The group that could put 'D' in gold
They come in all shapes and sizes. They range in age from 19 to 26. There are four Gophers, two Cantabs and a Wildcat. Four of the seven are left-handed, and five are rookies. Some are stay-at-home types, while others have a comfort zone beyond the blue line.
The women who play defense for the U.S. hockey team are hard to peg as a unit, but that was part of the alchemy coach Katey Stone and her assistant coach, Bobby Jay, used in their selection process. They wanted defenders with the speed to cover the Olympic ice and the physicality to combat Team Canada, but they also wanted them to be versatile and interchangeable.
"I like an aggressive defense," says Stone, "but Bobby favors a more conservative approach. That dynamic has worked really well."
Whether that alchemy yields gold remains to be seen, but so far, so good. As the Americans head into the semifinals, and a likely rematch against Canada in the final, they know the defense has their back: seven points in their first three games, including a goal and an assist by Anne Schleper in the 3-2 loss to the Canadians.
Jay, a former defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings and assistant men's coach at Harvard, says, "They inspire me -- their humility, their hunger to win gold, their support for one another. They're just great people, seven extraordinary women. I'm honored to be their coach."
While they may not get the attention that the forwards do, the defensemen are used to, and fine with, the anonymity. During the first week in Sochi, Schleper tweeted:
"It's not like we have a nickname or anything," says Megan Bozek, one of the four University of Minnesota defenders on the team. "That's not what we're here for."
But that's what we're here for. Meet the Seven Sisters, the cluster of stars who are helping to guide Team USA to its destination:
Kacey Bellamy (5-foot-7, 145 pounds, age 26, shoots left)
One of the two defenders who played on the 2010 Olympic team, "Bells" shoulders an additional responsibility: she's the only player from the University of New Hampshire, Coach Stone's alma mater. "She occasionally reminds me I have to uphold the Wildcat tradition," says Bellamy, who helped the Boston Blades win the Canadian Women's Hockey League championship last year. She comes from an athletic family; her brothers Rob and Corey are pro hockey players, and her cousin, Jamie Silva, was a safety for the Indianapolis Colts.
Megan Bozek (5-8, 170 pounds, age 22, shoots right)
In 41 games for undefeated national champion Minnesota last season, she scored 20 goals with 37 assists, thanks to the most powerful slap shot in women's hockey. A left-handed thrower, she has delivered ceremonial first pitches for both the Twins and White Sox -- she's from Buffalo Grove, Ill.
Gigi Marvin (5-8, 162 pounds, age 26, shoots right)
Marvin, whose given first name is Gisele, is trying to add to the gold-medal haul for the tiny town of Warroad, Minn., six miles from the Canadian border and the home of Bill Christian, who won hockey gold in Squaw Valley (1960) and his son Dave, a member of the "Miracle on Ice" team. A fellow 2005 Warroad High graduate ... T.J. Oshie.
Marvin, a Gopher like Bozek and a Blade like Bellamy, is not like the player she was on the 2010 Olympic team. She was a forward then, but realizing her chances of making the 2014 team were better on defense, she made the switch. As she told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "It's about putting your whole heart into it and embracing your role. Right now, I'm a D, and I'm embracing it and enjoying it."
Michelle Picard (5-4, 150 pounds, age 20, shoots left)
One of Stone's own Harvard players, "Shelly" has one of the higher hockey IQs on the team: she's always in the right place at the right time.
"Coach Stone is a little different as an Olympic coach than as the Harvard coach," she says. "Here, we're held to an even higher standard, and I enjoy being part of that."
An anthropology major, Picard was able to dabble in zoology while in Sochi. "Nothing like a pregame mouse hunt to get ready for a big game tonight," she recently tweeted.
Josephine Pucci (5-8, 149 pounds, age 23, shoots right)
Another of Stone's Harvard players, Pucci is one of three sisters from Pearl River, N.Y., who play college hockey -- Samantha is at Utica College and Victoria is at Connecticut College.
A year ago, Josephine was a long shot to make the team because of a concussion she sustained while playing against Canada in August 2012. A psychology major, she had to take a leave of absence from school because she had trouble reading, much less playing. "I just learned so much throughout the process," she says. "I was able to appreciate the little things more. I developed a lot more patience."
Jay is especially glad she has recovered. "She has the best first step of anyone on the team," he says.
Anne Schleper (5-10, 170 pounds, age 24, shoots left)
Another Gopher, another Blade, Schleper does bring something special to the defense. "I guess you could say it's physicality," she says. "As you can see, I'm fairly imposing. I also use a very big stick -- I don't even cut it down."
She also walks softly. Says Stone, "Anne's just a solid person, such a high-character kid. And she prepares herself so well. We never have to worry about her preparation or her readiness."
Lee Stecklein (6-foot, 170 pounds, age 19, shoots left)
The youngest, and tallest, member of the Olympic team, Stecklein is from Roseville, Minn., and was bred to be a Gopher. "I knew since I was a little girl," she says.
An All-State tennis player in high school, Stecklein was perhaps the longest shot to make the team given her youth. Her selection even caught her parents a little by surprise. "The night of the selections in North Dakota," she says, "I texted my parents, 'I made it.' But I had to use Alex Carpenter's phone, so they texted me back, 'Who is this?' I wrote, 'It's Lee, I'm on Alex's phone. This is not a joke.'"
Seven Sisters. One purpose.