Definitely among the greatest women’s ice hockey players in the world today, Brianna Decker is the game’s most accomplished skater, securing her legacy in the sport. Having contributed countless heroics over the course of a dominant decade, she is one of the figures that has helped enrich the growing mythology of the US women’s hockey program. Reaching a treasured pinnacle with a heroic effort that culminated in gold at the 2018 Winter Games, it was a summit worthy of her stature.
Capturing a gold medal, one that eluded her as a participant in both the 2010 and 2014 Games, as the result was a sullen silver on both occasions, the achievement represented the culmination of a journey that began from the moment she first donned her skates. Undoubtedly, it was the crowning touch for an iconic competitor who is a once-in-a-lifetime megastar.
Decker was certainly a key contributor towards achieving the golden dream. Logging points in a pair of preliminary round games in Pyeongchang, Decker notably logged an assist on Kendall Coyne’s game-winning goal versus Finland, which signaled the opening game of the Winter Games tournament. In the gold medal game, Decker would also record an assist on the game’s first goal, as Hilary Knight buried the puck past goaltender Shannon Szabados, who was also the goaltender for Canada in 2010 and 2014.
Certainly, Decker’s efforts were crucial as the gold medal in Pyeongchang completed one of the most dominant Olympic cycles in the sport’s history. One which saw the US capture the gold medal at the IIHF Women’s Worlds from 2015-2017 (extending their streak to four straight, including 2013), defeating archrival Canada each time, along with gold at the 2017 Four Nations Cup, supplying momentum leading into Pyeongchang.
“Winning a gold medal at the Olympics has been a dream of mine ever since I saw the 1998 team win. The feeling is quite indescribable, but I do truly love sharing the story for this year’s team with everyone. I could not be more proud of this group and what we went through together to get the result that we wanted.”
With the prestige of the gold medal emblematic of Decker’s world-class skills, it accentuates a remarkable run that has established her as the most accomplished player of her generation. In addition to Triple Gold Club status, Decker has amassed an amazing number of accolades at the collegiate level, including the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award, along with honors in both professional leagues.
Decker’s hockey odyssey began with a captivating brush in women’s hockey history. Capturing a gold medal as a member of the American contingent that emerged triumphant at the inaugural IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships in 2008 (contested in Calgary, Canada), it sparked the beginning of a decade of dominance.
Such a prodigious talent joined the Wisconsin Badgers, sparking a golden era for the program. Sandwiching in her Winter Games debut at Vancouver 2010 during this time, one of seven Badgers on the roster, Decker’s return to Wisconsin was the bookend to one of the most stellar careers in collegiate history.
Along with Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight, they would help the Badgers capture the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four title. As a side note, Alex Rigsby, a member of the 2018 US roster, was in her freshman campaign with the Badgers in 2011. Capturing the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2012, Decker joined fellow Badgers alumnae including Duggan and Jessie Vetter as women from the program to have earned the honor.
Shining in the professional ranks, Decker was dazzling, extending an already formidable legacy. Suiting up for the Boston Blades during the 2014-15 season, her first with the franchise, she topped all competitors in CWHL play with an astounding 2.67 points per game. Becoming the second American-born player to capture Rookie of the Year honors (teammate Jillian Dempsey was the first in 2014), she capped off the season by capturing the Clarkson Cup. In addition, teammate Monique Lamoureux joined Decker as members of the league’s All-Rookie Team.
Joining the Boston Pride in the newly launched NWHL, Decker was undoubtedly a key leader on offense as the club won the inaugural Isobel Cup in 2016. With the rare feat of winning the Clarkson and Isobel Cups in consecutive years, Decker joined an exclusive sorority of wondrous women to have achieved this fantastic feat. As a side note, Decker only added to an amazing body of work in her second NWHL season. In addition to capturing the league’s scoring title, she garnered Most Valuable Player honors.
“All of those accomplishments would not have happened without the teammates I surrounded myself with day in and day out. Looking back at those accomplishments, it took a whole team, great coaches and staff, and most of all my family’s support to make that all happen.
Fast forwarding into the future, I picture myself giving back to the game in some sort of way. Whether it is coaching or running a program, I want to help the younger generation have the success that my teammates and I have had.”
The triumph of a gold medal resulted in a revered celebration, highlighted by remarkable (and well-deserving) media appearances. With the entire roster appearing on The Today Show, whose broadcast team was in Pyeongchang during the entire Winter Games, it added a unique sense of closure to the Olympic experience.
Adding to the jubilation of the gold medal celebration on Today was the fact that Decker, Kacey Bellamy and Amanda Pelkey had the opportunity to join affable Al Roker in his broadcast of the weather, chanting his trademark phrase, “Here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods.”
Exactly 100 days prior to the Winter Games, Decker and Knight were part of a ceremony with many other US athletes. Gracing the outdoor ice at New York’s Rockefeller Centre, home of the NBC television network, which broadcasts the Today Show, proudly displaying their brand new Team USA jerseys.
Decker also donned her USA jersey with tremendous pride, as she joined her teammates as guests on the Ellen Show. Akin to the experience on Today, it ran parallel to the feeling of closure. Back in 2010, when Gigi Marvin revealed she was a huge fan of the show, the roster that earned silver in Vancouver had appeared on the highly popular daytime show. Returning with the gold medal in 2018, which also included Marvin on the golden roster, gaining the treasured opportunity to have another audience with Ellen, it only added to the sense of celebration, helping propel women’s hockey into popular culture,
“Celebrating Olympic gold has been everything that I have imagined it to be and more. To be honored around the country like we have was something I did not fully expect.
Attending the Today Show and doing weather with Al Roker was so much fun and definitely a once in a life time opportunity. Then again most of the experiences that we have had as individuals or as a team are once in a lifetime.
Going on the Ellen Show and Jimmy Fallon were both experiences that will not be forgotten, but meeting my favorite athlete, Serena Williams, was absolutely jaw dropping. We had the opportunity to watch her and her sister compete at the Tie Break Tens in New York and it was incredible.”
Leading into Pyeongchang, there was certainly a strong sense of achievement for the US team. Capturing the first gold medal on home soil, as Plymouth, Michigan served as a highly emotional backdrop for the 2017 IIHF Women’s Worlds, the greater victory was one that saw the US team make a courageous and unified stand in a well-deserved negotiation for pay equity.
Gaining the attention of the sporting community, with athletes, both male and female, covering a wide spectrum of sport (along with major league player’s associations) speaking up in support of the wondrous women that don the colors of USA Hockey, it was a struggle worth fighting for, and one highly worth winning.
Before the calendar year of 2017 drew to a close, the women of USA Hockey were recognized for their heroics with a tremendous honor. Decker, Duggan and Knight attended the Women’s Sports Foundation gala on behalf of their team, one that was honored with the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.
First awarded in 1996, the award recognizes extraordinary courage in athletic performance. Other criterion involves the demonstration of overcoming adversity, significant contribution to sport plus serving as a role model for those who face challenges. With the award win, Decker and her teammates join a list of other decorated recipients, including Jackie Joyner-Kersee (the first recipient), Michelle Akers, Gail Devers, Silken Laumann, Tatyanna McFadden, Martina Navratolova and Noelle Pikus-Pace, among others.
Tennis icon and equal rights advocate Billie Jean King, who had actually texted Duggan during the pay equity struggle was on-hand to present the award. For Decker, the chance to meet such an icon in female sport, one who has championed for female sporting equality, added an incomparable sheen to the prestige of the award and the sense of solidarity on such an empowering evening,
“When I had the opportunity to meet Billie Jean King last fall, I was like, holy crap, this is BILLIE JEAN KING. Wow, she is such an ambassador for women’s sports across the world. My favorite thing about her is that still to this day she is trying to find a way to help anyone she can. She is not too big for anyone and gives everyone the time of day.
Our team winning the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award was an incredible honor and we will cherish the honor forever. Courage is one characteristic that is very hard to have and I am thankful to have teammates like Meghan Duggan and Kacey Bellamy, who helped demonstrate courage last spring to lead our team.”
In the aftermath of Pyeongchang, there was another remarkable opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with another of the greats in women’s sports. Alongside teammates Bellamy and Duggan (who were the tri-captains for Team USA) plus Amanda Pelkey, they were invited to Fenway Park to celebrate the annual ritual of Opening Day.
As a side note, Decker and Jinelle Zaugg experienced the thrill of gracing the field of a Major League ballpark back in 2010, as both participated in a first pitch ceremony at Milwaukee’s Miller Park. In March 2018, Bellamy, Duggan and Decker joined Cayla Barnes, Kali Flanagan, Megan Keller, Pelkey and Haley Skarupa for a pre-game ceremony at the TD Garden as the Boston Bruins hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Joining the golden girls of the US hockey team on the fabled playing surface on Fenway included Aly Raisman, a two-time Summer Games gold medalist in gymnastics and a vocal advocate for the personal safety of women in sport. An ambassador for UNICEF Kid Power, she is the second most decorated gymnast in US Olympic history. Worth noting, three other New England residents with Olympic ties were also on-hand for the first pitch ceremony at Fenway. Chris Mazdzer, a silver medalist in luge, along with Paralympic heroes Jake Adicoff and Lt. Commander Dan Cnossen took part.
Adding a touch of class for the Opening Day tribute was the presence of legendary Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, the MVP of the 2013 World Series, who also holds the record for most home runs in a Red Sox season with 54. Paying homage to the achievements of these female sporting icons with a T-Shirt that featured the words “Girl Power” on the front, it was a show of class on the part of Ortiz.
Definitely, an appropriate affirmation of the invaluable contributions that women have made to modern sport, worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts, the garment was the ideal accoutrement to a terrific day.
“Fenway Park is such a historic and amazing place to be honored. A few of us were honored at the game along with some other amazing Olympic athletes.
Throwing out the first pitch along side my teammate was awesome. We had so much fun with the overall experience. Meeting David Ortiz was so surreal. He is such an amazing athlete and his Girl Power shirt made our day.
I cannot tell you how much I admire Aly Raisman. What she has done is something that words can’t even describe. Her courage and strength are so admirable and thankful to have someone like her in our lives to demonstrate these characteristics.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images North America and Cayla Barnes
Red Sox image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/mduggan10?
Video still from the Ellen Show obtained from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?