ORONO – The 40 people watching the women’s U.S. hockey team practice at Alfond Arena Thursday morning were undoubtedly impressed by the fast-skating players wearing the Olympic colors.
UMaine coach Shawn Walsh was and so was the man looking for autographs at the end of practice was.
Yet, oddly, right winger and former Colby College star Barbara Gordon was not.
“Yeah, I wanted this for a while. Then I didn’t care. Then my senior year, I started to care again,” said Gordon of Glendale, Calif. “I didn’t think it was a big deal. It’s healthier that way. It’s super fun. I appreciate hockey. But it’s not real life. This will be great for the next four months.”
At least, Gordon hopes it will.
Come January, five from the 25-member team will be cut – one goalie, a defensemen and three forwards. Gordon could be one of the 15 forwards who won’t go to the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
What helps Gordon stay focused is an earlier lesson in disappointment.
Gordon was the all-time points leader at Colby with 110 goals and 112 assists and finished second in the six-year-old ECAC Conference with 72 career goals and 70 assists in league play. But when she first tried out for the U.S. team in her junior year at Colby, Gordon didn’t make the cut.
“I was devastated. I was excessive. I was sucked into it. I lost sight of hockey,” Gordon said. “I was thinking, `I wouldn’t be a success unless I succeeded at hockey.’ Obviously, you can be.”
Learning to separate success from hockey was difficult. From the time Gordon was cut in March until the middle of July, she was depressed.
Then Gordon remembered why she started playing hockey, why she left California to play at Holderness School in Plymouth, N.H.
“I thought, `It’s just a game.’ I started to focus on other things. I started to apply myself to education,” said Gordon, who earned her bachelor’s degree in American Studies. “And, you know, I appreciated hockey a lot more. In all my obsession, I lost my passion for the game. Now it’s definitely for love of the sport.”
Gordon said when she returned to Colby her senior year, she enjoyed playing again. Last spring, she made it to the World Championships as an alternate. That set her up to earn a spot on the U.S. team in August in Lake Placid.
Still, Gordon believes she is a “bubble player” who must earn a spot every practice.
U.S. team coach Ben Smith, the former Northeastern coach, said Gordon is a great skater with a lot of skill and how she plays in the next week when the team faces the Canadian and Chinese national teams will go a long way in earning her a spot.
“She brings a lot of enthusiasm to the rink. She is a player who is getting better all the time,” Smith said.
But regardless what happens in the next month, Gordon will continue to play and someday coach.
“I play hockey and get paid to do it. That’s phenomenal,” Gordon said. “The Olympics is just a tournament. I don’t want to invest too much in it. It depends day to day. Today I’m tired and groggy. So it’s no big deal if I get cut. Regardless, I’ll always be a part of hockey in some way.”