UW Health Sports Medicine 

Golden Goals: Decker, Pavelski skate into Sochi with high hopes


First appeared in Varsity

Feb. 6, 2014



n Jan. 27, Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made a key third period stop on Joe Pavelski, one of the hottest scorers in the National Hockey League. Quick’s save helped preserve a 1-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks. In a couple of weeks, Quick and Pavelski would be teammates.

Such is the melting pot that is Olympic hockey.

Whereas the 29-year-old Pavelski will be joining Team USA for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, two of his San Jose teammates, Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be playing for Team Canada while a fourth Sharks representative, Antti Niemi, will skate for Team Finland.

“When the puck drops, you want to compete,” said Pavelski, a member of the 2010 Olympic team that won a silver medal in Vancouver. “Your competitive juices just take over.”

In December, the United States and Canadian women’s national teams brawled during an exhibition game in Grand Forks, N.D. Hilary Knight was one of five USA players who received fighting majors. Meaghan Mikkelson was one of five Canadian players who were likewise penalized.

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Knight and Mikkelson each won two national championships at Wisconsin.

“There’s a lot at stake,” said 22-year-old Team USA forward Briana Decker, who was raised in Dousman and played on the 2011 UW team that won the NCAA title. “It gets physical out there. The players don’t want to lose. That’s the main thing, that’s why it gets a little rowdy.”

A little rowdy? The women brawled not once, but twice during their exhibition tour. They also brawled in 2010. “They’ve won the gold medal for the last how many Olympics (three)? And we haven’t won since ’98,” said Decker, who’s a rookie to the Winter Games. “It’s everyone’s goal to win the gold.”

Such is the competitive fire when you’re representing your country.

“That’s what the Olympics bring. It was cool being a part of Team USA (in Vancouver),” said Pavelski, who had three assists in six games. “You work hard to hopefully get recognized over your career and to play and perform for your country on a stage like that, it’s pretty special.”

Wisconsin will be well-represented on the Olympic hockey rosters in Sochi.

Joining Pavelski will be defenseman Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and forward Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers. Another former Badger forward, Tony Granato, currently an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins, will be an assistant coach with the Americans.

“When you step on the ice wearing that sweater, you get a little nervous,” Decker said. “But they’re good butterflies. It’s a great feeling that you can’t compare with anything else.”

“For anyone who was at the UW, you felt like it was a pretty special place,” said Pavelski, a second-team All-American in 2006 when he helped lead the Badgers to the NCAA title, “and when you see all these guys come out of there and playing in the NHL -- along with some of them now being on the Olympic team -- it’s a nice feeling that we have together.”

Joining Decker and Knight on the women’s roster will be Meghan Duggan and goaltender Jessie Vetter. In 2010, Knight, Duggan and Vetter were on the silver-medal winning team that lost in the Vancouver finals to Canada and was coached by Mark Johnson, an Olympic icon from 1980.

“It’s awesome to have four of us on the team. It shows the depth of our program,” said Decker. “I remember watching the Olympics in Vancouver and seeing a lot of my friends come up short of their goal. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a kid and I always wanted to somehow help win the gold.”

Asked to describe her emotions when she has donned the USA sweater for exhibitions or international competition, Decker said, “When you step on the ice wearing that sweater, you get a little nervous. But they’re good butterflies. It’s a great feeling that you can’t compare with anything else.”

Since early September, Decker has been living and training with the national team in Bedford, Mass., a 30-minute drive from Boston. Katey Stone has taken a year’s leave of absence from her head coaching position at Harvard University to coach the Olympians, the first female to do so.

“When the puck drops, you want to compete,”
Pavelski said.“Your competitive juices just take over.”

“Our team chemistry is awesome right now,” Decker said. “We have all gravitated around the team-first mentality -- putting others before yourself. It’s a little different without Mark (Johnson). But a lot of the things that he has taught me I’ve kept with me.”

Knight and Duggan have been playing with the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. “Hilary has always been an enforcer and she’s a lot stronger than she was in college, which is hard to believe because she was such a beast,” said Decker. “She’s playing the best I’ve seen actually.

“Meghan is a captain and it’s well-deserved. She’s very humble and very positive. She’s one of the most consistent players on the team. You can always rely on her work ethic.”

Decker saved some of her highest praise for Vetter, the Cottage Grove native. “She’s unbelievable,” she said. “She makes things really easy in the D-zone. She can stop the puck like no one else I know. It’s awesome that we have her back there and our team has so much confidence in her.”

Decker has considerable experience in World Championships. But she’s anxiously looking forward to the Olympic arena and Team USA’s opening matchup against Finland on Feb. 8 in Sochi. Decker’s mom and dad and three brothers are planning on making the trip to Russia.

Decker said that her family didn’t have reservations about traveling there despite some concerns that have been expressed about security. “I know a couple of girls who are playing in Russia,” she said, “and they say it’s a great experience. Our team really hasn’t talked about that (security).

“We’re just focused on getting over there and competing for the gold medal.”

Pavelski’s wife will be going, but not his parents. “They will be home cheering,” he said. “I know some people are staying back because of it (potential security issues). But it’s really out of our control. We’re expecting the Russians to put on a great Olympics.”

What can Pavelski take from Vancouver that might have application in Sochi? “Obviously just the whole experience of being in the Olympics -- just going through it (once),” he said. “The locker room (setup) might not be ideal, your stretch area might not be ideal.

“There are different things where you’re not going to have what you’re kind of used to (in the NHL), so you just have to be flexible and when game time comes you have to be ready. You have to take as much as you can from your normal routine and find a way to get it done.”

Pavelski, who had 28 goals through his first 53 games with the Sharks (his career high is 31), is focused, for now, on playing out the rest of the schedule before the NHL breaks for the Olympics. The league will not stage any games between Saturday and Feb. 24.

San Jose will play Columbus on Friday and Pavelski will fly to Sochi on Sunday. Team USA will open play against Slovakia on Feb. 13. It’s going to be a whirlwind. “Having already played on the same team (in Vancouver) with a lot of these guys,” he said, “you’ve gotten to know them a little better.”

Pavelski can speak for Decker when he says “we want to do better than a silver medal.”

That’s the gold, or rather the goal.

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