The Best Game You're Not Watching.
Name: Brianna Decker
Hometown: Dousman, WI
Collegiate Sports: University of Wisconsin, 2012 Patty Kazmaier Award Winner- Awarded to the best female ice hockey player at the NCAA D1 level, 2011 NCAA Tournament Champion.
Professional Sports: 2018 Olympic Games Gold Medalist, 2014 Olympic Games Silver Medalist, USA National Team 2007-present, 2016 NWHL Isobel Cup Champion, 2015 CWHL Clarkson Cup Champion, Boston Blades (CWHL), Boston Pride (NWHL).
“The Olympics aren’t just every four years. They are every day!”
This motto is a daily reminder for us that what we do is not just a part time gig. It’s a way of life. Like the professional men’s game, this is our job. Sadly, most people only pay attention to our sport every four years. Most people have no clue what we do in between Olympic years. The impression is that we just lace up or skates a few months before the Games and once they’re over, we go back to our everyday lives. My intention is not compare the men’s and women’s games, they are different sports with their own unique challenges, but rather to provide an inside look at women’s hockey and some of the lives women like me lead.
You likely won’t see much about professional or Olympic women’s hockey until about six months leading up to the Olympic Games. We take advantage of the spotlight of the Olympics to promote our sport. You might see us glammed up for things like ESPN’s The Body Issue, or geared up for Dunkin’ Donuts commercials, but what you don’t see is the time and effort we put into our training and competition every single day. Despite our low profile, we follow a similar schedule to the NHL and IIHF.
Some of the hockey world understands that we compete in the World Championships every spring and have a chance to bring home a gold medal every year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this tournament, the same fire and excitement that we bring every four years at the Olympic Games, actually happens every April!
When sports fans ask me about my experiences, they almost always want to talk about this year’s Olympic gold medal game. We beat Canada in a shootout to win the Gold, a feat that hadn’t happened for twenty years. You may recall Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s fake shot, backhand, forehand move to go ahead, followed by Maddie Rooney’s cherry-on-top save to cap off her gold medal performance. Or they want to talk about our heartbreak loss four years ago in Sochi. I’m sure you can imagine how much better gold felt after 2014’s loss. Trust me, Pyeongchang was an unbelievable experience and I will forever be proud of what we accomplished. But what I really wish people would talk about is how Team USA has won eight of the last ten world championships; nearly each being decided by one goal in regulation or a shootout. Needless to say, if you enjoyed watching us win gold this past February, you might be missing out on some outstanding hockey every April!
(Brianna and teammate Kacey Bellamy)
National and Olympic team aside, most of us are often asked, “So, what do you do once you are out of college? Do you just play for USA or is there a pro league?” Well, there are a few options once we finish our college careers. No, not everyone has to play for Team USA (or Team Canada). And yes, there are professional leagues. There are actually two in North America. One is Canadian based, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the other is the US based, the National Women’s Hockey League. Uniquely, I have had the opportunity to play in both leagues. I wouldn’t say there is a difference of talent between the leagues, the deciding factor between leagues is based strictly on preference.
Regardless of the league, the daily training schedule for both national team players and non-national team players is similar to any professional athlete. For the non-national team players, most work 9-5 jobs. Talk about long days! Sometime around their job they have to add a 90 minute practice at night, twice a week, workout three to four times before or after their job, and play one or two games on the weekend. Like travel for ECHL and AHL games, we often arrive via bus. I’m sure some of you know, travel in these leagues isn’t always the easiest. Tacking an eight hour bus ride onto an already hectic weekly schedule, demands commitment and sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good team bonding bus ride. In high school at Shattuck St. Mary’s, we would take 24 hour bus rides across the U.S. Thankfully, after these long trips we weren’t expected to train the next day or get up for work the morning after. Our bodies were young and we could handle lack of sleep. We were kids! The non-national team players who work Monday-Friday, often have to start their Monday on one hour of sleep in their own bed because the other six hours of the night were spent bouncing around the back of a bus somewhere between a state of sleep and consciousness. I have to give a huge shoutout to these women. I respect them so much and it amazes me how they do this week after week. Talk about love of the game... So impressive!
National team players are able to treat the game as our full time job. We add in extra skill sessions and longer off-ice workouts given our extra time. On top of added training, we have national team commitments that require us to keep our schedule more open.
I hope you understand, I am not complaining or trying make people feel bad for our hard weeks of training and the constant grind. This is what we signed up and it goes with the territory. We openly make these sacrifices to play the game we love. My intent is to simply make you aware that we are no different from any other professional athlete. Some may think playing a sport for a living is all sunshine and rainbows. Others may wonder why we choose to make the sacrifices that we do. Either way, I hope I have given you a glimpse into the current state of women’s pro hockey life.
Ideally, I would love to see just one professional league for women’s hockey in the near future. I believe we can have sellout crowds at NHL venues. Ok, now I know what some of you are thinking… “Yea, good one Decker. Sellout crowds at NHL venues? Get real. It’s women’s hockey.” Hey. I am being real. I think we can. We do it every four years at the Olympics. Why can’t we do it every weekend? Almost every woman who plays on the Canadian or USA National Team, plays on one these professional teams. That same talent, the one that put you on the edge of your seat last February from Pyeongchang, competes every single weekend during the season.
The game is growing every day and I hope you will join me in being an advocate for our game, supporting both men and women. As national team players, we understand it is our duty to lead the way. We are going to continue push for more and prove it to you that we deserve it.
We can play.