- FUN FEATURES
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Draped in red, white, and blue apparel, the United States women's national ice hockey team was excited for the Opening Ceremony of the 25th Winter World University Games. Most members of the team had never been to Erzurum, Turkey nor were they ready for the live spectacle prepared for them in Cemal Gursel Stadium. The main theme of the performance was the Anatolian Civilization.
“That was amazing,” said Pennsylvania State University (Happy Valley) sophomore defenseman Lindsay Reihl, a 2009 Cheshire High School graduate. “We all marched out there with the rest of the athletes from the United States. The (open) stadium was packed and everybody was cheering. It was like 50,000 people. We were on the big screen. I felt like a celebrity.”
Reihl (pictured left; courtesy of USA Hockey) had seen Opening Ceremonies before. But, this experience was unique. USA had never entered a women's hockey team in the bi-annual tournament, held Jan. 27 through Feb. 6. The event consisted of 11 sport competitions. USA women's hockey placed fourth overall (2-5 record).
“It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” reflected Reihl. “I've never been that far away from home before. It was difficult communicating with people. You don't understand how hard it is talking with people from 58 countries. The hockey was great and I had a great time.”
While in a different country, she had familiar faces around her. Penn State teammates Denise Rohlik, Heather Rossi, and Katie Vaughn joined Reihl among 22 players selected from the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Reihl's roommate, Kate Christofferson, was an alternate and Penn State's Mo Stroemel coached the team. Tryouts were run Aug. 6-8 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Two teams of 20 players each competed in three scrimmages and came together for a practice.
“It was good to have girls on the team that I already knew. I hung out with them before getting to know the other girls. I'm comfortable with the goalies (Rossi, Vaughn) and that's important as a defenseman,” explained Reihl. “It was great because he (Stroemel) has been my coach for the last two years.”
The team strengthened chemistry Jan. 22-23, spending the weekend in Chicago. There were two practices along with games against Robert Morris University (Pittsburgh, Penn.) and a local young men's team.
“It definitely got easier,” said Reihl. “The first two games in Chicago, you can tell we are from different teams and weren't clicking yet. By the end, we came together and got the chemistry right.”
Upon arriving in Turkey, they attended a flag-raising ceremony and got situated in the village. The team faced Canada and Slovakia twice at the Cemal Gursel Sport Complex, along with games against Turkey, Finland, and Great Britain. Five games were played in a 500-seat arena. The opener with Slovakia preceded the Opening Ceremony.
“There was an full NHL (National Hockey League) style arena that seated a lot of people. We played there twice,” Reihl explained. “It wasn't full (3,000 seats), but definitely very crowded. There were a lot of Turkish people at all the games.”
According to Reihl, hockey isn't a very popular sport in Turkey. Her team shut the home team out, 15-0. They also defeated Great Britain, 8-1. Size and speed were differences from collegiate hockey.
“It was definitely difficult. Slovakia and Finland had goalies in their late 20's. They were six feet tall,” stated Reihl, who contributed three assists. “I've never played against girls that large and old.”
Erzurum, surrounded by mountains, has the highest altitude of any city in Turkey.
“We had to train over there because it was hard to breathe,” added Reihl. “It is good to be back playing in the United States.”
She did receive family support abroad. Her father, Rob, and his girlfriend made the trip to Turkey. While Reihl was told she couldn't see them during her stay, they were permitted to attend the games.
“It was really cool,” reflected Reihl. “My dad had the same reaction watching me play with the best in the country. It is a such a different game (internationally).”
The majority of games were played in the morning, so the team had time for other activities. Ski jump could be viewed right from their dorm. Away from hockey, they spent an evening at a men's curling match.
“We would have a meal and down time to talk in the village. Girls did school work and went to the men's (hockey) games and had dinner. There was a (recreational) room with foosball and ping pong,” explained Reihl. “We lived in the same dorm as the men. They were a great team, as well, and came in sixth.”
Her favorite game was the finale, a 3-1 loss to Slovakia. Canada beat Finland, 4-1, for the gold medal.
“It was for the bronze,” recalled Reihl. “It was a close game all the way down to the wire. We were very excited.”
They didn't receive an open date until the last day.
“We went to a jewelry store. It was an outside marketplace and we got to look around. Friends bought some stuff there. I didn't have enough lira (currency),” said Reihl. “I learned to speak a little bit of Turkish, but just 'hello' and 'thank you.' We did go to a restaurant. We took our shoes off and enjoyed Turkish food.”
They enjoyed the Closing Ceremony prior to returning home. Penn State was happy to see them return to campus.
“It was rough for my team,” stated Reihl. “We didn't have a goalie because both our girls were on the trip. Our defenseman and forward had to play goalie.”
They've already earned a berth to the ACHA National Championship (March 10-13; Kalamazoo, Mi.) for the second straight year. Penn State (10-11-2 record) is ranked seventh.
“I know we can do better,” added Reihl, who received the Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman. “I think we'll be ready for nationals.”
She is excited to her see national teammates there. Lindenwood University (Saint Louis, Missouri) had the most players (five) in Turkey.
“Actually getting to know the girls as people and playing with them was really fun,” reflected Reihl. “It was amazing. Even though we didn't win, we still made history. We're the first team to go there. Hopefully, we made America proud.”
Reihl is pictured above on right at the Opening Ceremony. Mountains of Erzurum, Turkey are displayed on the lower right. Photos courtesy of Lindsay Reihl.