Olympics: RMU's McLaughlin in 'different role'
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Brianne McLaughlin is used to being much busier than she will be at these Olympics as the No. 3 goaltender for the U.S. women's hockey team. And not just because she was Robert Morris University's four-year starter.
While with the Colonials, she was pelted with a veritable ton of vulcanized rubber, setting an NCAA record with 3,809 saves and four times topping 50 in a game as a senior.
In stark contrast ...
"This is kind of a different role," McLaughlin said in an interview at the Olympics' Main Press Center. "I've never been fighting for a position. At Robert Morris, I always knew I'd be the one playing."
Not that she was complaining. Her exuberance at being chosen for her first Olympics at age 22 is eminently visible through a bright smile, playful laugh and her words.
"It's good to mentally build on this, I think. Here, all three of us goalies get along so well. We're very supportive of each other. If I get in a game, they're behind me. I try my best to push them, stay late after practice to allow the shooters to work on things. And, hopefully, in the next couple of years, I'll be able to push for a starting position."
For now, that position belongs to Jessie Vetter, with Molly Schaus as the backup. The U.S. begins preliminary-round play at 3 p.m. today against China at UBC Thunderbird Arena, and it is highly unlikely, given the tournament's compact nature, that McLaughlin will see any time, barring injury.
Still, her entire family from Sheffield Village, Ohio, is on hand to take in all of the team's games. And she appears to be making the most of the experience.
"The Olympic Village is amazing," she said. "Our room is gorgeous, and looks right out into the middle of the complex where you can see everyone. A couple nights ago, we met some speed skaters and bobsledders. Just walking around, I see athletes from China and countries I didn't even know existed. Plus, for me, it will be great to have my family here and share this."
Also here is her boyfriend, Joe Tuset, an assistant coach for the Robert Morris men's team and, previously, the Colonials' goaltender.
"That's embarrassing," McLaughlin said at his mention.
"Because we're both goalies, you know. Come on," she said. "But he's the one who beat Notre Dame."
So, she at least found a good goaltender. Tuset was in net for the Colonials' stunning 2007 upset of the Irish in South Bend, Ind.
The rest of McLaughlin's story pretty much follows the female-hockey-player script: Her family lived close to a rink in Sheffield Village -- "Right outside Cleveland," she clarified -- and her mother, Susan, and older brother Michael were experienced enough on the ice to teach her skating, and her father, Brian, began with some hockey.
"My dad always felt bad because I was the only girl, so he'd carry my bag," she said. "I was so embarrassed."
Because of the helping hand?
"No, because the bag was bigger than me."
And why a goaltender?
"Because I was the only one dumb enough to put on the equipment."
McLaughlin participated in basketball, softball, volleyball and track at Elyria High School but never lost focus on hockey. When Robert Morris implemented an NCAA Division I women's program in 2005, she had an easy choice of advancing in the game while staying close to home.
"I can't tell you how important that was to me," she said. "And I think it will be important to a lot of the girls in the Pittsburgh area."
After a superb senior year in which she made all-conference and had a .909 save percentage despite a 9-17-3 record and a regular barrage of shots, she began touring with the U.S. team and fared well enough to make the Olympic cut two months ago.
She is young enough, big enough-- 5 feet 8 -- and athletic enough that her future in the program appears bright. But it will not be easy: Vetter is just two years older at 24, Schaus the same age at 22.
"What I need to do is just stay focused on my game and learn as much as I can," McLaughlin said. "I'm lucky here to be rooming with some of the older players, and they're sharing with me stuff they've learned from other Olympics and all kinds of things."
McLaughlin remains connected to Robert Morris: In addition to attending a couple of women's games this season, she held a fundraiser last month at which her old coaches, teammates and even teachers from her nursing program showed up. Now, she is keeping an online diary of her Olympic experience at RMUColonials.com.
"I have so many people to thank, from Pittsburgh to Ohio, from now to my childhood, that I don't even know where to start," she said. "The whole thing has been unreal. Growing up in a place where there really wasn't much hockey, going into a sport where there really weren't many girls. And now ... I'm here."
First Published February 14, 2010 12:01 am