Lyndsey Fry carries dream of late friend
Lyndsey Fry does not consider herself a superstitious person, but she does have one ritual before every game.
After warm-ups, she skates around the ice and has a talk with her friend. She shares with her whatever she needs to say, tells her she loves her and says a little prayer. Then she gives "a little point to the sky."
The fact that Fry, who turns 21 tomorrow, also carries Liz Turgeon's jersey with her to games and holds it on every bus ride is not a part of that routine. That, Fry says, just feels right.
If the USA Hockey forward clears the last hurdle of a once-unimaginable goal and makes the final roster that will travel to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, she will also carry with her a teenage promise made amid the tears of a losing locker room three years ago.
And the memory of a friend she is intent to keep alive.
"We had talked about it all the way through," Fry said of a shared Olympic dream and a bond with Turgeon that began on their Colorado Select team at age 15. "It was kind of tricky because Liz made the first U.S. U18 team and I didn't. Then I made the next two and she didn't. So she was struggling with believing the Olympics were even a possibility. And I thought, 'Yeah, I may have made U18, but the Olympic team is a whole different world.' "
When their Colorado U18 team was eliminated in the 2010 semifinals of the USA Hockey national championships, the finality nearly got the better of them.
"The moment we lost, we knew it could be our last game together," Lyndsey recalled. "I think about that moment all the time and I remember I looked over at Liz and put my hand on her knee. We were both sobbing and I said, 'This isn't going to be the last time we play together. We just need to work our butts off and do everything we can to get on that Olympic team so we can play together again.'
"It was a quick moment but it was so meaningful. I'll never forget it."
Fry doesn't really remember the first time her parents strapped Fisher-Price shoe skates on her gym shoes and sent her wheeling down their driveway in Chandler, Ariz.
"I know I was 4 when I fell in love with the 'Mighty Ducks' movies," Fry said. "And I guess I was skating up and down the driveway and on our street for hours and hours."
Her father, Doug, says he was not "a hockey guy," and he and Lyndsey's mother, Lynne, were not even thinking about ice hockey at the time. So they gave their daughter a broom, then bought her a hockey stick and some in-line skates, and figured that was that.
"But she really took to it," Doug Fry said. "And when the second 'Mighty Ducks' movie came out, it made it so much more exciting for her. But the most exciting thing was that she saw girls on the team. If anyone did anybody any favors [in Lyndsey's career], it was Disney putting girls on the boys' hockey team in that movie. It made a huge difference."
After a brief stint with roller hockey, Lyndsey joined a boys' hockey league at the newly built ice rink near their home and quickly settled in.
"As far as the physicality of it, it totally made me better," Fry said. "I'm a big proponent of playing with boys, because I think it makes you a stronger skater and it teaches you to stay on your skates when you start checking. My parents never worried, because I was a thumper of a kid. I was the biggest hitter on the team."
Doug Fry laughed at the thought.
"I was always worried about the boys getting hurt," he said. "It was in Lyndsey's DNA to go after it."
Her teammates respected her enough that they voted her captain three years in a row and warned every new boy trying out for the team that they had better treat her with respect.
"I'm not going to lie and say there weren't people who treated me differently being a girl playing in a boys' world," Fry said. "Some of the things boys on the other teams said to me ... Let's just say I learned some filthy words at a very young age. But kids are immature and that's the way it is. The thing is, I never really cared because I loved what I was doing and I was confident in what I was doing."
Fry played club hockey in Arizona through her freshman year in high school, double-rostering with the girls' team that year. "The reality was that women's college coaches were not going to be scouting the boys' teams for their players," she said.
At that point, upon the recommendation of a friend whose daughter also played hockey, Fry and her family felt she had little choice but to make a move up, electing to play for the Colorado Select (elite club) team, at first flying there just on weekends and then switching to online schooling her junior year of high school and spending two weeks there at a time.
At a USA Hockey national development camp during the summer of 2007, before her second season in Colorado, Lyndsey, then 15, learned that her coach that season would be recently retired NHL player and four-time All-Star Pierre Turgeon, a father of four, including twin daughters Lyndsey's age. One of the twins was also at the camp and, after an awkward first conversation, the two formed a fast friendship.
I thought she was a god. She was so nice, so funny, athletic, beautiful inside and out.Lyndsey Fry on Liz Turgeon
"I thought she was a god," Lyndsey said of Liz Turgeon. "She was so nice, so funny, athletic, beautiful inside and out."
She recalled Liz spotting her in the airport after camp and inviting her to play cards with her and another girl.
"You know how, in a group of people, people don't know each other, but one is just so nice and fun and social?" Lyndsey recalled. "I was super shy and I just thought, How great is it that this girl is so welcoming to everyone, so open to say, 'Hey, come play cards with us.' I just wanted to be [like] that kid."
Back in Colorado, Lyndsey quickly became an unofficial member of the Turgeon family, with which she often stayed, running errands with Pierre and Liz's mother, Elisabeth, while their kids were in school.
"Her and Liz, oh my God, those two were like sisters," Elisabeth Turgeon said. "And they had so much fun. They were always so happy to go to hockey. They had such a good time and had the same dreams, which is probably why they clicked so well."
The two also formed an uncanny bond on the ice.
"Their chemistry was unbelievable; it was like they could have been playing with blindfolds on," Doug recalled. "They knew exactly where the other one was. I looked at footage later and it was even more unreal. You never saw anything like it. It was such a special relationship between them."
"To this day," Lyndsey said, "I haven't felt a chemistry with another player the way I was with her."
The phone call came on Dec. 23, 2010, eight months after the two had cried together in the locker room, promising they would one day reunite on the Olympic team.
They had kept in close touch, Lyndsey going off to play for Harvard, Liz planning to play at Minnesota after dealing with a medical setback during the fall semester. Home for Christmas break, Lyndsey said she knew as soon as she heard Elisabeth's voice that something was horribly wrong.
"She said, 'Are you alone?' and I said, 'My dad's in the next room, what's going on?' " Lyndsey recalled. "I just assumed the worst, but it's like when you think some sort of tragedy has happened but you don't really expect that to be the case. When she told me, my whole world flipped upside down. I never felt anything like it."
The news was indeed the very worst imaginable. Liz Turgeon, 18, had been killed and her 18-year-old passenger seriously injured when the pickup she was driving collided with the trailer of a semitruck on a foggy road just after midnight, about 100 miles east of Albuquerque, N.M.
Lyndsey was due back east for a USA camp the day after Christmas, but she left early to fly to Colorado to be with the Turgeons. Summoning up a strength she did not know she possessed, she helped plan the funeral and delivered the eulogy for Liz.
"I don't know what I would tell my 18-year-old self today to try to comfort me," she said. "I just told myself I needed to be strong for everyone, a rock for Liz's family and for our teammates."
And so Lyndsey comforted the girls at the wake, holding their hands and walking them to the front of the room from where they hovered uneasily at the door. Then she tried to ease the grief at the funeral by telling "funny, happy stories" in her eulogy, which, she said, "is what I think Liz would have wanted."
When it was time to return to her Harvard team, however, Lyndsey was far from ready.
"Had you talked to me at the time I lost her," she said, "never in a million years would I have thought I'd be here [on the U.S. national team] today. It was such a low point, I didn't even know if I wanted to play hockey again. I was lost."
Lyndsey did return, relying heavily on the support, she said, of family and her Harvard coaches and teammates.
"We were all committed to being there for Lyndsey," said Harvard coach Katey Stone, who will coach the U.S. team in Sochi. "There were a lot of tears and chats, getting a meal or cup of coffee and, for lack of a better word, nursing her back to herself and her own passion.
"Liz was such a huge part of Lyndsey's hockey experience, but Lyndsey was the ultimate part of her hockey experience, and it was a matter of getting her back to why she played hockey in the first place and what she loved about it. And playing, and honoring Liz, has been a great strength for her."
Still, when Lyndsey did not get invited back to the USA camp that next summer, she wondered whether she could continue.
"It was hard for me to counsel her," Doug Fry said. "To this day I have not experienced anything as traumatic as that. But we told her, 'You've got to take Liz's memory and rather than bring you down, have it drive you forward.' ... And at some point during that sophomore year, the switch went back on and Liz became an inspiration as opposed to something totally about sorrow."
Shortly after the U.S. women's national team won the gold medal at the world championships in Ottawa last April, Lyndsey received a call from Reagan Carey, director of the USA women's team, saying she had one of Turgeon's U18 USA jerseys. Lyndsey offered to call the Turgeons and ask if they wanted to have it, or wanted it framed at one of USA Hockey's training centers.
"I'm not sure I realized in the beginning how important it was to her," Elisabeth Turgeon said. "I remember Lyndsey saying, 'They might want to hang it up. What should we do?' I could tell she was not jumping all over that idea but she really did not want to tell me right away. Then finally she said, 'Will you just let me have it and I can carry it with me?'
"I said, 'Of course you can.' I thought it was a great idea, actually."
"The idea just popped in my head," Lyndsey recalled. "I told Elisabeth, 'I'd love to carry it with me through my whole journey, to have a part of Liz with me.' And I've had it ever since."
If Lyndsey Fry gets past the final cut from 25 to 21 players on Jan. 1, she will become the first Arizona native to represent the U.S. on an Olympic hockey team. She has taken a year off from playing for Harvard to pursue the dream. The significance does not escape her.
"Girls' hockey has definitely gotten bigger since I was younger," she said, "but it still needs to develop in Arizona, and one day hopefully I can help that process."
This past summer, Lyndsey and her brother drove together from Arizona to Boston, stopping along the way for a two-day stay with the Turgeons in Colorado. Lyndsey and Elisabeth Turgeon still text or call each other almost daily, and Lyndsey has grown closer to Liz's twin sister, Alex, who played volleyball at the University of Denver.
"I can't even imagine not having that relationship," Elisabeth said. "I'm thankful, I really am. Life does go on and people move on, and I'm very grateful Lyndsey is still in my life. I love Lyndsey."
Still, it is not easy, Elisabeth said, to watch Lyndsey's games. She tried once online.
"I was bawling the whole time," she said. "I'm not going to lie, it's hard. This team definitely has a special place in my heart. I know these girls. A lot of them Liz played with and against, and she was dreaming of playing with them again."
Sochi will still be the culmination, and the dream remains the same.
"It was definitely Liz and Lyndsey's dream, something they worked for," she said. "Often the conversation in this house was the two of them talking about being on the Olympic team one day."
The Frys are just glad Lyndsey has found her way again.
"I don't think she'll ever be over the fact that Liz is gone," Doug Fry said, "but now she has reconciled it and said, 'I'm going to go get the dream for us both.' "
For Lyndsey, holding onto a friend's red, white and blue jersey seems to help keep everything in perspective.
"Liz will be in my heart forever, and as far as hockey is concerned, I will always remember the days we played together," she said. "The good thing is, I used to draw the wrong kind of strength from it, anger and frustration, all these negative things, and I put so much pressure on myself. I wanted to go out and score a million goals for her.
"But now I know she's there for me, she has my back and the best we ever played together was when we were having fun with each other, and that's what I try to hold on to. I remember those moments, and that's where my mentality is now."