SUNRISE, Fla. - A little less than three weeks after helping the U.S. women's hockey team capture its first Olympic gold medal in 20 years, defenseman Emily Pfalzer dropped the ceremonial first puck before the Florida Panthers hosted the New York Rangers at BB&T Center on Saturday.
Pfalzer's longtime boyfriend, Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson, took the opening face-off.
"It's awesome," Pfalzer said. "It's amazing to share this with Mike and the Florida Panthers organization. It was pretty special… It was a group effort for our team. Just to be celebrated and to grow women's hockey has been amazing."
Pfalzer, a native of Buffalo, New York, played in five games at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games, posting a plus-five rating. In the gold-medal game, the 24-year-old registered three shots while skating 28:06 over the course of a team-high 45 shifts to help Team USA defeat Team Canada 3-2 in a thrilling six-round shootout.
"It was amazing," Pfalzer said. "To win it in a shootout was thrilling and crazy and so many emotions going through us. It was awesome."
For Pfalzer, Sunrise is the second-to-last stop on a long media tour that began on Feb. 26. With her USA teammates, she previously visited Tampa, Washington, D.C., and New York City for a multitude of media opportunities, including guest spots on Ellen and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
"It was all amazing," said Pfalzer, who plans to head home to Buffalo next. "We met Serena and Venus Williams. That was pretty cool. We saw them live and we were courtside. It was awesome to see them do what they do best."
Since Team USA's return, Pfalzer said she's also noticed a spike in interest in the sport.
"We've been to a couple of different cities and a couple of moms have come up to us and told us their daughters are now going to play hockey," Pfalzer said. "That's what really means a lot to us."
Long before her rise to stardom at the Olympics, Pfalzer attended Boston College, where she became the first women's hockey defender in the school's history to record at least 100 points over the course of her career.
It was also at BC where she met Matheson, who suited up for the BC's men's hockey squad.
A native of Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Matheson cheered on Pfalzer from afar, tuning into the action in South Korea whenever he could, despite a difficult 14-hour time difference that caused him to make quite a few adjustments to his usual sleep schedule.
"I was kind of always staying up a little late or waking up early," said Matheson, who is in his second full season with the Panthers. "It was well worth it."
As for the gold-medal game, which ended after 2 a.m. in South Florida, Matheson, who had to get ready to play the Washington Capitals the next day, said he made sure to get a lot of rest earlier in the afternoon in order to be able to stay up late and watch Pfalzer one last time.
"It's super exciting for her and the rest of her teammates," Matheson said. "It's been her dream ever since she was a little girl playing on the outdoor rink. It's super cool that she's been able to accomplish this, and I think it's nice the Panthers want to honor her."
When asked about holding the medal, Matheson said its weight reflected Pfalzer's dedication.
"It's definitely a medal worthy of the amount of work she put in for it," he said.