SOCHI, Russia – Everything about Anne Schleper’s game is big, from her big shot from the point to the big smile that stretches across her face.
She also has knack for making big plays in the biggest games, whether it’s a big defensive stop or scoring a big goal when her team needs it the most.
With so many dynamic forwards often garnering most of the attention, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the work of defensemen like Schleper on the back end. She quietly goes about her business, playing solid defense, content to let her high-flying forwards get the credit for their blazing speed and highlight reel goals.
“She got better as the game went on,” said head coach Katey Stone. “She keeps it simple. She knows what her strengths are. She has great reach and she’s not afraid to take her shots. Overall she looks like she plays a quiet game, and as a defenseman that’s what we like.”
But on Wednesday it was Schleper who had a big game, scoring her first Olympic goal and assisting on another in a disappointing 3-2 loss to Canada in the final game of the preliminary round.
“She’s been huge back there the whole year,” said fellow defenseman Kacey Bellamy. “She has a great shot and she works on it. She’s been a backbone on the blue line for us all year long.”
Schleper also had a big role in both U.S. goals. She helped the U.S. break the ice in the second period, whipping a wrist shot on goal that Hilary Knight managed to get a piece of for the first goal given up by a Canadian goaltender in the tournament.
“We have great forwards who get right in front and can put the puck away, and they are great tippers,” said Schleper, who has taken 13 shots on goal in three games in the tournament. “Anything I can put on net is a good shot.”
And with time winding down in the third period, the U.S. pulled goaltender Jessie Vetter in favor of an extra attacker. As U.S. forwards buzzed the Canadian zone looking to narrow the lead, the puck made its way back to the point where Schleper sent a knuckling shot on goal that surprised Labonte, giving new life to a frustrated U.S. team.
“I do the best I can just to be prepared for every game and just bring the best that I can,” said the St. Cloud, Minn., native. “I love this game and I wouldn’t be doing myself anything if I didn’t come with everything I had.”
The U.S. will have to wait for the qualification round and quarterfinals to shake out before they know who their next opponent will be, but in her mind it doesn’t really matter. As they have done all year long, the U.S. will remain focused on themselves and not on any particular opponent.
“A loss always stinks. It doesn’t matter who it is against,” Schleper said. “We’ll take what we can from tonight and after that it’s out the door. We’re onto the next game. Yes, it always stinks when you lose, but we’ll be ready for the next one.”
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Tag(s): 2014 - Sochi, Russia