Most Harvard University students would probably welcome a year sabbatical from the rigors of attending classes in Cambridge, Mass. But after a few weeks of training fulltime with the U.S. Olympic Women's Team this fall, Michelle Picard said she missed the classroom, if for no other reason than for the distraction from the pressures that come along with playing high-level hockey.
“In the first few weeks of this it was great living the pro athlete kind of life,” the archeology major said of starting to train this September with the U.S. team that will compete in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February. “It was just hockey. But it’s interesting; school gives you something else to think about for a while. I don’t miss the late nights of studying and doing homework.”
On the flip side, she’s happy to have the time to let her body recover between practices.
“Right now my job is every day to make sure I do everything I need to do so I can perform on the ice,” she said. “We have the time to sleep and eat well. It’s great. You get to take care of body and not worry, ‘I have to get home quick because I have homework to do.”
And that’s crucial to being one of the team’s most consistently reliable players when it comes to doing the little things to make everyone else on the team better. And while her efforts don’t usually show up on the stat sheet, Picard is “one of the best defenders we have,” according to U.S. coach Katey Stone, who also happens to be Picard’s coach at Harvard.
“Our team does a lot of work on knowing your role, knowing your job, and so if I was a goal scorer I definitely wouldn’t have a spot on this team,” Picard said. “So I just have to focus on what I do well and keep doing it well. If it doesn’t show up on the score sheet — that’s not my job on this team. I like to help on offense when I can, and I am expected to do so when I have to.
“[But my job is to] follow the walls, be solid on the walls and get the puck to the forwards, to the kids who do score.”
Picard said having her college coach as the national team coach helps in the sense that she knows how much emphasis Stone puts on players each knowing their roles. At the same time, she said Stone is big on making sure to communicate the role of each player clearly.
“I’m definitely used to her coaching style, and we do a lot of the similar drills,” Picard said. “But again, she’s different at Harvard, and she doesn’t treat us any different. It doesn’t if you are from Minnesota or Harvard, it doesn’t matter.”
Picard will return to campus in the fall as a junior. Now that she’s not in classes, however, she has time to return to her childhood home in Taunton, Mass., more than she did when she was on campus.
“It’s about an hour from here to go home,” she said. “I go home for a day or to have dinner and watch football with them, which is a great thing to have when I need it. At the same time this is a completely different experience than I’ve ever had. Every day is a new challenge and fresh. It’s kind of nice to have the best of both worlds. My family has been great.”
Playing for the national team has started to become somewhat of a regular occurrence for Picard. Even though she is only 20 years old, she recently played in her fourth Four Nation’s Cup.
“It’s definitely helpful each and every time you put the jersey on,” she said. “You get more experience, and what it comes down to is getting comfortable out there, learning what need to do.”
But after the U.S. beat Sweden 8-1 in the third-place game of the 2013 Four Nations Cup on Nov. 9 in Lake Placid, N.Y., Picard and the rest of her teammates know they have a lot of work to do to reach their goal of winning gold in Sochi.
“We want to win them all,” Picard said. “Unfortunately that didn’t’ happen this time. We learned from the experience and from the some mistakes we made. Now we work hard so they don’t happen again.
“It’s disappointing to lose, but now we get back to work. We’re lucky enough to have time to keep improving and getting better. The ultimate goal is in February. We’re going to keep working toward that. This was a bit of a speed bump. Now overcoming it is our challenge.”
Picard has also played in two International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships (winning gold this year and silver in 2012) but is still hoping to play in her first Winter Games this winter. The 21 players that represent the U.S. in Sochi will be picked next month.
“Gosh I have no idea,” Picard said when asked what it would be like to play in the Olympics. “It would be a dream come true to make that roster and win the gold medal. I think that’s the ultimate goal here, but I think it would be great. I’d be extremely honored. I don’t know what to expect, but once you get on the ice it’s the same game. But it will be the Olympics. It will be great.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.