The final countdown

Julie Chu and the U.S. women's hockey team will play archrival Canada twice more before the end of the year. Richard Wolowicz/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

The road to the Olympics isn’t a glamorous one, but I guess you could say it’s family friendly.

Right now I’m in Concord, Mass., staying with a local family while we train in Bedford, Mass., just outside of Boston. Short-term leases are super expensive and tough to come by when we train for small stretches of time in a new location, so about half of us are with host families.

I first met Johanna Boynton, whose family I’m living with, back when I was an undergrad at Harvard. She went there as well, and we stayed in touch. When I mentioned I needed a place to live for three weeks around the Olympic trials in June, she and her husband, John, and four awesome kids (Scout, Tucker, Daisy and Chester) were nice enough to take me in.

We hit it off last time, so here I am again! Jojo, as I call Johanna, also helped a few of my teammates find local host families. It’s funny, Brianne McLaughlin is just two doors down from me. The other day I ran over there for something and felt like I was in elementary school again, visiting my neighborhood friends. There are 10 of us being hosted in Concord so it feels like much of the team is here. This community is just being so great to us.

The town, led by Johanna and John, also came together to throw a big fundraising dinner with raffles and an auction to help ease the financial burden of athletes’ families coming to Sochi for the Olympics. They raised more than $30,000 to donate to the USA Hockey Foundation, which created a Sochi Family Fund.

If all goes well and I’m on the team, my mom and dad are planning to come to Russia, as well as my brother and his wife, my sister and a couple of aunts. They’d pitch a tent if they had to, but they are going to be there! I always say it’s “our” Olympic journey, even though I’m the one who gets to be out there on the ice. We’re all a part of this. It’s so special to have them watch me play.

But as fun as it is to look forward to Sochi, the reality is that we still have to be named to the squad. We just had a couple cuts to our roster, bringing us down to 25 players. Kate Buesser and Jincy Dunne were released, but one of the things I always believe is that everyone who was a part of this program is still a part of it.

Jincy is young (16!), and I think she’s going back to high school and back to classes. She has a huge future ahead of her. I’ve learned a lot from both Jincy and Kate. They’ve been incredible teammates, and whatever happens to the team happens to them, too.

We all still have plenty of work to do both on and off the ice. We’ve been in Massachusetts since August, training with Mike Boyle at his strength and conditioning facility. Those early months are really important for creating a great base in fitness. From there we’ve worked on the technical aspects, but if you don’t have that physical conditioning, it’s hard to do the rest.

Since October we’ve been playing a few games here and there to start to put it all together. We’ve made some huge strides as a team and it’s been exciting to see things starting to click.

We had the opportunity to play some boys teams, like the Boston Advantage, which is made up of 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds. A good number of them are more than 6 feet tall so they’re bigger than us, and that allows us to play physical and play fast and not have as much space on the ice. Sometimes they started out going too easy on us, but once we started to body up on them they fell into it and used their bodies more, which is what we needed them to do. Then they got really into it and when they scored a goal, they celebrated like they won the Stanley Cup.

I’m excited for our team. We’ve done a lot in a short amount of time. We’ve improved tremendously, and I think we’re going to keep improving so when February comes, everything we’ve done and prepared will put us where we need to be for Sochi.

We play Canada -- our biggest rival for Olympic gold -- in Calgary on Thursday and then again Dec. 20 in Grand Forks, N.D. It’ll be two great games, and hopefully we’ll be able to end the year on a good note and carry some momentum into 2014.

The final Olympic roster of 21 will be announced Jan. 1 on live TV during the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s all coming so fast now, and Sochi is just around the corner!