Ex-Robert Morris goalie set for Olympics

| Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010

Brianne McLaughlin still has the Wheaties box from 1998 featuring the U.S. women's hockey team that won gold at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

Now, she's teammates with two of the girls featured on that box.

McLaughlin, an Ohio native and a former four-year starter at Robert Morris University, is one of three goaltenders who will represent the United States in women's hockey at the Vancouver Olympics beginning on Feb. 12. The U.S. opens play against China on Feb. 14.

"I think every kid wants to be in the Olympics, but I didn't know much about it," said McLaughlin, 22. "I didn't really know the process of getting there. I just loved to play hockey."

McLaughlin's road to Vancouver was not without its kinks. She was invited to a player-development camp early in her high school career. The next year, she went to a goalies camp. After that, she didn't get another invitation until the summer before her senior year at RMU, when she was brought in to try out for the Under-22 National Team. She made it, went to Canada to play in a tournament and then said she didn't really hear from them again until last summer.

"I was getting ready to start my nursing career and thinking about hanging it up," she said. "Then I got a call in June or July saying they were having tryouts for the national team, and I was part of the mix. I got picked for a tryout with five goalies, and they picked three. Luckily, I was one of them."

RMU coach Nate Handrahan said that having a Colonials alum on the national team can only help the school's still-young program.

"It speaks to our development plan with our players," Handrahan said. "To have a player come in who really wasn't on the national radar, develop her and get her to the point where she's in that picture is a feather in our cap as a program and will certainly help us for years to come."

Current Colonials goaltender Daneca Butterfield is one of McLaughlin's closest friends and plans on getting together with her team to watch Olympic hockey. She just can't promise that the Canadians on the team - herself included - will root for the U.S.

"We're on (McLaughlin's) side, but I think you'll see us stick to our roots," Butterfield said, smiling.

Beating Canada will be the greatest challenge facing the U.S. women. On the Qwest Tour, which serves as a four-and-a-half-month warm-up to the Games, the U.S. has played Canada three times and lost every game. To win gold, they'll have to beat them on their home turf.

"We haven't been so hot against Canada so far," said McLaughlin, who as a rookie and third-stringer doesn't know how much ice time she'll see. "The last couple games have been tough."

McLaughlin, who's been training with Team USA at the National Sports Center's Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minn., since early September, was back in Pittsburgh this weekend and dropped the puck at her former team's home game against Sacred Heart.

"I think right now we're all just excited," she said of the upcoming Olympics. "Some of the older girls have told us what it's all about, all the different things there, how cool the Olympic Village is. Then once we get there, we'll get nervous."

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