Ex-RMU goalie settles in for Sochi

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 9:08 p.m.

Susan McLaughlin always figured her only daughter would be a “girly girl,” the type more interested in makeup and clothes than playing sports and competing.

It's not exactly how things turned out.

Brianne McLaughlin turned out to be a two-time Olympian, one who carved her name into the NCAA record books while at Robert Morris. She is one of 11 members of the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team making a second consecutive appearance.

Brianne McLaughlin married this summer, and Susan's crushed dreams — jokingly, of course — were the topic of the speech Brianne's father, Brian McLaughlin, gave.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have a daughter who when she went to high school, her mornings would be going into school with her hair wet, clothes wrinkled, taking a shower after hockey practice,” Susan McLaughlin said. “She was always a tomboy.”

Brianne played softball, basketball, volleyball and ran track, but nothing compared to hockey. She started at age 4 and never wavered from playing goalie.

This shocked her mother, who tried to get her daughter to become a figure skater.

“I think all little kids want to play goalie until they get in the net and realize it's work,” Susan McLaughlin said. “Then they get in the net, get shot on. It's more fun scoring goals or defending.

“But she's always been very athletic. She just never wanted to give it up.”

Brianne grew up in Sheffield, Ohio, went to Elyria Catholic High School and also played hockey with the Ohio Flames, an all-girls team.

After helping launch the Robert Morris women's program, McLaughlin wound up making 3,809 career saves, most in NCAA history.

Team USA won the silver medal four years ago in Vancouver, falling to Canada, 2-0, in the gold-medal game. McLaughlin saw scant time. She played eight minutes during a 12-1 win over China in the opener, making one save and allowing a goal.

The same three goalies — McLaughlin, Molly Schaus and Jessie Vetter — are back this year. And though coach Katey Stone has not made her plans public, McLaughlin hopes this Olympics will be different.

“This time around I know what's coming,” McLaughlin said. “I know what I got myself into and what went into getting here.

“I've also had a bigger role on the team this time around. That makes it a lot different as well.”

McLaughlin married Robert Morris assistant hockey coach Logan Bittle on July 13, 2013. Two weeks later she left the couple's Moon apartment for Concord, Mass., where she has been staying with a host family and training for the Sochi Games.

Her visits with Bittle have been few because Robert Morris is playing, and McLaughlin is training, but the two regularly have discussed how well the Colonials have fared: 21-5-2, ranked No. 8 in the latest USCHO.com poll.

“That's an everyday conversation,” McLaughlin said. “Which is kind of nice because I started the program there and feel a huge connection with that team. Whether I'm on the team, coaching the team or away, I still kind of take an interest.”

McLaughlin spent the 2012-13 season as an assistant coach at Robert Morris and often catches grief that her departure was what the Colonials needed.

“We kind of joke as far as the coaching staff goes that it's kind of addition by subtraction since I left,” McLaughlin said, laughing.

Despite majoring in nursing, McLaughlin has yet to take her NCLEX exam and has no immediate plans to pursue nursing as a full-time career.

Aside from the Olympics, McLaughlin is going into business with Robert Morris strength and conditioning coach Jeremy Hoy, who is relocating his Finish First Sports Performance business from Robinson to Neville Island.

The Grand Avenue facility will have an area where McLaughlin can provide instruction for aspiring hockey players.

“That will make it easier for me to keep playing, if I choose to do so,” McLaughlin said. “If I own a rink and it's inside a gym, that's pretty much all I have to do all day long anyway.”

McLaughlin skates every day with the Olympic team, then breaks off for individual work. She also lifts a couple of times a week. The team has been to Minnesota, Calgary and Toronto, among other places, while scrimmaging men's teams to prepare for the Sochi Games.

Susan and Brian McLaughlin plan to travel to Russia to watch their daughter and will be joined by Bittle and Brianne's brother, Michael, for the semifinals and finals, regardless of whether Team USA makes it that far.

Former Robert Morris coach Nate Handrahan always had been impressed by McLaughlin's athleticism and natural body build, with “extremely long extremities: long legs, long arms, longer than what her frame is, which helps.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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