PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ask any athlete and they will say their Olympic “aha moment” doesn’t come when they make the team, or when they receive their bag of swag or even when they pass through the gates of the athlete village for the first time.
It comes when they march into the stadium as part of Team USA during the opening ceremony. Tonight a record number of U.S. athletes basked in that “aha moment” as they marched together into PyeongChang Olympic Stadium and launched their Olympic dreams in front of a capacity crowd with millions more watching around the world.
And for the first time since 1994, both the men’s and women’s hockey teams were among the U.S. contingent that paraded in behind the Stars & Stripes.
It was a moment long overdue in the eyes of several members of the U.S. Women’s Team. A scheduling snafu four years ago kept the squad from experiencing that thrill in Sochi, Russia. With the puck set to drop in less than 24 hours, the coaching staff, with the backing of the players, made the decision to forgo the festivities and rest up for their first game against Finland.
“There’s so much standing around in the holding area, waiting for the U.S. contingent to march in,” recalled Women’s Team general manager Reagan Carey. “We are all here for one reason, and that is to win a gold medal. As difficult of a decision as it was, we all felt it was the right one.”
This time the schedule was more conducive to partaking in the festivities as the women don’t play their first game until Saturday afternoon. The men open their tournament against Slovenia on Feb. 14.
For first timers and veterans alike, the thrill of participating in the opening ceremony was all they thought about since arriving here a little more than a week ago.
“Everyone is ecstatic. That’s all anyone has been talking about. It’s a great way to kick off the tournament, walking in with fellow athletes,” said Hilary Knight, who did march in 2010.
“For me, personally, when I look back on that moment in Vancouver that’s when it really sunk in that ‘oh my gosh, I’m a member of Team USA and I’m at the Olympics.’”
This time around she was able to share that feeling with a number of her new teammates.
“Somebody asked me the other day if it’s hit me yet that I’m at the Olympics and I’ve said that would be the moment,” said Dani Cameranesi, one of 12 Olympic rookies on the squad. “I’m really excited to walk in there alongside my teammates and the other U.S. athletes.”
Her excitement was felt by members of the U.S. Men’s Team, most of whom are living their Olympic dream for the first time thanks to the NHL’s decision not to send its players to South Korea.
“It’s something that you watch on TV as a kid and think of how cool it would be living it,” said Ryan Stoa, an alum of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program who has spent the past four seasons playing in the Kontinental Hockey League.
“Especially growing up and playing for USA Hockey to be able to put this uniform back on and represent your country on the world stage, honestly I don’t have words to describe how I feel.”
After representing the red, white and blue as a player in 1988, head coach Tony Granato opted to skip marching this time around and watch it on TV with his fellow coaches.
“This is an event for the players,” he said. “I thought about going, but this is an opportunity to do some work and get ready for the next couple of weeks.”
Prior to marching, members of the two teams met, many for the first time. But for Kacey Bellamy and Bobby Butler, it was an opportunity to reconnect for the first time since they left the University of New Hampshire more than a decade ago.
“We kind of lost touch but I’ve definitely followed her career. She’s done great things for USA Hockey,” Butler said after hitting the Olympic ice for the first time.
“I’m fortunate to be a part of it and I’m excited about being here. I’ve got my phone charged charged up and plan to take some videos tonight. I’m going to enjoy it and live in the moment.”
|Sun., Feb 11||Finland||Preliminary||W, 3-1||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Tues., Feb 13||Olympic Athletes From Russia||Preliminary||W, 5-0||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 15||Canada||Preliminary||L, 1-2||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Mon., Feb. 19||Finland||Semifinals||W, 5-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 22||Canada||Gold-Medal Game||W, 3-2 (SO)||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Wed., Feb. 14||Slovenia||Preliminary||OTL, 2-3||Kwandong Hockey Centre|
|Fri., Feb. 16||Slovakia||Preliminary||W, 2-1||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Sat., Feb. 17||Olympic Athletes From Russia||Preliminary||L, 0-4||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Tues., Feb. 20||Slovakia||Qualification||W, 5-1||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Wed., Feb 21||Czech Republic||Quarterfinals||SOL, 2-3||Gangneung Hockey Centre|