FOND DU LAC — When Team USA defeated Canada 3-2 in a shootout to win the gold medal in women’s hockey at the Olympics five days ago, teammates Abby Okon and Dayna Jones were engrossed in a FaceTime conversation — after midnight on a school night, no less — amid the drama that was occurring half a world away.
“It was 1:30 in the morning,” said Okon, the goalie on the Fond du Lac/Beaver Dam co-op girls hockey team. “That’s the time they were playing and they’d be going in the shootout we’d be like, ‘Ooh. Oh no goal, we’re ok.’ It was really intense.”
Fans across the nation erupted in joy over the United States’ breakthrough moment in PyeongChang, South Korea — the Americans had not won gold since 1998, losing three title games to Canada in the interim — and the FdL/BD girls were no different.
“I thought it was awesome and cool,” defenseman Drew Deanovich said. “It would be a nice experience to win gold.”
FdL/BD will get a shot at its own gold this weekend when it competes in the WIAA state tournament. The team will take on the Sun Prairie co-op in a semifinal game at noon Friday at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison.
“For me personally, I’m just trying to think of it as even though there’s a lot of hype around it and it’s a huge deal, just go in and play it like it’s just another hockey game because I know how to play hockey,” junior Alyssa Heim said. “I just can’t get caught up in all of that and get really nervous about it.”
In addition to Canada — which had won the past four Olympic championships — serving as a persistent road block for Team USA, the Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in pool play in South Korea.
The same revenge factor isn’t in FdL/Beaver Dam’s favor in this one, as the co-op that also includes girls from Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs, Campbellsport, Waupun and Oshkosh North already has a 5-4 win over Sun Prairie on its resume from earlier this season.
The team is a new co-op this season, formed when separate Beaver Dam and Fond du Lac co-ops joined forces. Previous Fond du Lac-led co-ops have made seven state appearances, though none since 2009. A previous Beaver Dam-led co-op also made the 2009 state tournament, but subsequent attempts to return to Madison have fallen short.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for the whole season,” co-head coach Paul Uttech said. “You’ve got to do more than just execute. You’ve got to do more than just play the game. I think as we’ve got down towards the end of the season, we started to play some really good hockey. We knew we had the potential. We just had to put it together game by game because we were playing teams we’ve played before (in the playoffs). Some we’ve lost to; some we’ve beaten.
“I think we had an understanding what we needed to do to win and it was we’ve got to come out and play our game and take care of business. That’s what we did.”
FdL/BD beat the Appleton co-op 4-1 in a sectional semifinal, then drubbed the Green Bay co-op 8-1 to punch its ticket to the Coliseum.
“We all really want to succeed. We all want to go to state,” Heim said. “We wanted to do this. This was our goal — to go to state. We knew we had the talent, as long as we could get along and become a team. We knew it could happen.
“That was really how we came together and bonded.”
The FdL/BD co-op is built from players from six current teams and also includes in its charter the membership of Dodgeland, Kewaskum, Kohler, Oshkosh West and Wayland. Currently there are nine from Beaver Dam, six from Fond du Lac, two from Springs, and one each from Campbellsport, Oshkosh North and Waupun.
“I feel like if we were compared to them, I feel we work together as a team, we get stuff done and get goals in the back of the net,” Deanovich said. “We just have fun while we’re doing it.”
Heim agreed and added that it’s been a blessing to be able to watch the best women’s hockey players in the world on TV during the stretch run of their own season.
“It was always in my mind a little bit, and certainly (was while) watching the games seeing what they do, thinking how I could implement that into my game because they’re obviously the best players in the world,” she said. “So just watching that and seeing them do all this stuff, I should be able to do it, too.”