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Captain America: Pam Bilger leads USA to historic gold at ISBHF Masters


Among the most celebrated figures in the growing legacy of USA Ball Hockey, Pam Bilger holds a place among the program’s luminaries. Having first worn the Stars and Stripes at the 2009 ISBHF Women’s Worlds in Plzen, Czech Republic, it marked the beginning of a decade-plus journey.

Renowned as a star for Philadelphia’s Saint Joseph Hawks field hockey team prior to competing internationally on the slab, Bilger earned the privilege of the captaincy for the US at the 2022 ISBHF Women’s Masters. Previously, she appeared in the gold medal game at the 2019 ISBHF Worlds in Kosice, Slovakia. One year before, Bilger played for USA Blue as Bermuda served as host nation for the 2018 ISBHF Masters.

Following a disappointing finish for the US at the 2022 ISBHF Women’s Worlds, the opportunity to rebound at the ISBHF Masters held historic context. Contested in Kladno, Czech Republic, Bilger and the US bested defending champion Canada in the gold medal game. 

An intense 2–1 final saw Liz Conner record 25 saves, while Lauren Bracco and Karen Levin placed their names on the scoresheet. Worth noting, Conner also provided heroics in the semifinals, logging 21 saves in a 3-0 shutout versus the host Czech Republic. Before September expired, Conner also logged a shutout in the final of the inaugural women’s Mylec Cup, a Dek hockey event in New Jersey.

The impact of the medal goes beyond individual achievements or milestones for a gracious and very proud Bilger. Recognizing the overall contributions of everyone involved on the triumphant US team, the opportunity to capture an elusive championship holds significant context. Key for Bolger consists of a highly positive outlook towards the future. Optimistic at the potential to build on the momentum of this monumental win, she sees the greatest value of the gold medal as the stimulus towards continued growth.

“It is difficult to put into words what this medal means. We were so close so many times but looking back on it know I realize just how hard it is to take a team to the gold medal game and win.

This group had an amazing team dynamic, a combination of new players and vets. Plus, an amazing coaching staff that tied it all together. I am honored to have been a part of this team and the history that was made.

After the tournament, I realized just how much this medal means to the whole ball
hockey community. The outpouring of support was tremendous from all levels of the community. I cannot wait to see how much this medal effects the growth of the game in the future.”

Bilger’s place in program lore took on a more profound place with the 2022 Masters event. Bestowed with the honor of the captaincy, signifying the celebration of a tremendous career, Bilger ascended to a plateau of greatness. 

Sharing in the leadership role with Bilger included the likes of Karen Levin and Elizabeth (Beth) Marhefka, both prominent figures. A regional contact in the UWBHF, Marhefka is also involved with the California tier of the National Ball Hockey League.

Worth noting, Levin represented the US in three tournaments this year. In addition to a pair of ISBHF events, Levin also participated in women’s ice hockey at the Maccabiah Games. Having long played together for the US at ISBHF events, along with the legendary Nancy O’Halloran, another iconic figure on the 2022 roster, the gold medal definitely brought a fulfilling sense of coming full circle.

“It was truly an honor to be the captain of this team. Being a captain brings a high
level of responsibly, but I had the pleasure of sharing the captain role with Karen Levin and Beth Marhefka who brought different leadership perspectives to the team.

As a group, I felt like we kept the team calm, focused, and motivated. I could not have asked to work with two more dynamic individuals who are not only amazing players, but amazing leaders who are doing so much to grow the Women’s game.”

Several of Bilger’s teammates at the Masters also played alongside her at the 2019 ISBHF Worlds, including Levin and Cherie Stewart, among others. Having enjoyed the opportunity to call numerous competitors as teammates more than once, Bilger’s reflections focus on a highly inspiring individual that shared in her hockey odyssey from the beginning.

“”I have had the opportunity to play on the Senior team and Masters team with a number of teammates over the years. I played my first world tournament with Nancy O’Halloran in 2009. 

Nancy is the only player on the team to have played in the inaugural 2007 Women’s World Championships. In addition to Nancy, several teammates played on the senior team over the years, Michelle Feairheller, Jess
Bush, Liz Conner, Liane Dixon, Kara Reeves, Nikk Gnozzio, Kat Helling, Karen
Levin, and Cherie Stewart.

It is so satisfying to see the time, commitment and sacrifices these women have made over the years culminate with this gold medal. 

These women are mothers, teachers, industry leaders and they made sacrifices and committed to this program with the goal of winning a gold medal. I could not be more honoured to take the floor with these amazing women and finally achieve that ultimate goal.”

Accentuating the sense of national pride achieved through a highly emotional gold medal triumph, the Sunday morning victory occurred on the date of September 11. Known for perpetuity stateside as Patriots Day, the shock and sadness from the events of that horrific day in 2001 are eclipsed by a collective courage and indomitable spirit. 

Undeniably, such spirit served as a crucial inspiration on this day. Employing a philosophical approach in her reflection, Bilger was overcome by gratitude. With recognition as a world champion a defining feature for Bilger, the landmark gold the crowning achievement in a brilliant career, equally important was appreciating the moment.

“Hearing the national anthem play at the end of the game on September 11 added to the emotion of the win. It was a moment to be reflective and acknowledge the tragedy that occurred on 09/11/2001 and the lives that were lost that day. To be thankful and not take for granted the privilege we have to play the game we love.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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