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N.H. Native Sparks U.S. Women’s Hockey Team

By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 1998; Page D1

 Swedish goaltender Annica Ahlen makes a save of a shot by the United States' Kathryn King during Monday's game.
(Kevork Djansezian/AP)
NAGANO, Feb. 9—Several players on the U.S. women’s hockey team can tell stories of obstacles and prejudices they overcame to get to the Winter Olympics. Defenseman Tara Mounsey isn’t one of them.

"The place I grew up just wasn’t like that; I was always allowed to play," said Mounsey, 19, a native of Concord, N.H. "It’s just an amazing community. They even raised money to send my parents here."

Mounsey already has recorded a goal and two assists in the Olympic tournament, her second assist coming today in the United States’s 7-1 victory over Sweden.

Mounsey grew up playing with the neighborhood boys, and by the time she reached her senior year at Concord High, they voted her captain. She then led them to a 22-0 record before being named New Hampshire player of the year, an award no other girl has won.

But the positive, proud feeling Concord residents had for Mounsey didn’t end when she graduated from high school. They cheered her when she became the Ivy League rookie of the year at Brown University. They cheered her when she made the national team. And they cheered her when she came home again.

"My teammates even talked about [the warm feeling] when we played a game there" in October, Mounsey said. "It was sold out within a half-hour. When my name was announced, I got a good standing ovation for a couple of minutes."

That game was held at Everett Arena, named for Concord’s last hockey Olympian, Douglas N. Everett, who skated to a silver medal in 1992. After this month, it may need to be renamed.

She has been a defensive stalwart in this tournament, keeping a careful eye on her end of the rink and an intimidating stare on opponents. But her mere presence may be her most significant accomplishment here so far. Mounsey injured her knee in a game against Canada on Jan. 26, knocking her out of several exhibition games.

Nothing, however, was going to keep her out of the Olympic tournament’s opening game on Sunday.

"We know she’s a game campaigner, so my toughest job has been to hold her back," Coach Ben Smith said. "She is one of those players who has real offensive skills and great tenacity defensively. She’s just one of those special types of athletes.

"She’s one of the top players in the world, so any time a team is used to having that type of player and then doesn’t have her, it’s a serious change."

Smith lost Mounsey again briefly this afternoon when she blocked a slap shot with her right arm a few minutes before the end of the first period. She returned in the second, only to display her own vicious slap shot. It’s a shot she has worked on for years, both on the ice and in the gym, building her upper-body strength.

"She has the technique and the timing for an amazing slap shot," said forward Shelly Looney. "I think Tara is definitely unique because off the ice, she’s happy-go-lucky, but when she steps on the ice, she gets that look in her eye."

Like many of her teammates, Mounsey is enticed by the possibility of winning the first Olympic gold medal for women’s hockey, although when asked what she enjoys most about the national team, she responded quickly, "my friends." She feels the same way about her team at Brown. In fact, when she made the national team last fall, her biggest concern was leaving her teammates.

Now, to make sure she doesn’t miss anything going on in Providence or Concord, Mounsey picks up the telephone. Her teammates have nicknamed her "AT&T," but when they talk about her when she’s not around, it usually has little to do with her conversational habits.

"Sara [DeCosta,] the other goaltender, talks about it all the time," goaltender Sarah Tueting said. "We’re really selfish about Tara. I just love having her on the ice, because she absolutely controls it.

"On a two-on-one or one-on-one, no one’s going to beat her. From a goalie standpoint, she’s my best friend out there."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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