Julie Chu, Jessie Vetter: last chance to steal Olympic glory from Canada?
As the 2014 Olympics transpire in Sochi this February, this term is going to be thrown around often.
Accomplished. Honorable. Well-rounded. Skilled.
All of these words are part and parcel of what it means to be a ‘model Olympian’.
The other word, though, that is a necessary component of being a complete, model Olympian is ‘winner’.
Chu, who will turn 32 in March, is the longest tenured member of the U.S. team. She is currently participating in her fourth Olympics after winning two silver medals and a bronze in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Games.
Vetter, meanwhile, is the team’s starting goalie, backbone and last line of defense. She is making her second Olympic appearance after guiding the U.S. to within two goals of a gold medal – that eventually went to Canada – at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Vetter’s Olympic debut in 2010 was such a ‘model’ performance that it included a 3-0-0-1 record, a miniscule .50 goals-against average and a near-perfect .982 save percentage – one of the best Olympic performances by a goalie, ever.
And Vetter’s breakout Olympic performance came on the heels of a four-year stretch from 2005-09 when she won three NCAA national championships in four seasons at the University of Wisconsin, and the Patty Kazmaier Award as women’s college hockey’s top player in her senior year.
For Vetter, her college and Olympic accomplishments provide her a career resume where she’s won virtually every personal and team award that it is possible to win...except an Olympic gold medal.
Chu, too, has won the Patty Kazmaier Award and graduated Harvard in 2007 as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s hockey history.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Patty Kazmaier winners on the U.S. women's hockey team
So, it’s basically a full trophy case for Chu, too…except for the absence of an Olympic gold medal.
“It’s something that I haven’t gotten to accomplish yet,” admits Chu. “Nobody on our team has.”
While Chu is correct that no member of the 2014 U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team has ever won a gold medal – the U.S. hasn’t won women’s hockey gold since 1998 – the difference between her and Vetter and the rest of their teammates is the scope of how this void fits into their careers.
Thirty-two-year old Chu and 28-year old Vetter are the two oldest members of the 2014 team. This means that unlike most of their teammates who’d still be in their mid-late 20s when the 2018 Pyeongchang Games arrive, Sochi could conceivably be Vetter’s and Chu’s final chance to scale Mount Olympics.
Embedded video_content_type: Raising an Olympian: Julie Chu
“It’s a huge dream, and a huge goal for all of us,” says Chu. “We’ve been driving hard towards that, especially since 2010 ended.
“That’s our mentality. But, at the same time, there’s a huge process that goes with that, like: ‘this is in front of us, let’s execute what’s in front of us next and how do we make adjustments from one day to the next?’”
For the U.S. women, the most necessary adjustments they’ve had to make have come since last fall. At the time, the U.S. was in the midst of a tailspin that included three straight exhibition losses to Canada, as well as a stunning loss to Finland in the Four Nations Cup tournament last November that was facilitated by a wild 58-save performance by Finnish goalie Noora Raty.
“The first three games (against Canada), we lost to them,” says Chu. “Then, on top of that, we followed that up with a loss to Finland, where their goalie, Noora Raty, stood on her head.
“For us, coming out of the Four Nations Cup, which ended somewhere around the 11th or 12th of November, we needed a bit of a gut check.
“We went back to basics, and working on all the little parts that we were kind of struggling at.
“The next few weeks, heading into the Thanksgiving break, those were probably the toughest weeks we’ve experienced in any season.
“We were pretty exhausted – Thanksgiving break happened and we got a good rest from there. I think when you saw the success in December, that the gap had closed between Canada and us, and we’ve had a lot of success.”
The December success that Chu alludes to was how the U.S. was able to simplify its game and rebound from its three straight losses to Canada by winning each of the final four contests of the teams’ seven-game exhibition series.
The U.S. has built off its December success storming out of the gates in Sochi, hammering Finland and Switzerland by a combined score of 12-1, with its 2-0-0-0 record have already clinched a place for itself in the semifinals.
However, Canada, this Wednesday’s opponent, now looms again. And despite the U.S.’ exhibition success against its northern rivals earlier this winter, it hasn’t won an Olympic game against Canada since Cammi Granato and company delivered a 3-1 win and Olympic gold medals in the final game of the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
Since then, Canada has been the U.S.’ blockade. The gold medal-confiscating mounted police force. The perpetual obstacle.
Embedded video_content_type: SportsDash: Chu, U.S. not afraid to drop gloves
For the U.S., the mission is not just finding a way to beat Canada once, though. Given the format of the 2014 Olympic tournament, the U.S. could face Canada twice in Sochi, meaning that to topple Canada off its perch at the top of the Olympic podium, one win against their rival just may not be enough for the U.S. women.
But, before the U.S. can even think of beating Canada twice at the Olympics, it’ll have to do it once. Its first opportunity will come Wednesday.
For Chu and Vetter, two of the most decorated American women’s hockey players ever, the U.S.’ duel with Canada for gold that commences Wednesday could be its last chance to conquer the nation that is the only gatekeeper left standing in the way of their bids to complete their trophy cases.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Looking at the U.S./Canada women’s hockey rivalry
“We have to be the best version of what we can be and lay our best,” says Chu. “We’ll have to adjust and adapt to whatever they put in front of us.”
In front of them is Canada.
At hand may be their last chance to adapt and take down their nemesis with the world watching.
On the line could be Chu’s and Vetter’s last chances to ever win Olympic gold medals.
And perhaps their one last chance to complete their trophy cases.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Get to know the faces of the U.S. women's hockey team
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