s been fun to see that growth.”
McLaughlin-Bittle, who grew up in Sheffield Village, Ohio, is currently serving as the goaltending coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team. The 32-year-old was the goalie coach at the U.S. Women’s National Festival in Lake Placid, New York, and also worked with the girls Under-18 Select and boys Select 17 camps.
“Retiring from the game was kind of bittersweet, but I’ve really gotten into my coaching career,” McLaughlin-Bittle said. “Being involved with the senior national team and being back with something that was a huge part of my life, and something I love so much, has been pretty cool.”
McLaughlin-Bittle first appeared with the U.S. as a player in 2008 during the women’s Under-22 series against Canada. She went on to win Olympic silver medals with Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and she also won two IIHF Women’s World Championships in her career.
“Devoting your whole life to (the team), and being part of it was exciting but exhausting at the same time,” McLaughlin-Bittle said. “My life has never been the same since, and I’ve met so many great people … some of them my best friends. You put your life on hold and every day, from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, you eat, sleep and breathe a gold medal.
“I really felt the sting of losing (in Sochi in 2014), but you go home, you see kids and your coaches and you get to share this Olympic medal with the next generation, which is pretty special.”
McLaughlin-Bittle speaking to goalies at the Boys Select-17 USA Hockey Player Development Camp
Now, McLaughlin-Bittle is giving back to the next generation at the place she starred in college.
She played four seasons at RMU, from 2005-09, finishing with a .910 save percentage in 120 games, plus the NCAA Division I all-time record for saves in a career with 3,809 stops. McLaughlin-Bittle also played two seasons with the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women’s Hockey League and led her team to the 2017 Isobel Cup championship. She made 58 saves in the title game and was named Isobel Cup Final MVP.
“Everybody was so unbelievable, and I have nothing but amazing things to say about Robert Morris,” McLaughlin-Bittle said. “I feel like family when I walk on that campus.”
McLaughlin-Bittle currently serves as a volunteer coach for the men’s hockey team at RMU, and she’s believed to be the first female assistant in Division I NCAA men’s hockey history. Her husband, Logan, is an associate head coach with the RMU women’s hockey team, and the two are new parents of a 10-month old son, Carter. Brianne runs private goalie training classes with video analysis and regularly holds youth camps in the Pittsburgh area.
It’s just part of the way McLaughlin-Bittle is giving back to the game, like she did during the joint training camp between the U.S. and Canadian teams in November.
“It was great just being able to share something that I love so much with these families that I love so much,” McLaughlin-Bittle said. “The kids I work with, I’m part of their family, and they’re part of my family. Looking into the stands and seeing those girls with McLaughlin hockey hats and t-shirts … being part of that was special, and they said it was the coolest thing to watch a U.S. and Canada game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.