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Sarah Higgins | | January 17, 2014

Sweater sisterhood


When the United States of America is called, Lyndsey Fry and her teammates will follow the flag bearer carrying the Stars and Stripes into Fisht Olympic Stadium during Feb. 7’s opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia.

But Fry, who will return to Harvard as a senior following the Olympics, won’t be thinking of the kids in her home state of Arizona she hopes to inspire to pick up a hockey stick. She won’t be thinking of the history and science classes she’s missing on campus. She won’t be thinking of the countless hours of training and practice she endured along the way.

Complete coverage of their road to Sochi
Fry will be thinking of the people at home watching on television -- the ones who got her there. That moment, she said, won’t be for her. That moment will be her “ultimate way to give back.”

These, Fry said, have been the toughest months of her life, both mentally and physically.

“When hockey becomes life,” she said, “it takes on a whole different role.”

Fry, a Chandler, Ariz., native, decided to withdraw from Harvard for the academic year to focus on playing with Team USA and, in the process, became the first from her home state to make a U.S. Olympic hockey team.

But Fry hopes she’s not the only Arizona native marching in the opening ceremony.

National champion figure skater Max Aaron, competing for a spot on Team USA this weekend at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, hopes to be joining his friend.

Aaron, an Arizona State junior from Scottsdale, played elite hockey for years before breaking his back and making the transition to figure skating. But before his hockey days were over, he played against none other than Fry, who competed in boys’ club hockey leagues until her freshman year of high school.

Fry then decided to enroll in online schooling at age 15 and join Colorado Select, a nationally competing club team in Littleton, Colo., more than 800 miles from home. While away from her family for weeks at a time, Fry would stay with friends and teammates’ families, including the Turgeons, whose daughter, Liz, played for Colorado Select with Lyndsey.

The girls quickly became like sisters and their chemistry, Fry said, was evident both on and off the ice.

After three years of playing together, though both Olympic hopefuls, the girls knew their hockey careers would soon be taking different paths. Turgeon had accepted a scholarship to Minnesota; Fry would be playing at Harvard.

The finality hit Fry after their last youth game before beginning their collegiate careers when Colorado Select was eliminated in the 2010 semifinals of the USA Hockey national championships in Green Bay, Wis.

“We were both crying,” Fry said. “I just put my hand on her knee and told her we both need to work hard and make the Olympic team so we can play together again.”

Eight months later, on Dec. 23, 2010, in dense fog east of Albuquerque, N.M., Turgeon’s pickup truck collided with a tractor trailer at a stop sign, an accident that claimed her life. At just 18 years old, Fry’s best friend was gone.

The girls would never get their chance to play together again, but Fry refused to continue her Olympic journey without her best friend.

After talking with director of women’s hockey Reagan Carey and Turgeon’s family, Fry decided she wanted Liz’s U18 national team jersey to carry with her. The navy sweater with the red collar and “23” etched in white letters became Fry’s way to keep their Olympic pact alive.

Just 15 days after Turgeon’s death, Fry returned to Harvard to score a goal and an assist.

In August 2012, after being named Harvard’s most improved player and ending her sophomore season on a four-game goal-scoring streak, Fry came to terms with how hard she was willing to work for a spot on the Sochi roster.

“This is the pinnacle of women’s hockey,” she said. “There’s no NHL for us. That’s when I decided to start on the path and how much I really wanted it.”

As a member of the U.S. U22 national team, she tallied the game-winning goal against Finland, earned gold in the 2012 Four Nations Cup, and then helped Team USA to an undefeated record against Team Canada.

Fry was invited to participate in June’s 41-woman training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., before head coach Katey Stone revealed the roster of 21 to the team on Dec. 21. Fry returned to Arizona to share the news with her family on Christmas before the official announcement.

On Jan. 1, in front of 105,000 spectators during the NHL’s Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium, the final roster for the women’s Olympic team was revealed. Fry’s childhood dream was realized and the girls’ pact was fulfilled.

Standing in the middle of the lineup at the Big House, 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.”

When Fry steps out onto the ice in the Shayba Arena in Sochi for Team USA’s first pool-play game against Finland, her family will be in the stands to cheer her on, but she knows Liz Turgeon -- and her jersey -- will also be close by.

Her stick will be taped much like every other skater’s, but Fry will write “8967” near her hand. Her Colorado Select jersey number -- 96 -- surrounded by Turgeon’s 87. “It’s like she’s giving me a little hug,” Fry said of the intertwined digits.

Before the game begins, she will grasp the locket hanging around her neck that holds a picture of the best friends.

“I’ll just tell her I love her, talk to her a little, and then give her a little point to the sky.”