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U.S. Olympian Anne Schleper practices with Lightning

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- Anne Schleper, a defenseman on the United States women's hockey team that won a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, was all smiles after finishing her practice with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.

The native of St. Cloud, Minn., became the third Olympic women's hockey player to train with an NHL team since the Sochi Games. Schleper's teammate, Hilary Knight, practiced with the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 3 and Canada goalie Shannon Szabados practiced with the Edmonton Oilers in March.

Wearing No. 15, Schleper, 24, was paired with defensemen Eric Brewer and Mark Barberio but moved around to other pairings as practice continued.

"It passed my expectations," Schleper said. "I tried not to have expectations coming in here but it was so fun. The guys were great. It was awesome."

Schleper, who said she began playing hockey when she was 4 years old, conducted street hockey clinics last Saturday as part of the Lightning's participation in the 2014 Girls Hockey Weekend. She was honored with a video tribute and took part in a ceremonial puck drop before the Lightning's game Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

"Just to be around the girls and getting plugged into the community down here was great," Schleper said. "We were playing street hockey on the plaza for about an hour and you could see they were already getting better."

The real fun came Monday when she took instructions from her Lightning teammates for the day and coach Jon Cooper.

"He was working with me on a couple of the drills," Schleper said. "Obviously it was their pregame skate so we were trying to keep it loose and fun. Skating with [Steven] Stamkos was a big thing, and of course [Ryan] Callahan was on the [U.S.] men's Olympic team so it was good to see him."

Cooper said that once Schleper got past her initial nerves she showed her talent.

"She was very active on the ice and asking all of the right questions," Cooper said. "She started a little slow but she quickly gained confidence and really started snapping some passes. I told her to just play her game. The guys wanted to see her best stuff."

Cooper said Schleper's involvement with the Lightning will do positive things for the sport and the effort to reach more girls.

"We're all about the sport here; it's not men's hockey or women's hockey," Cooper said. "When we get on the ice it's the same game on the same rink. Regardless of your sex, race, background, none of that matters when you get to the hockey arena. It was fun for our guys and I'm sure it was a lot of fun for her.

"And if her spending time with us helps 10 girls decide to take up hockey it's a wonderful thing for the sport. I have twin daughters and if they look at this and are like, 'You know what? I'd love to play hockey,' then it’s paying off for us."

Schleper was an All-American at the University of Minnesota, helping the Golden Gophers win the NCAA championship in 2012. She also has played for U.S. three times at the IIHF World Championships, winning goal medals in 2011 and 2013.

The Lightning made history in 1992 when they signed Canadian Olympic goalie Manon Rheaume as a free agent. She played in preseason games in 1992 and 1993, and won a silver medal with Canada in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

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