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Hockey star shoots for gold in Sochi

“2013 was the best year of my life,” says Kendall Coyne, a star forward for Northeastern hockey. In June, she was selected to the U.S. National team; in December, she was named to the Olympic roster, becoming one of only 21 women to make the final cut.

2014 could be even sweeter if Coyne were to help U.S. hockey win its first Olympic gold since 1998. The year certainly got off to a storybook start: The day was Jan. 1, the venue was Michigan Stadium, and the temperature was in the single digits. In the second intermission of the NHL’s annual Winter Classic at “The Big House,” USA Hockey unveiled its Olympic roster to an audience of some 105,491 screaming fans.

“It was freezing,” recalls Coyne, who kept warm in a white hat embroidered with the U.S. flag, “but it was a special moment because my lifelong dream had come true.”

Coyne’s Olympic aspirations began to take shape at age 3, when she shed her figure skates for hockey skates to be like her older brother. She played with the boys until she was 15 and practiced with them until she donned Northeastern’s sweater in 2011.

In her first two seasons with the red and black, Coyne amassed 63 goals and 50 assists, becoming the first Husky in more than a decade to record at least 45 points in consecutive campaigns.

But Olympic hockey is not college hockey—the competition is steeper, the ice sheet is bigger, and the stakes are far greater. Nevertheless, says the ever-confident Coyne, “I’ll use my speed and skill to make smart plays and win battles.”

Team USA’s first test in Sochi is Feb. 8 against Finland, which upset the red, white, and blue in November in the Four Nations Cup at Lake Placid, N.Y. On Feb. 12, the U.S. will face off against Canada for the first time since a line brawl broke out at the end of a 4-1 U.S. win in an exhibition game on Dec. 20 in North Dakota.

“I’m not a proponent of fighting in hockey, but I am a proponent of standing up for yourself,” U.S. coach Katey Stone told reporters after the game. “We will not be pushed around.”

Coyne concurs, saying, “Most people who watch us play know we won’t take any opponent lightly.”

Believe her. The Husky from Palos Heights, Ill., has spent almost every waking moment over the last eight months playing hockey, thinking about hockey. Her breakfast is a lesson is biochemistry (eggs for protein, bagels for carbs), her gym regimen a master class in building strength (clean and press, weighted pull-ups).

“My goal is to be the best teammate I can be,” says Coyne, a fierce yet undersized 5-foot-2-inch competitor. “All the work we have done over the last three and a half years has been with gold in the back of our minds.”