Pearl River's Josephine Pucci savoring early Olympic experience on eve of first game

SOCHI, Russia

As the charter plane carrying the U.S. women’s hockey team made its final approach to the Sochi airport on Sunday, the splendor of the Winter Olympics right below left the players awestruck.

“We were right next to the Black Sea, the venues, the buildings, and we were just blown away,” said Pearl River’s Josephine Pucci, a Team USA defenseman. “It was just incredible. We were all, like, ‘Wow, this is going to be amazing.’

“You don’t always fly right over the place where you’ll be performing on the world’s biggest stage.”

Let the dreams begin.

The quest for hockey gold begins Saturday morning (3 a.m. EST) when the Americans play Finland at Shayba Arena.

Time has flown. In some ways, it seems like only last week that the players were gathering in Boston to begin their bonding and pre-Olympic tour. It was actually Sept. 1.

“We’ve been preparing for this for so long,” said Pucci, who is making her Olympic debut. “It does seem like yesterday, but it also does seem like it has been such a long stretch of practice and preparation.”

Pucci has been dreaming about this moment a whole lot longer, too. Like all the way back to 2005, when she scrawled in her eighth-grade graduation yearbook at St. Margaret’s Parochial School that her goal in life was to be an Olympian.

“There’s no NHL for us, so from a young age you sort of know the Olympics are the biggest thing,” Pucci said. “And now they’re here.”

She watched the Winter Olympics from Turin, Italy, in 2006, when she was a freshman at Choate Rosemary Hall and from Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010, when she was a freshman at Harvard.

The Americans settled for bronze in 2006 after Sweden pulled the stunning semifinal upset. In 2010, Team USA lost to Canada in the gold-medal game.

“I remember watching and thinking it was just so cool that women’s ice hockey was on TV,” Pucci said.

She’s now the one who will be in the spotlight with her teammates; they’re the role models for teenage girls who are playing hockey.

Younger players should pay attention to Pucci, according to Team USA coach Katey Stone.

“She plays with a lot of jam, she shoots the puck like a son of a gun and she plays physical,” Stone said.

The players chose not to march during Friday’s opening ceremonies. They couldn’t justify taking part in the outdoor gala when they will need to be at the rink about 10 hours after the pageantry ends.

So, as magnificent as Sochi looked from the air, and as surreal it may seem to be meeting athletes from other sports and countries, the players know they need to keep their mind on hockey.

“The key is to not be distracted by all the glitter,” Pucci said. “We’re here to have fun, but we have a job to do.”

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