At just 17 years old, Alyssa Gorecki of Monee, Ill., has joined a group of ladies who accomplished what the U.S. women’s and men’s Olympic teams, and the men’s world juniors USA team have not been able to do in recent years.
But, when she was 5 years old, her little brother, Jimmy Gorecki, wanted to play hockey, and her parents urged her to join him.
“As a result, I fell in love with [hockey] and quit gymnastics. I have been playing for about 12 years and have been on a few teams including the Orland Park Vikings, Joliet Jaguars, Chicago Fury, Chicago Mission, Kankakee Irish, and USA U18 National Team.”
The pinnacle of her 12-year hockey career — which includes state championships, national invites, the National August Festival in Lake Placid, and Four Nations Camp — came in Buffalo last week when Gorecki was able to contribute to a gold medal win.
She said the entire experience was positively overwhelming — but her team went into it determined for victory.
“We have not really thought about [what winning gold means] other than, when the boys’ world juniors team lost a week earlier, we said now we have to win,” Gorecki said. “It is such an honor to represent your country, let alone to be successful and win a gold medal. It feels amazing and I am so happy I was able to experience it and have my dreams become a reality.”
She said she’d happily do it all over again, calling it the best experience of her life — playing five games in the course of a week with 22 other girls dedicated to winning for each other and their country.
Team USA beat Canada first, in a 2-1 shootout victory Jan. 5. The next day, they shutout the Czech Republic 3-0. On Thursday, Jan. 8, they beat Russia 7-1. Semi-finals were Sunday, Jan. 11, with another shutout victory, 5-0, against the Czech Republic. Then, on Monday, Jan. 12, Team USA went to overtime again with Canada. Canada struck first in the game, then Captain Jincy Dunne tied the score.
Gorecki gave USA the go-ahead goal in the second, but Canada would tie it back up, and the game would stay knotted through regulation. She had another chance for the game-winner, but was stopped within an inch by (player of the game) Canadian goalie Marlene Boissonnault. Dunne would score with a wrist-shot seconds later.
It didn’t matter who scored, as long as it was someone in blue.
“When we won in overtime it was an automatic thrill,” Gorecki said. “We all jumped off the bench, threw our sticks gloves and helmets off, and rushed to jump in the pile of people.
“It was the best moment in my life and I can’t even really explain it. I started bawling my eyes out.”
“Being able to put on the jersey is such an amazing feeling,” Gorecki said. “My favorite moments were scoring in the gold medal game, the sold out crowd chanting ‘USA,’ the celebration when we won, receiving the gold medal, and standing on the blue line with my 22 best friends, our arms around each other, singing the national anthem.”
As for coming home with gold, Gorecki said coming out on top is quite the rush.
The team found inspiration from a number of sources, including the HARBORCENTER crowd’s American flags and “USA” chants, but also through social media.
— Hilary Knight (@Hilary_Knight) January 13, 2015
“The tweets definitely help since Hilary knight is a person we look up to and wish we could be,” Gorecki said.
And, she realizes, that she can be someone younger girls wish they could be as well.
“We are definitely focused on being the best we can be, but also try being the best we can be as a person knowing little girls look up to us,” Gorecki said. “We try to be the best role models we can be for all the young girl hockey players aspiring to be where we are.”
Her hockey hero is Brianna Decker, who was on the Women’s Olympic team. Her favorite NHL players are Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.
She trains with 5-6 days per week of workouts in the summer and 3-4 during the season, including weights, agility and cardio. She incorporates skating 3-5 times per week in the summer and 2-6 days per week during the season. Shooting and stickhandling are, of course, part of her routine.
A high school senior, Gorecki has committed to play hockey for the University of Vermont, where she plans to study exercise and movement science.
She has some words of wisdom for anyone who wants to play hockey, or chase any kind of dream.
“My advice is go for it and play! Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do,” Gorecki said.
“So many people didn’t believe I would make it this far and I proved them wrong, so play for the love of the game and work hard and good things will come.”