Vermont Public Radio called Amanda Pelkey “the most talented women’s hockey player the state has ever produced” when she ended her career with the University of Vermont Catamounts. The stats prove the point, with records in goals (48), assists (56), and points (104).
Since graduating, her career on the ice has only blossomed further. She earned spots on the U.S. Women’s National Team and played in two International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships, where she won two gold medals, and four Four Nations Cups, where the team has come in first place for three years running.
Now, at age 24, the Montpelier native steps on the grandest stage—or rink—of all: the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea. Before boarding the plane, Pelkey was kind enough to sit down Bridge and speak about her upbringing in Vermont, success on the ice, and the upcoming Olympics.
The Bridge: You started playing hockey quite young.
Amanda Pelkey: Yep. About three years old.
What is it about hockey that really won your heart? What makes it such a special sport for you?
AP: A few things come to mind. The very first thing that drew my attention was the physical side of hockey. I don’t mean that in a rough way; I mean in just the physical style of the game—the skating, the handling, and everything. I was drawn to that. I also think it is one of the best team sports that could ever exist. The hockey community is very strong. You find that you have connections all over the world through this sport.
When you tell people that you’re from Vermont, that you started playing hockey in Vermont, does that have any kind of meaning to the hockey community?
AP: When I tell people that I’m from Vermont, grew up in Vermont, played hockey there, it always leads to a great conversation. It could be someone I just met or someone I’ve known for a longtime. But I think Vermont is a very well respected state. And I think everyone knows, regardless of sports or not sports, that it’s a tight-knit community. And I’m really grateful that I’m a part of that.
In terms of the actual play, what are some differences between men’s hockey and women’s hockey?
AP: With the guys, they can check. For girls, it does happen to be more of a finesse game, but it’s actually a lot more physical than you would think.
Has getting on the Olympic team been a long-term goal since you were a kid? Or have you taken a more step-by-step approach?
AP: It’s a mixture of both. I think my dream sprouted when I was a child, with the 1998 women’s team. I was five at the time. That was the first time women’s ice hockey was a part of the Olympics. I even had a women’s ice hockey Olympics magazine that they all signed. But I really thought the goal was attainable when I started getting into my teenage years and playing competitively. Colleges start looking at you and obviously you try and look beyond that and see if it’s a possibility to become an Olympian someday.
You’ve played on a lot of national teams. How much mor edifficult is it to get on the Olympic team?
AP: Anytime there’s any kind of roster within USA hockey, it’s extremely hard to be a part of that. Every year, we have to actually remake the national team. Every year and every training camp, you’re re-evaluated to make that roster spot again. For the Olympic stage, there’s a lot of extra things that you need to do to elevate your game inch by inch.
Can you give an example of one of those inches?
AP: Working on speed is always going to be important, so making sure that you’re staying healthy and fast is huge. If you dig a little deeper, our women’s team takes the mental side of the game to extremes with energy. It takes your game to a whole different level that you may not have known you were capable of.
There must be a lot of pressure and anxiety throughout that whole process.
AP: It’s a highly stressful environment. It’s a day-to-day type of job. You just have to do the best you can, stay 100 percent focused. But we all love it. It’s one of the reasons why we play the game.
Do you have any methods or techniques to manage this stress?
AP: I have my individual ways. I think breathing techniques are huge. When you look at the bigger picture, all of us who have been trying out, any time that we step out on the ice, we’ve done enough to get to that point. It’s all of our comfort zones. It’s just good to remember this is a sport that usually you don’t get very far in and reflect back on your performance abilities and be confident in them.
Are there still things that you’re learning about playing hockey from your teammates, who are all top-level competitors?
AP: There’s always something new that we learn every single day. Kudos to our coaching staff and our management staff that keep everything fresh and new and exciting. They’re always adding more tools to our toolbox. I’m 24 years old, but like you said, even though I’ve had a long hockey career, there are so many things that I’ve been learning even at this age. We have some 30-year-olds as well, and I’m sure they could say the same exact thing. That every single day you’re learning something new.
In terms of the Olympics, are you very fixated on the medal, on getting the gold, or do you not think that way?
AP: The medal is our driving force. There are girls who have been in two Olympic cycles before and this will be their third Olympics. They had their hearts broken twice in a row. I think I can speak for them in the sense that they’re sick of that feeling. And I think this will be the year that we get to turn the tables around, but, looking down the road I think it’s more important what we do with that medal, not necessarily just the physical prize of the medal or if we get a medal or not. It’s the way that we carry ourselves at the games and what we do with our success and how we bring it back home to our families and our communities.
You’ve been getting press for some time. How are you responding to this latest uptick in fame. Is it a pleasure for you?
AP: It’s a humbling pleasure that I don’t take for granted. I’m just very honored. The support that I’ve gotten from Vermont has been one of the reasons why I’ve been so successful. More so, it’s just a humbling and grateful feeling for the support I have back home.