U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Takes Ice for Fenway Practice

U.S. Women's Hockey Team Takes Ice for Fenway Practice BOSTON — When the U.S. women’s
hockey team got together to exchange Christmas gifts and make plans for
the final stretch before the Olympics, the coaches had a little
surprise: They were adding one more practice to the Boston leg of the
trip.

But this wasn’t a workout, it was a wonder.

“It was definitely the best Christmas
present of the year,” goalie Molly Schaus said Monday on the ice at
Fenway Park, with her mother and father watching and her brother taking
pictures of their peewee-sized cousins skittering around on the ice.
“Just walking out of that dugout … I never want to leave.”

The NHL turned Fenway into a hockey
rink for the Winter Classic, an annual New Year’s Day game that has
turned into one of the highlights of the regular season. The Boston
Bruins beat the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime in this year’s Classic,
and the rink has rarely been silent since then.

It has been used for public skating,
for an NHL legends game and for high school teams willing to pay the
reported $10,000 hourly fee. On Friday there will be a college hockey
doubleheader — the Northeastern and New Hampshire women in the
afternoon and the men’s teams from Beanpot rivals Boston University and
Boston College at night.

“The locker room erupted” when they
were told that their Christmas present from the coaches was the chance
to skate at Fenway, defenseman Angela Ruggiero said. “We’ve been
training all year in Minnesota, and for us Boston kids, it’s obviously
a chance of a lifetime.”

Ruggiero has played in all three
Olympics since women’s hockey became an official sport — winning gold,
silver and bronze. But it was while at Harvard that she got up close to
Fenway Park, the nation’s oldest ballpark, and became a baseball fan.

“I’ve bought seats I don’t know how
many times to see the Red Sox and Yankees,” she said. “Fenway has such
history. We see a lot of NHL arenas, but the tradition of baseball,
Fenway, there’s nothing like that.”

The U.S. women played an all-star
team from the East Coast Athletic Conference in Hamden, Conn., on
Sunday night. The squad was flying out of Boston after practice for a
game on Tuesday against the University of Wisconsin, where U.S. coach
Mark Johnson played, and where he coached the Badgers to the NCAA
championship in Boston this spring.

“For me, it brings a lot of memories back,” Johnson said.

Working with the ECAC and the Red
Sox, the American women got a little more than an hour of ice time on
Monday morning, just before workers from a local hospital — and Red Sox
sponsor — filed in for their chance to skate. After the players cleared
the ice, Johnson chatted with “Miracle on Ice” teammate Mike Eruzione
and former U.S. women’s Olympic coach Ben Smith.

“It’s a great break for them. It’s a
long season and it’s good to have a fun practice,” said Eruzione, who’s
spent much of his time since winning the gold medal in 1980 as an
inspirational speaker and was planning to speak to this year’s team on
Monday. “I’ll tell them to enjoy the experience, because you never know
if it’s going to happen again.”

Forward Julie Chu didn’t need to be told.

“I don’t think we ever imagined we’d
get a chance to skate at Fenway Park,” she said. “Think this is such an
amazing setting. I enjoy just soaking it up.”

Chu is the NCAA all-time leading
scorer, winning the 2007 Patty Kazmaier award as the top player in
college hockey. She already has won Olympic silver and bronze medals,
but practicing in Fenway gave her a sense of what it will be like to
play Canada, the two-time defending gold medalists, in front of their
home crowd in Vancouver.

“You can appreciate the excitement
of the fans,” she said. “Canada’s a hockey hotbed. Being able to play
there in front of a crowd that’s excited about women’s hockey is
unbelievable.”

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