Some six years later, Caroline Harvey finds it much easier reflecting back to when the sting of homesickness began to sink in after her parents dropped her off to attend the Selects Hockey Academy in Rochester, New York, at 14.
The decision to move some 400 miles from her New Hampshire home and pursue Harvey’s dream of playing hockey came at a crossroads of her development. Girls hockey programs were limited in the Salem area, and the boys team Harvey played on was breaking up with everyone going their separate ways to attend high school.
“I was definitely in shock and still a pretty young girl at the time,” Harvey said. “I still remember that day. But, yeah, I’ve come a long way since then.”
It’s a journey that’s taken Harvey to the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, the world championships in Denmark last summer, to winning an NCAA championship in her freshman year at Wisconsin last month, with many more projected stops to come for the slick-skating, play-making defender gaining acclaim as one of the United States women’s national team’s rising stars.
“I can’t say enough about her,” U.S. coach John Wroblewski told The Associated Press on Monday after the Americans arrived in suburban Toronto for the world championships, which they opened with a 7-1 over Japan on Wednesday.
“I know she’s only 20 years old, but she went from being a girl at the Olympics to a young woman with a national championship under her belt,” he added “She’s arrived as a winner. And I expect her to continue to climb in that department. As the team grows, she’s going to be a huge part of how that happens.”
Against Japan, Harvey quarterbacked the power play, used her speed in elevating the Americans’ push through the neutral zone, and had two assists, including a no-look pass to set up Hannah Bilka’s goal to make it 5-1.
This is the free-wheeling style Wroblewski expected from Harvey upon taking over as coach last summer. And it comes after Harvey endured one of the biggest disappointments of her young career in receiving limited playing time as Beijing Winter Games progressed with former coach Joel Johnson’s decision to lean more heavily on his veterans.
That changed with Wrobolwski’s arrival, who placed an emphasis on increasing Harvey’s ice time, while informing her to play without fear of making mistakes to build her game and confidence.
“That was super important especially, because I felt the year before I was playing in a way where I was trying to avoid making mistakes,” said Harvey, who led U.S. defenders in Denmark with three goals and finished second with eight points. “It was good not to play scared.”
The boost in confidence carried over into her first season at Wisconsin. Harvey finished fourth among the nation’s freshmen with 39 points in 41 games, was named the WCHA’s rookie of the year, and became the Badgers’ first freshman to earn All-America honors since Meghan Hunter in 2001.
Of Harvey’s 13 goals, three were game-winners including an overtime goal to seal Wisconsin’s 3-2 win over Minnesota in the Frozen Four’s semifinal. Pinching in from the right point, Harvey accepted a pass on her backhand, pivoted to her forehand and snapped a shot into the top right corner.
It’s a goal Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson has replayed several times to appreciate the talent it took for Harvey to score.
“I had to go back and, one, figure out how long she was on the ice, and then get the puck and load it up and hit something,” Johnson said, noting it was similar to goals Harvey scored in regular season wins over Minnesota and Bemidji State.
“She’s sort of got the `It’ factor,” said Johnson, who has won seven national championships in 21 years at Wisconsin, and helped develop the likes of U.S. and Canadian national team stars such as Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan, Brianna Decker and Sarah Nurse. “She can get up north and south real fast, but her movement from left to right, I mean, I’ve not seen that on the female side like I see it in her.”
Knight, a member of the ESPN broadcasting crew at the Frozen Four, was wowed by Harvey’s goal and impressed with how she’s raised her game.
“Her potential is just incredible. It’s off the charts,” Knight said. “It’s scary to see what she can be in a few years because she’s already there now.”
Harvey’s had a knack to elevate her game at each new level. The challenge now is continuing to ascend though practice and focus, something Johnson said he saw in Harvey’s dedication to working out while juggling the added pressures of attending school.
Harvey has been driven to succeed since she was first drawn to hockey at 3, when her father would bring her along to watch her brother play. In that time, she’s dealt with bouts of homesickness, adapting to new environments and teammates, and overcome the personal frustrations at Beijing, while in the meantime reminding herself she’s just 20.
“Yeah, there’s been lot of curveballs thrown in different ways, but I’ve been dealing with it actually pretty good and trying to adjust to whatever situation,” Harvey said. “I’m not obviously done and satisfied with where I’m at. And I know I can make big gains in the future, too.”
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press