|Brianne McLaughlin and Team USA look to secure the gold medal when they face Canada at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
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Lost in the success of the United States Men’s Olympic Hockey team at the 2010 Vancouver Games is the U.S. Women’s team running through their bracket. Led by head coach and former Penguin Mark Johnson, the American Women had a pretty good showing themselves, taking home a silver medal on Thursday night.
It’s pretty safe to say that everyone knows Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
and Upper St. Clair native Ryan Malone are playing for the Men’s squad, but you might not know Pittsburgh is represented on the Women’s team as well – unless you have caught one of four area billboards featuring her likeliness.
Brianne McLaughlin, a 22-year-old Robert Morris University graduate is one of three goaltenders for the U.S. team. Throughout her Olympic experience, McLaughlin’s up-to-the-minute tweets from her twitter account, BrianneMcL
, have been displayed on billboards around the city, sponsored by RMU.
Her most recent tweet was shortly before Thursday's Gold Medal Game, and it said “Game time...”
With a silver medal around her neck, McLaughlin talked about how thrilling her experience has been. She made her Olympic debut in a 12-1 U.S. victory over China in the preliminary round on Feb. 14.
McLaughlin says the Olympic environment has been thrilling up to this point, both on and off the ice. While she enjoys the many thrills away from the rink, she hopes just being in this atmosphere allows her game to continue to grow.
“It is so much faster,” McLaughlin said. “Everybody is the best of the best. It is definitely cool. It makes you feel better playing with this quality of players. Hopefully it has helped me get better.
“I just want the experience. I enjoy spending time in the Olympic Village and going out and getting to meet new people and the other athletes.”
McLaughlin, who hails from Sheffield Village, Ohio, becomes the first Robert Morris player to represent the U.S. in international competition. She hopes one day more players can follow in her footsteps as the school’s fledgling Men’s and Women’s programs continue to establish themselves on a national scale.
|Team USA's Brianne McLaughlin makes a save against China on Feb. 14. |
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“I am the first person to come out of Robert Morris and make an Olympic team so I think that is kind of neat,” she said. “It shows you that you can kind of come from anywhere. You don’t have to come from Minnesota or Wisconsin. Sometimes they do look at smaller school, so hopefully that will give other kids an incentive.”
McLaughlin says it is tough work being an Olympian, but this is also a girl who grew up playing hockey with boys prior to joining the Colonials. When she began playing against other girls at college, she quickly rose to the cream of the crop.
During her four-year career with RMU from 2005-09, McLaughlin set an NCAA Division I record by stopping 3,809 of the 4,188 shots she faced, a gaudy .910 save percentage.
McLaughlin has seen no where near that amount of rubber this season with the National Team, but she credits having to make all those stops, which included a 63-save effort in a 3-2 upset of No. 3 ranked Minnesota in the ’08-09 season opener, with helping her development.
“It is kind of weird here being on a stronger team where you don’t get as many teams,” McLaughlin said. “Seeing a ton of shots helps you get practice and allows you to get in a groove.”
As Robert Morris went through the infancy phases of building their Women’s program, McLaughlin served as the backbone of the team. She secured All-CHA Second Team honors as both a freshman and sophomore, then made the First Team her junior and senior seasons.
“She had a wonderful career at Robert Morris and won a lot of games for them,” Johnson said. “She saw a lot of shots when she played there. Brianne is somewhat of a surprise to people who don’t follow women’s hockey when they look at where she came from, but she put herself in a position to make the team. She has been a great addition to our group.”
McLaughlin first got involved in USA Hockey as a 14-year-old when she tried out for a development team in her Mid-Am District. Following that experience, she said she didn’t hear from USA Hockey again until her junior year in college.
“After my junior year I got an email that they were holding a tryout for the Under-22 Team,” McLaughlin said. “They were going to have a three-game series against Canada. I was invited to the tryout. There were four goalies, but I ended up making the team.
|Brianne McLaughlin set an NCAA Women's Division I record with 3,809 saves at Robert Morris University. |
Credit - Getty Images
“We went up to Montreal and played the Canadians for three games. Throughout the year they played some more tournaments but I hadn’t really heard from them so I thought I was done with hockey after my senior year at Robert Morris.”
Instead, her career had yet to reach its highest peak. She received another email from USA Hockey, this time telling her she was one of five netminders chosen to try out for the 2010 Women’s Olympic Team.
McLaughlin quickly got herself back into the weight room to prepare for her big opportunity. When tryouts came last summer, she made sure not to let the chance of a lifetime slip away.
“The whole week was stressful and anxious,” McLaughlin said. “I didn’t get much sleep that week. I was really excited when they called my name. There were 40 kids in the room but only 22 made it, so you couldn’t be that excited. I didn’t really know a whole lot of the girls in the room at the time.
“I was new and I really didn’t know how it worked. Angela Ruggiero, one of the older players, came up to me and said, ‘Goalie you are going to the Olympics.’ I didn’t realize they were going to carry three goalies all the way through the Olympics. That was an extra surprise I guess.”
With a silver medal to her credit, McLaughlin made both RMU and the city of Pittsburgh proud on Thursday night.