Jessie Vetter, holder of most U.S. women’s hockey career goalie records, is making one more Olympic run at next week’s national-team selection camp.
She’s doing so two months after giving birth to son Brady. Vetter, the No. 1 U.S. goalie at the last two Olympics, married Scott McConnell last May.
“What’s going on in my life is kind of a motivation,” Vetter said by phone last week while walking Brady. “Brady, if he ever wants to do something or have a passion for something, to see it through and give himself the best opportunity to make that happen. There’s still a good chunk of the girls I know from 2010 and 2014. It’s just seeing them being out there and knowing I can come in and be a positive teammate and a good influence to the younger girls and a good veteran on the team.”
Vetter was cleared to skate two weeks ago. She returned to the ice for the first time in nearly one year, since the 2016 World Championships.
And now she’s headed to Tampa with 41 other players for the five-day national-team selection camp that starts Sunday.
The camp is being viewed by players as an Olympic team tryout. The national team named on May 5 is expected to include 23 players, equaling the Olympic roster size.
Changes could be made before the Olympics, since the Winter Games are still nine months away, but national-team players clearly have the inside track to PyeongChang.
Vetter, 31, started eight of the 10 U.S. games between the last two Olympics, including both gold-medal game defeats to Canada. No U.S. women’s goalie has made three Olympic teams.
One men’s goalie has played in three Olympics — former New York Rangers All-Star Mike Richter, who happens to be the U.S. women’s goalie coach and Vetter’s idol growing up in Wisconsin.
Vetter is one of six goalies going to next week’s camp competing for what will be three Olympic team roster spots. She is six years older than anybody else, and even coached two of them at past USA Hockey camps.
Vetter admits she will be above her normal playing weight. She’s most concerned about her leg strength. But she’s mentally prepared and banking on her experience.
“I don’t think she’d put herself in a position to try out for the Olympic team if she wasn’t ready,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said.
Vetter has played 486 minutes at the Olympics, more than any woman in U.S. history. The other five goalies at camp have never been to an Olympics.
“Physically, I won’t be close to my expectations for myself,” she said. “But I can come in with a good mental game and a good mindset and still put myself in a position to do well. Maybe not be as successful as I would be if I had a few more months to get my legs bent underneath me, but I’m going to do the best I can, be a good teammate and have some fun.”
Vetter was unseated as the U.S. No. 1 at her last tournament, the 2016 Worlds. She didn’t start a gold-medal game for the first time since 2012, watching training partner Alex Rigsby stop all 32 Canadian shots for 72 minutes, 30 seconds in a 1-0 overtime win.
Vetter knew she would take an extended break after worlds.
She got married a month later but told U.S. women’s team director Reagan Carey she wasn’t committed to retiring just yet, despite reports to the contrary in August.
It seemed when Vetter announced her pregnancy that retirement was inevitable. But one week before she was due in February, she told Rigsby she had not ruled out a return. Brady arrived one week late, but Vetter still decided to come back.
Rigsby said she and their shared goalie coach, Larry Clemens, received text messages from Vetter five weeks after she gave birth. Something along the lines of, “It’s time for this old lady to skate.”
“I was like, literally, you’re goals,” Rigsby joked. “She got cleared at week six to skate, and we’ve been skating together for a couple of weeks.”
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