Like wide-eyed rookies just called up to the big leagues, Alicia Hanrahan, Laura Johnson and Erin Blair couldn’t help but smile as their eyes danced across a sea of blue seats upon entering Shayba Arena for the first time.
It was just the latest in a long string of memorable Olympic moments the trio has experienced since arriving in Sochi less than 24 hours ago. Everywhere they turn they are confronted with reminders that they have scaled the summit of their profession.
“This is the biggest stage for us as female officials, and I’m going to take in every moment and enjoy it,” said Hanrahan, who will work the lines with Johnson.
Joining them is Blair, who is one of six referees assigned to work the tournament that begins on Saturday when the U.S. takes on Finland at 12 p.m. local time (3 a.m. ET).
“A lot of it will be just doing what we do best and going out there and doing our jobs,” Blair said.
What makes it more special is that the three have known each other for years, having worked multiple games together at different levels. They have set themselves apart as the best of the best, passing rigorous competitions both at home and among the international officiating community to punch their ticket to Sochi.
“Walking into the rink you get goose bumps,” Johnson said. “This is what we worked so hard for over so many years, and it’s such an amazing feeling walking in here and realizing that this is real and we’re here.”
While she knows what is expected of her once the puck drops, Blair is quick to admit that working an Olympic contest is unlike any other game.
“It’s not just another game, but it is just another game,” Blair said. “It’s the biggest games that we’ll ever be a part of, but it’s just a matter of keeping your focus. Yeah you want to take a look in the stands and see how it looks and catch the whole experience of it all but we’re there to do a job.”
And it’s not just the players who will experience a case of nerves prior to the puck drop.
“I can’t lie and say that I’m not going to be nervous and have butterflies and my knees might be a little shaky,” Hanrahan said. “But I will focus before the puck drops and stay focused during the game, but try to enjoy it the best that I can.”
Still, walking around the Coastal Cluster, the site of the ice events here in Sochi, it’s hard not to get caught up in the Olympic spirit. While they all plan on devoting all their time and energies to what takes place on the ice, they each have their own little wish list of Olympic experiences they’d like to have while they’re here.
“I’d like to see half pipe,” Johnson said. “I think that would be awesome. And speed skating.”
As for her teammates, Hanrahan said that seeing anything would be gravy to what has already been the experience of a lifetime.
“I’d like to see anything,” she said. “I just want to take in the whole experience. I don’t care what it is, I just want to go take pictures and take it all in.”