The stage in Ann Arbor is always big.
There’s a reason they call it the “Big House,” after all. But on Jan. 1, the green football field and yellow uprights had disappeared, replaced by an ice rink.
There would be no touchdowns, no “Hail to the Victors,” no Maize and Blue helmets.
The first day of the new year in Ann Arbor was all about hockey.A total of 105,491 people -- the largest crowd ever assembled to watch a hockey game -- would file into Michigan Stadium to watch the NHL’s annual Winter Classic game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They would also witness another special moment in American hockey.
Tied at one goal each heading into the second intermission, public address announcer Bobb Vergiels took to the microphone to introduce the 21 members of the women’s hockey team who would represent Team USA in Sochi, Russia, at the Olympic Winter Games in February.
"It’s all about the moments that you share with your team and support staff, and to be able to unveil our 2014 Olympic Team in an atmosphere like the Big House, I can't even put into words what that means to us," head coach Katey Stone said.
The fresh-faced team features 10 first-time Olympians, including six current NCAA student-athletes.
“The moment you walk through the tunnel and see 105,000 people, your dream instantly becomes reality,” Kendall Coyne, a Northeastern senior named to the team, said.
According to the NHL, 8.2 million viewers -- the second-largest American audience for an NHL regular-season game in 39 years -- tuned into NBC, watching the snow fall around the rink as the announcement of the national team was made.
“Exposure is a new thing for us,” Michelle Picard, who joins the team from Harvard, said. “It was just a great day for women’s hockey.”
From the 41 players invited to a June training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., Stone and her staff whittled the roster down to just 25 to join a residency program in Boston.
That team of 25 would compete in the Bring on the World tour, the Four Nations Cup and seven competitive friendlies with Canada. After losing the first three games to Canada, Team USA rebounded in December to take the last four meetings.
On Dec. 21, the final roster of 21 players was decided upon.
Team USA will open play in Sochi against Finland on Feb. 8, looking to avenge a 3-1 loss during pool play of November’s Four Nations Cup.
In 1998, women’s hockey was first added to the Olympic docket for the Nagano Winter Games and the United States took the gold medal. The gold has eluded them since, though they have earned silver or bronze in every Winter Games.
Standing in the middle of the lineup at the Big House, Harvard senior Lyndsey Fry looked down the line as her teammates were announced before her.
“It was one thing to see your dream coming true. But it wasn’t just my dream coming true. It was all of my teammates’ dreams, my family’s, my friends’, everyone who has supported me.”
“Moments like those,” Stone said,” those are the moments they’ll remember.”