April 23, 2014

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Elyria Catholic grad Brianne McLaughlin, other goalies on U.S. women’s hockey team put egos aside, focus on winning

US goalie Brianne McLaughlin, an Elyria Catholic grad, catches a puck during a practice session ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

US goalie Brianne McLaughlin, an Elyria Catholic grad, catches a puck during a practice session ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

SOCHI, Russia — Everyone is happy in Goalie World.

U.S. goaltender Jesse Vetter helped the United States earn a spot in the Olympic women’s hockey semifinals with two wins in the round-robin. Backup Molly Schaus pitched in by shutting out Switzerland, but will be back on the bench for today’s semifinal against Switzerland.

Brianne McLaughlin

Brianne McLaughlin

And No. 3 goalie Brianne McLaughlin, a former Sheffield resident and Elyria Catholic graduate, might just have the hardest job of all: maintaining a good attitude, supporting her friends and staying ready even though she’s yet to play at the Sochi Games.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be teammates for six years. We’ve developed a friendship,” Schaus said. “Obviously, everyone wants to play and everyone wants to be that person. … But you get to put on this jersey, and you do it with pride, and you want to win. So you do whatever the team needs to be successful.”

Like any collection of all-stars, the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team brings together players who were standouts on their previous teams and forces them into a new role. And for the goalies, the change is dramatic: An athlete accustomed to playing virtually every minute of every game might not play at all, instead sitting on the bench, working the door during player changes and just being ready in case of injury or calamity.

“It’s different, for sure,” said McLaughlin, who was also the No. 3 goalie, backing up Vetter and Schaus, on the U.S. team that won the silver medal in Vancouver. “You have your days, but the fact that the three of us get along make it better.”

McLaughlin has a good enough resume to start for almost any other women’s hockey team in the world, setting an NCAA record with 3,809 saves at Robert Morris College.

But in the United States — which, along with Canada, is one of the two true powers in women’s hockey — the competition is fierce.

Vetter was a three-time NCAA champion at Wisconsin — the Badgers lost in the title game her junior year — who won the 2009 Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in college hockey. In her first year in college, she posted back-to-back shutouts in the Frozen Four and was the first freshman and first goalie to be named the tournament’s outstanding player.

Schaus was a two-time finalist for the Kazmaier Award when she was at Boston College and was the 2012 Goalie of the Year in the professional Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

But she has only managed to get in one game so far in Sochi, just like she did in Vancouver.

“I think the teams that win in the end are the ones that accept their roles — including the goalies,” said Robb Stauber, who as the goaltending coach for the U.S. women’s team is the king of what the players call “Goalie World.” “I see it as my responsibility to make sure that no matter who is called on, they are ready.”

Stauber said the three goalies all have different styles and different personalities: Vetter is unflappable, Schaus is analytical and McLaughlin is the most athletic.

“I view her as the perfect employee,” Stauber, who was the top player in college hockey in 1988 at Minnesota and played briefly in the NHL, said of McLaughlin. “You make a suggestion to her, and her first words are, ‘I can do that.’”

The Olympic round-robin works against the idea of goalies sharing the work, pitting the Americans against the other top teams in the world. They were guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals, and with two wins they clinched a bye that put them in the semis.

But because goalies say they need to play to stay sharp, coach Katey Stone chose to play Vetter twice — against Finland and archrival Canada — while giving Schaus the start against Switzerland.

“You’ve got to park your ego,” Stone said. “This is not about you. You have to embrace your role and really mean it. They have a tremendous respect for each other. It takes a lot of headache away from coaches when you’ve got three kids that have played at such a high level.”

Even better, the three goalies have been able to maintain a friendship off the ice, playing cribbage together and pingpong with the families they lived with at the team’s training camp outside of Boston. McLaughlin also likes to crochet, and they often go out to eat together or as a team with the players Vetter calls “our shooters.”

“Twenty-one girls in the same room, together all the time. You can imagine how that can be. But we’re cheering each other on all the time,” McLaughlin said. “It’s such a cool thing to be a part of. Even just to be here is an honor, so you try to enjoy it as much as you can.”

Follow Jimmy Golen on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/jgolen.