After trailblazing her way through the college hockey ranks, Katey Stone is ready to do so in Olympic competition.
Stone (Watertown, Conn.) became involved in the U.S. Women’s National Team program in 2006. She was elevated to head coach after the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and will be leading her first Olympic team into competition in February at Sochi, Russia. Stone will become the first woman to serve as head coach in the 16 years of women’s hockey’s full participation as an Olympic sport.
Stone has taken a year off her usual head coaching position at Harvard University, leaving the reins to assistant Maura Crowell. Stone is training her 25-player roster at at The Edge Sports Center in Bedford, Mass., and is preparing them with a wide range of games against both international and domestic opponents before cutting down the roster to 18 skaters and three goalies for a New Year’s Day announcement.
While Stone is playing coy on the merits and strengths of her individual players, she opened up in a recent interview about how her team needs to refocus after two initial pre-Olympic losses to Canada, a team the U.S. defeated for April’s World Championships title.
NEHJ: After (a recent) 6-3 loss to Canada, you said, “We’re going to ask a lot more out of our players and we’re going to get a lot more.” What about that game triggered that specific reaction for you?
Stone: I think our effort and sense of urgency wasn’t at the place we needed it to be in that game. We need to work on that. We needed to reprioritize our priorities and focus on just hockey and what we are here to do.
NEHJ: How do you keep the team motivated through the ups and downs of your game schedule, especially when the games may not go the way you would like?
Stone: During the lead-up, you just have to keep working the plan that you have at the outset. You have to keep working towards that goal. Through this, you have to ask how do you work harder and smarter? It is important to focus on hockey. You aren’t in school and this should be your priority.
NEHJ: In your two games thus far against Canada, Canada has jumped out to 3-0 and 2-0 leads. How do you work on coming out of the gate faster?
Stone: Again, it is about the mindset that we had early on. We can be better and ask more of each other. We can ask others to step up.
NEHJ: How do you balance the mix of newcomers to Olympic action with the veterans you have?
Stone: I think if you are a veteran, you are better at doing those little things, and playing a more experienced game. You know what to expect, and we know what we can expect from you. We count on them to play. For the rookies, we ask them to go hard. We ask them to keep things simple and give all they have. They will get the experience as they go.
NEHJ: Do you have a favorite example of that mentorship between veteran and newcomer?
Stone: Certainly the older the kids are, the more experience they have in international play. They can be a calming presence to the rookies, in addition to having that experience.
NEHJ: What are the strengths of your goaltending trio (Brianne McLaughlin, Molly Schaus, Jessie Vetter), all of whom are returners to Olympic competition?
Stone: I think all three are very competitive. They have very different goaltending styles. There is a healthy rivalry between them. It makes them more competitive.
NEHJ: What are your goals for the Four Nations Cup (Nov. 5-9 in Lake Placid, N.Y.)?
Stone: To win! Ultimately, we want to play well. We want to make the changes that we need to make and play well against these teams.
NEHJ: How did you go about choosing your schedule for the Bring On The World Tour and your other pre-Olympic games?
Stone: My assistants, Hilary Witt and Bobby Jay, have crafted a schedule that finds teams who are physical and fast. They are teams at the level of the teams that we will face in the Four Nations Cup and the Olympics, and teams with aspects of play we want ourselves.
NEHJ: Has any of your personal coaching philosophy changed since you have taken over the national program?
Stone: It is different than coaching a college team. Some girls have four-year careers, meaning if it doesn’t happen for them this year, they may have a sophomore, junior or senior year left. You don’t have that here. There is an urgency to this year. You don’t have another chance, at least not right away. They are not going to school, and they get to focus on just hockey.
NEHJ: Is there anything special you tell or anything special you do with the members of your roster who are taking this year off from college? Do you update their college coaches?
Stone: Not really, or at least, not yet. We have only been working with them for a month and a half at this point. It’s something to consider. They are working a different system that what they are used to in college.
NEHJ: Some fear that women’s hockey may be on the Olympic chopping block because of the lack of competition. Do you think that this Olympic Games may be able to dispel that?
Stone: Yeah, I honestly don’t believe it is on the chopping block. It’s a popular topic right now amongst a lot of people, but I don’t think it will be dropped. International play is becoming much more competitive. The United States and Canada have the greater resources and they can make those incremental changes quicker than other countries that may not have the same. But they are still making changes and getting better. I’m not too worried about it.
NEHJ: Do you think that there are teams who may surprise at this Olympics, and who are they?
Stone: There are a few teams. We have seen them in the last two World Championships, in Switzerland winning the bronze in 2012 and Russia winning the bronze in April. It’s not just Finland and Sweden in that third spot anymore; there is more competition. They have made a bigger commitment to conditioning and training. They also have better goaltending in more countries, which keeps them in games much longer. So I think it will be more competitive.
NEHJ: You have mentioned that this year, you are a fan of Harvard hockey instead of its coach. With this demanding schedule, will you be able to catch any games?
Stone: I’ll be able to catch a few, depending on where they are. It’s always fun, though it is a little weird to watch from the stands. I enjoy watching, because it’s good hockey.