Having already established herself as one of the greatest to have ever played the game, there are many goals left for a highly motivated Brianna Decker. In a monumental year highlighted by the acquisition of a highly emotional Winter Games gold medal, one that eluded the US national team for a generation, Decker is adding a new chapter to her lasting legacy.
Testament to her generosity and commendable approach to growing the game, Decker has quietly adopted the role of instructor to her sparkling hockey resume. In the aftermath of the golden glories at PyeongChang 2018, Decker has kindly made herself accessible, positively impacting a generation of young players who aspire to emulate her achievements.
Such accessibility is certainly a prized experience for any young player that she is in contact with. Considering that The Hockey News once named Decker one of the five greatest women’s players in the world, to have an audience with her would be akin to being taught how to hit a home run by Babe Ruth or how to play basketball with Michael Jordan.
Certainly, the fact that Decker now adds the long overdue title of gold medalist, it only adds to the thrill for such young players seeking her advice. Although it seems difficult to fathom that the jubilation of Winter Games gold already took place more than six months ago, the euphoric victory remains as fresh and engaging for Decker as the day that her hockey dream actually happened.
Although the attainment is one that proved well worth the wait, Decker also looks at the gold with a tremendous sense of motivation. Already approaching the next Winter Games (to be contested in 2022 in Beijing, China), her remarkable sense of eagerness and motivation undeniably sets a positive example for her young pupils.
“The feeling of winning Olympic gold will never go away. It was a huge accomplishment for our team and I could not be more honored to be a part of that group. However, now it is back to work and training, and another Olympic gold medal in 2022 is on my mind, and, on the mind(s) of my teammates.”
Having enjoyed numerous television appearances (The Today Show, The Ellen Show) since capturing the gold, Decker was absent from one notable appearance, in the name of an admirable effort. While her teammates were in California, accepting a well-deserved ESPY Award for Best Game, one which placed women’s ice hockey firmly in the American sporting zeitgeist, simultaneously affirming the chance to expand the game’s scope, Decker was serving as the coach of Team Gold during the 2018 USA Hockey Girls 16/17 Player Development Camp hosted in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Despite this highly understandable absence, which also leads in to Decker’s exciting role as an Assistant Coach for the US Under-18 Women’s National Team during the 2018-19 season, there were still many more opportunities for celebration in a scintillating summer. Among such opportunities involved the chance to obtain a series of experiences that would be the envy of any baseball fan.
Participating in the privilege of the Ceremonial First Pitch, it proved to be an experience that Decker would indulge in twice. Undeniably, the rarity of participating in a First Pitch twice in one season represented one of the biggest rarities in sport.
Starting the season alongside a number of New England-based teammates from the gold medal US team, they were joined by Summer Games gold medal gymnast (and #MeToo advocate) Aly Raisman, along with legendary Red Sox slugger, and thrice World Series champion, David Ortiz. All on the fabled green grass of Boston’s Fenway Park, each throwing a baseball with collective precision, it was the prelude to a magical season for the Boston Red Sox, finishing with the best record in the American League.
Later in said season, Decker returned to her home state of Wisconsin. Invited by the Milwaukee Brewers to participate in a first pitch ceremony at Miller Park, prior to their contest versus the Chicago Cubs, it marked a celebrated return for the proud native of Dousman. Back in 2010, Decker and Jinelle Zaugg both took to the mound for a dual ceremony. Eight years later, there was a unique tinge of coincidence to Decker’s presence. Worth noting, the Brewers would finish the 2018 season with the best record in the National League, mirroring the Red Sox achievement.
“To participate in the first pitch both at Fenway and in my home state, Wisconsin, at Miller Park was incredible. It is the most exciting but nerve racking moment when you are out there on the mound.
However, the fans rallied around and they were so proud of what we all accomplished that it made me feel so honored yet humbled. Could not be more thankful for both of the experiences and hope they are not the last first pitches that I get to throw out.”
Worth noting, Decker is not the first woman of ice hockey to achieve this unique feat in baseball lore of throwing the first pitch at two separate games. Back in 2013, Megan Bozek, a teammate of Decker’s on the US roster that captured gold at that year’s IIHF Women’s Worlds, also had the chance to throw out the first pitch twice.
A member of the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ NCAA Frozen Four championship team, Bozek and her teammates were invited by the Minnesota Twins to grace the diamond at Target Field. Adorned in her gold Minnesota hockey jersey, Bozek enjoyed the first pitch honor. Later in the season, Bozek would return to her home state of Illinois, where the Chicago White Sox commemorated her remarkable season with an invitation to throw out the first pitch.
During the summer that unfolded, baseball was not the only highlight for Decker. Of note, she was among many of the female heroes of US hockey whose presence at youth hockey camps was both inspiring and fulfilling, for teacher and student alike. Among the highlights for Decker involved a stirring example of teamwork. Joined by Kacey Bellamy, who have been teammates for three Winter Games (2010, 2014, 2018), they spoke to the Holy Cross women’s ice hockey program, who shall be joining the Hockey East conference for the 2018-19 season.
Continuing the theme of collegiate hockey, Decker, who captured a Patty Kazmaier Award as a student-athlete with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, is part of a new initiative. Decker joins an empowering group of accomplished women who make up the leadership structure of Women’s Hockey Life’s WHL Academy branch.
Geared towards encouraging young girls and providing them consultation and the strategic tools to achieve their dreams of competing in collegiate hockey, Decker may be WHL Academy’s crown jewel. The raison d’être for the Academy is one that has already seen her go the extra mile, highly committed to a positive experience.
“What I have enjoyed most about being a part of the WHL Academy has been being able to impact different kids from all over the world. These young kids are going through all different experiences and I have enjoyed the challenge to help them through all of these.”
To the delight of young players and parents alike, Decker has managed to balance her very busy schedule by willing to make herself accessible to consult players by telephone. Such a gracious approach is one that has certainly left a positive impression, as emphasized by parents leaving positive feedback.
Obtaining a strong sense of pride in the chance to serve as a positive influence, Decker is admirably humble. Revealing how she simply shares her own life experiences during conversations with young players, finding reference in her own competitive roots, it not only creates a common ground between instructor and player, but it leads to a meaningful interaction in which Decker displays a warm, human side. The result is an appreciation of Decker not just as a world-class athlete, but as a world-class person, the type of person that any parent would want their child, male or female, to look up to as a role model,
“The unique thing about me giving advice to these young players is that all my advice that I give is just from the experiences that I have had. To make an impact on these young players through hockey and through life means so much to me.
When I can have conversations with these young players on the phone, I think it is important, because, it is easier for me to express that I have been in their same position before.
It is awesome to see these young players take my advice and it work out for them. My advice does not work out for them every time, but, when it does, it is a great feeling.”
Another great feeling for Decker is the opportunity to enjoy a new chapter in her competitive career, simultaneously enjoying the sense of reunion. Along with Kacey Bellamy, who have skated in three Winter Games (2010, 2014, 2018) together, both have also experienced the triumph of a Clarkson Cup (2015) and an Isobel Cup (2016) as teammates.
Joined by goaltender Alex Rigsby, a member of Team USA’s gold medal winning team in 2018, they comprise the greatest free agent class in the history of the Calgary Inferno. Such an acquisition certainly holds unique comparisons to basketball’s Miami Heat and their “Big Three” (from 2010-14) of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
Complemented by the presence of Blayre Turnbull, who called Decker and Rigsby teammates at the University of Wisconsin, the chance to ply their trade north of the border in Calgary presents a sense of rejuvenation. Considering that Rigsby and Decker also won an NCAA Frozen Four, complemented by Winter Games gold, and the IIHF Women’s Worlds, a Clarkson Cup in Calgary would certainly present a unique grand slam in their storied careers, while supplying an intriguing chapter for Canadian professional hockey,
“Calgary has been the best move yet and of course it has been great to be with my best friend Kacey Bellamy. We made this decision in the summer and could not be more happy with the decision. Being able to play with Alex and Blayre in Calgary is exciting too and makes it feels like college again.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Arizona Diamondbacks Batting Practice image obtained from: https://twitter.com/Dbacks/status/979876776275992577
Brianna Decker’s First Pitch with the Milwaukee Brewers: 2018, by Jeff Hanisch USA Today
Erick W. Rasco (Getty Images)
Holy Cross image obtained from: https://twitter.com/HCrossWHockey/status/1038086153931567106/photo/1
Calgary Inferno artwork obtained from: https://twitter.com/infernocwhl/status/1021793605944406017?lang=bg