USA Hockey Magazine

February 2018

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Page 36 of 63

Sisters S unlight pushes through the windows in front of the Florida Hospital Center Ice rink on a December morning in Wesley Chapel. Outside the arena, it's cold, at least by Sunshine State standards, with tempera- tures only expected to hit 60. So there prob- ably won't be any team bonding time by the pool—one of the U.S. Women's National Team's favorite activities—after practice at the beautiful Saddlebrook Resort. Still, this is the life. These athletes are loving their time in Florida as they gear up for the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. It beats the cold of say, Boston or Lake Placid, N.Y. Or even Minnesota, which Dani Cameranesi calls home. "It's nice not to have to wake up to the frigid cold," said Cameranesi, a two-time national cham- pion with the Golden Gophers who will skate on her first Olympic team. "The weather forces us to get outside and do things, to take time and relax and regather mentally and physically." Regathering is key for a group of players working tirelessly to prepare for the biggest moment of their hockey lives. There is no better place to do it than Florida, where the players have opportunities to be outdoors and enjoy their surroundings in the Tampa area. "People go on vacations to places like this," said Brianna Decker, who competed for Team USA in the 2014 Olympics. "We're lucky enough to be able to live and train here 24-7 during this residency." As another day of practice begins, these Olympic hopefuls hit the ice and take aim at the pucks that have been scattered across the freshly groomed surface. The sounds of skates carving up the ice and sticks smacking pucks echo through the arena. Players fly down the ice during a fast-paced shooting drill, following up their shots and look to punch in a rebound, applying as much pressure on the goalie as possible. In between each drill, head coach Robb Stauber provides reinforcement and reassurance on a dry erase board on the glass near the bench or during a team huddle at center ice. Everything counts when the ultimate goal is bringing home the first Olympic gold in 20 years. Five-on-five situations and passing drills are also part of the nearly two-hour practice, which is followed by another hour of off-ice training. Physically, the players are pushed to the limit. But that isn't the toughest part. "Definitely the mental aspect is the most chal- lenging," said Kali Flanagan, who is also playing in her first Olympics. "You are trying to be focused and dialed in every day, and that is probably the hardest part." Challenging indeed, but the players benefit from the unbreakable bond they have forged in Florida. They live in the same resort, allowing them to hang Residency Program Provides Olympic Hopefuls A Chance To Train And Bond In The Florida Sun // by Brian Lester Sunshine FEBRUARY 2018 USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM // 35

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