The day that Pearl River’s Josephine Pucci has longed for and devoted most of her energy toward has arrived.
It’s gold-medal time.
She and her United States women’s hockey teammates will battle arch-rival Canada at noon EST today in a championship matchup that was practically a foregone conclusion at these Winter Olympics.
“It’s a game that we’ve all kind of dreamed about our whole lives,” Pucci, a 23-year-old defenseman, said Wednesday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome practice rink. “We’ve also been kind of visualizing the last few months — not that we were looking ahead, but you want to be prepared for anything. It’s unbelievable. I think we’re just exited to get out there.”
Silver will be no consolation for the U.S., which is seeking its first Olympic gold medal since the initial one awarded in women’s hockey, in 1998 at Nagano.
Pucci was 7 then, which illustrates just how long the U.S. gold-medal drought has been in women’s hockey. She is as determined as anyone to end it.
“I feel like we’ve felt ready to go for a while,” Pucci said. “We’re just excited it’s finally here. We’ve been working hard since September, just practicing hard, at scrimmages, mental preparation, everything.”
The U.S. is coming off a 6-1 semifinal thumping of Sweden on Monday. Canada took the ice immediately after that game and defeated Switzerland 3-1 in the other semifiinal.
Canada beat the U.S. in the 2002 and 2010 Olympic finals. The Americans have won four of the last five world championships over the Canadians, with Pucci playing on the last two, a win and a loss.
Canada defeated Team USA 3-2 last week in Olympic group play.
Team USA’s defensemen weren’t really tested by Sweden, which managed nine shots for the game. They will be by Canada, which plays as physically as the women’s game allows. There were fights in two recent U.S.-Canada games.
“We have to play simple, and we have to play our game,” said Pucci, who has one assist in the Olympics. “We have a system as a team, and we have to abide by that and do the little things right. There’s going to be a lot going on, and I think we all have confidence in what we want to do. The biggest thing is make the simple plays, do them well, knowing when to dump (the puck), knowing when to puck possess. Our forwards are fast, so we’ll use that to our advantage. Back on ‘D,’ we have to transition quick.
“I think the biggest thing for us is to hold our ground and play our game.”
Perspective is also part of Pucci’s mind-set. She suffered a severe concussion in an August 2012 game against Canada and needed a year to recover. It cost Pucci her senior year at Harvard and forced her to take a long break from the U.S. national team. She returned last fall and regained her spot on Team USA.
The Olympic experience has made everything worthwhile for Pucci.
“It’s been unbelievable,” she said. “Living in the (Olympic) village is great. It’s cool meeting other athletes from Team USA. So many languages, backgrounds, everybody in one dining hall. It’s pretty cool.”
Best of all, her time in Sochi could end with a golden moment.
“The U.S. and Canada have met many times since 2010, and the rivalry continues to grow,” Pucci said. “This is kind of where the journey ends for this (four-year period). It’s kind of what I’ve always been fighting for.”