EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part story chronicling the journey of Robert Morris strength and conditioning coach Jeremy Hoy’s trip to Russia with the United States under-18 Women’s National Team at the 2018 World Championships. The first part can be found here.
The cultural differences of being in Russia was certainly an adjustment for the United States women’s national team. But playing arch-rival Canada in a pivotal game, well that was expected.
After embracing the culture and spending time away from the rink, all the focus shifted back to the semifinal matchup. They would be facing off against rival Canada, with the winner moving on to play for gold. The dynamic between the teams at that level was unique. They stayed in the same hotel, and their locker rooms were side by side in the rink.
Staff and players exchanged friendly hellos throughout the week, which can be expected especially for players who may one day wear the same jersey at the NCAA level. However, when it came down to it, the teams played in what Hoy calls the most intense game he’s ever been a part of.
USA was down by two going into the third period. Roughly six minutes passed and then they scored two goals in three minutes, and the game eventually went to overtime. After a scoreless ten minutes, they headed to a shootout.
“That was pretty intense, he recalled. “I’m not going to lie, it was a pretty intense game. Fortunately we did come out in the shootout and win. To put Makenna Webster (out there), the one who ended up getting that last shootout goal, she is 15 years old, that’s a lot of pressure.
“You could feel the tension in the air after that game. They were upset and we celebrating but they were still very professional congratulating us and wishing us the best of luck in the next game and we did the same to them.”
USA then proceeded to the gold medal game, facing off against Sweden. In group play, USA won a tight game against the Swedes 2-1 despite outshooting them 59-13. That was the team’s first game of the tournament, and they were really getting their legs under them and developing chemistry.
The team’s growth from that point was evident in the gold medal game. USA was firing on all cylinders and went on to win 9-3 over Sweden clinching the gold. Having watched most of the game up on a balcony with other staff members, Hoy moved down to the bench as the game neared its end. He then was able to witness and experience the emotions of winning gold.
“Within the last couple minutes of the game and you’re down there, you can feel the energy,” he reflected. “Looking across the bench there is an array of emotions. Some girls have been there, it’s their third year, and some girls it’s their first year but they are older so it’s the last year on that team. Their emotional reaction was almost like that of a senior in college or high school. Their last time with that team, their last chance. A little different emotional reaction to the girls that are 15 and might have another two years.
“There was a lot of energy and a lot of excitement, even among the coaching staff. It was pretty neat. The Russian organization did an excellent job. They had confetti flying, and they made sure it was a great experience for the girls.”
The celebration and ceremonies were finalized by a moment that came after every victory, the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. This is something consistent with International play, and something that Hoy really enjoyed throughout the tournament. The success of the team allowed for that moment to happen many times, and just made it all that much more enjoyable.
“They play the winning team’s national anthem after every game, so I got to hear our National Anthem five times, we went 5-0 over there, so that was pretty cool,” he remarked.
The journey for the team, progressing from the mini training camp in Tampa to eventually getting gold medals placed around their necks was remarkable to watch. The team grew from a bunch of individuals into a cohesive unit, a family, that was able to achieve their ultimate goal.
Having witnessed the whole process, there is a lot that Hoy was able to learn from a coaching perspective that he can now utilize with his teams. Part of this was team building, like observing how head coach Joel Johnson (a coach at the University of Minnesota) showed the girls that they could really be themselves, allowing themselves to really get to know each other and bond.
While the teams at RMU are admittedly close already, there are principles that he observed from the process of building a family in just three weeks that he will look to implement going forward. On top of this, there was a lot from a performance perspective that he learned and will look to put into action.
“I was learning some stuff from the training staff on the different types of stretching and activation stuff which was pretty cool,” he said. “So there was that end of it which I though was pretty cool. And having some extra responsibilities in the nutrition department, I got to talk to the dietitians that work within the USOC and kind of learn more about their guidelines and what they look for when they travel, when they don’t travel, and I think that’s stuff that I definitely want to try to implement with the teams I have here.”
At the Women’s U-18 level, the World Championships are the marquee event for each team. Therefore, this is the last time that this particular team will play together. Some will move on to college, and others will be invited to compete for a spot on next year’s squad.
The opportunity to be a part of this team is one that Hoy is very thankful for.
“Overall it was a really cool experience, I am looking forward to seeing what’s next, and hopefully being a part of that as well,” he shared. “I really enjoyed my time with the team.”
Hoy was able to expand his network and make new connections within the sports performance and hockey worlds. He learned new techniques and best practices that he can implement with his teams moving forward. He was able to explore a country he had never been to before and witness a unique culture.
In the end though, Hoy was able to witness and experience the growth of a team that achieved the ultimate goal for an international tournament, which was truly the icing on the cake.
“I think winning the gold medal makes that experience that much better,” he said. “I think if we wouldn’t have won the gold, it wouldn’t have been as fun. That’s usually the way it works.”