September 22, 2014

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Olympic hockey goalie Brianne McLaughlin saves her rest for last

Brianne McLaughlin, right, signs autographs for fans with teammate Kelli Stack on Tuesday during halftime at the Cavs game.  McLaughlin, a Sheffield native, returned to the United States as a Olympic Silver Medalist after her run as goalie with the United States Women's Hockey Team. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Brianne McLaughlin, right, signs autographs for fans with teammate Kelli Stack on Tuesday during halftime at the Cavs game. McLaughlin, a Sheffield native, returned to the United States as a Olympic Silver Medalist after her run as goalie with the United States Women’s Hockey Team. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

CLEVELAND — The few minutes Brianne McLaughlin was able to sit down and watch the Cleveland Cavaliers game Tuesday night must have felt like heaven.

The Sheffield native spent the rest of the evening taking pictures, signing autographs, participating in a halftime ceremony and even throwing promotional T-shirts into the crowd.

The hectic schedule was nothing new for the 2005 Elyria Catholic graduate. McLaughlin has been taking part in a whirlwind tour since helping the U.S. women’s hockey team wrap up an Olympic silver medal in Sochi, Russia, last month. She was also a goaltender on the U.S. team that captured silver in Vancouver four years ago.

Brianne McLaughlin waves at the crowd with some of her youngest fans.

Brianne McLaughlin waves at the crowd with some of her youngest fans.

“It’s been kind of crazy since I got home, which I knew was going to happen, because in 2010 I got home and it was see this school, see that school, say hi to this person … but it’s been a blast,” McLaughlin said. “With the Olympics there’s only a certain amount of time that people pay attention, so (teammate) Kelli (Stack) and I take advantage of that and get involved in whatever we can.”

The pair joined 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu (gymnastics) and Linda Johanek, the executive director of the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center, during a halftime ceremony Tuesday where they were honored by Carolyn Brown, wife of Cavs coach Mike Brown. They were participating in a Ladies Night Out promotion.

“I always tell my daughter I wish I was her,” said Briant McLaughlin, who was the quarterback on EC’s 1976 state championship football team. “Every weekend, every week she’s traveling somewhere. Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, Pittsburgh … she’s everywhere.”

The travel is just part of the chaos. McLaughlin doesn’t make things easier on herself as she continues to juggle a multitude of lifestyle balls.

Kelli Stack, left, and Brianne McLaughlin are introduced at the Cavs game on Tuesday night. SHAUN BENNETT/CHRONICLE

Kelli Stack, left, and Brianne McLaughlin are introduced at the Cavs game on Tuesday night. SHAUN BENNETT/CHRONICLE

She recently completed her nursing degree at Robert Morris — “I just haven’t used it yet,” she said — she continues to compete internationally on the ice, she is starting her own company — Brianne McLaughlin’s Gold Medal Goalie Training in Pittsburgh — in two weeks and she got married last summer.

“I was married for about three weeks and had to go away,” she said. “Getting married and leaving my husband for seven months was tough. So I’m enjoying that right now, just being home and seeing (husband Logan Bittle) every day.

“But that’s everybody … everybody puts their life on hold for this.”

McLaughlin’s been sacrificing since ending her stellar collegiate hockey career at Robert Morris, where she set the NCAA record with 3,809 career saves. She immediately joined the national team and has won three gold medals — at the 4 Nations Cup in 2011 and the World Championships in 2011 and ’13 — and three silvers — the two Olympics and the 2012 World Championships.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” her father said. “She’s worked hard, and we’re enjoying it. Russia was amazing, Vancouver was wonderful … the whole experience has been surreal. Going all the way to Russia just to watch your kid play hockey is really awesome.”

McLaughlin has made a career out of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of playing for the USA … and she’s only 26 years old.

Brianne McLaughlin signs autographs during the Cavs game on Tuesday night.

Brianne McLaughlin signs autographs during the Cavs game on Tuesday night.

“In 2010, that was my rookie year and I knew right away that I wasn’t going to be able to play or anything like that,” she said of the Vancouver games. “This time I was a veteran, so there comes a lot of responsibility with that. We wanted that gold medal. We did everything we were supposed to do. We trained really, really hard. We played really, really hard. Everyone played 100 percent in that gold medal game, but for whatever reason it just didn’t go our way. So this time, it hurt a lot more but we had a lot more fun … if those two things can even go together.”

The ever-so-close brush with the Olympic gold medal was enough to have McLaughlin thinking the third time might be the charm.

“Yeah, I knew that I wanted to do two Olympics for sure. The third one, if it happens, that’ll be like a bonus,” she said. “Four years at this point, I realize is a long time to commit to. But I’m going to for sure keep training and I’ll go year by year, and I want to keep playing.

“It’s the coolest experience ever, so I’ll keep playing as long as they want me there and as long as my life permits.”

McLaughlin said the national team will get back together in August to start training for the 4 Nations in November and the World Championships in April.

Until then, she’ll stay busy and try to make it back to Lorain County as often as possible to see her family and friends.

“Most of the time when she comes home, she just wants to lay on the couch,” her father said.

It’s a well-deserved rest.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @ShaunBennettct.