In the weeks leading up to Saturday, Lyndsey Fry tried to prepare herself for the excitement and emotion of stepping on the Olympic ice for the first time. Proudly wearing the U.S. jersey on her sport’s biggest stage was, as Fry said, what made it all real.
But the jersey that sits in her locker, deep in the bowels of the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia, and the one that traversed the country with her last year, means just as much to Fry as the No. 18 she will wear the next two weeks.
Without the blue USA jersey, with “23” and “Turgeon” in block letters plastered across the back, Fry may not be an Olympian; she may not be the first Arizona native to make the Olympics in hockey.
“Getting to this point was like nothing I had ever done before. I couldn’t have done it without carrying the memory of Liz with me,” the Chandler native said last week as the U.S. national team wrapped up training in Boston.
Liz Turgeon was Fry’s best friend. The two were described as sisters more than friends.
Turgeon’s sudden death in a car accident days before Christmas in 2010 rocked Fry. Instead of attending a national team camp the following week, Fry wanted to be in Colorado with Turgeon’s family. Even while at the camp, Fry’s thoughts were elsewhere.
For the next year, Turgeon’s death consumed Fry.
“I struggled for a long time,” Fry admits. “What I really had a tough time with was thinking if I wasn’t crying or grieving or thinking about her, that I was dishonoring her.”
They started as teammates when Fry — long before having become too good for the girls leagues in Arizona and needing to play with other females instead of the boys anymore — joined the Colorado Selects out of Denver, coached by Liz’s father, former NHL No. 1 draft pick Pierre Turgeon. Fry eventually grew tired of the travel between Chandler and Denver, enrolled in an online school and spent more time in Colorado, most of it living with the Turgeons.
“She was, in many ways, part of the family,” Liz’s mother, Elisabeth Turgeon, said of Fry. “She fit in with the family. Liz was passionate about hockey and loved all her teammates. But she really connected with Lyndsey. They were the same from a competitive mindset, in a good way.”
Fry and Turgeon shared an uncanny chemistry on the ice. They always seemed to know where the other was, their parents said. Fry said she’s never had a similar on-ice relationship with a line mate.
Turgeon made the U.S. Under-18 Team that won the gold at the inaugural IIHF World Championships in 2008. Fry earned a spot on the next two U.S. teams, when Turgeon did not.
Fry and Turgeon played together for four years with the Colorado Selects. When the team lost in the 2010 national semifinals, finality began to set in. Fry was set to go to Harvard after high school, and Turgeon to Minnesota.
“We were both sobbing in the locker room and I told her that wasn’t going to be the last time we played together. I told her we could play together again in the Olympics.”
Both girls vowed then and there to make such a dream reality. The 2014 Olympics were circled.
“It could have been just something we said in the moment,” Fry said. “But it was meaningful to me.”
Fry learned just how meaningful a few months later.
After a semester at Harvard, Fry was back in Chandler two days before Christmas when the fateful call came.
Along a fog-covered stretch of highway 60 miles outside Santa Fe, N.M., Turgeon’s pickup truck collided with a tractor-trailer just after midnight. Turgeon, 18, was killed and her passenger seriously injured.
“I was the only one home with Lyndsey when she got the call,” Doug Fry, Lyndsey’s father, said. “Almost immediately she wanted to go to Denver. ... We had a very, very lengthy discussion on Christmas Eve about how she needed to go to the national team camp the next week, that she had made a commitment.”
Fry went to the camp in Boston but her heart and mind weren’t in it. USA Hockey later flew her to Denver for Turgeon’s funeral, where she delivered a beautiful eulogy, her mother, Lynn Fry, said.
“But for the next year, it was a different Lyndsey,” Lynn Fry said. “She was troubled by when it was OK to be sad and when it was OK to not appear sad.
“With hockey, she did what she needed to do to get by. She scored goals and played well, but she didn’t push herself and she wasn’t getting better.”
There wasn’t one moment or one thing someone said that flipped the switch in Fry. But she remembered that promise she and Turgeon made to each the last time they played together: To make the Olympic team.
“Once I realized I could draw on her for strength,” Fry said of Turgeon, “I said to myself, ‘I want to play in the Olympics and this is how I’m going to do it.’”
The following Christmas, in 2011, Fry gave her parents a pair of her USA gloves and a pair of USA socks. They signified her commitment to making the national team for the Sochi Games.
“It was exciting to see when the switch went on,” Lynn Fry said, “and she said imagine how good I can be if I do this, this, and this. It all came together after that and that’s what she needed to do.”
Fry took this year off from Harvard to focus on garnering one of 21 Olympic roster spots. Her focus extended off the ice to things like nutrition and sleep.
She was picked for the team that won the 2013 World Championship, and, shortly after that U.S. victory in April, Fry received a call from the director of the U.S. Women’s Program, Regan Carey. Turgeon’s jersey from that first U-18 team was found in a Colorado Springs warehouse.
Carey wanted Turgeon’s family to have it. Fry wanted it to follow her on her Olympic journey.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Elisabeth Turgeon said. “As hard as it can be at times, I would definitely rather people remember Liz than not.”
The Olympic roster was to be announced Jan. 1, but with her brother Wesley’s help, Fry gave her parents the good news on Christmas with a sign that simply red: “We’re going to Sochi!”
“Lyndsey had really conditioned us to believe they were not going to make the final announcement until the Winter Classic (New Year’s Day),” Doug Fry said. “We had kind of resigned ourselves to the fact we had to wait.”
A Fry clan of eight made its way to Russia this week. So, too, did the Turgeon jersey.
“We are very excited for her,” said Elisabeth Turgeon, who will follow Fry and the team from Denver. “She worked hard to get there. I’m glad a part of Liz got to go, too.”
Competing in Sochi
The U.S. women’s hockey team will be one of the most interesting stories to watch the next two weeks. The Americans won two of the last three World Championships but the Canadians are the three-time reigning Olympic champs.
“We’ve been playing really great hockey lately,” said Fry, one of 11 forwards on the roster and the youngest player on the team at 21.
The U.S. team opened pool play on Saturday against Finland. Next up is Switzerland on Monday and then Canada on Wednesday.
The Americans and Canadians figure to meet for the gold, which could ignite a few fireworks. The two teams brawled late last year during a pre-Games exhibition tour.
“They’re great competition and we love playing each other,” Fry said. “We take a lot of pride in our teams but I don’t think (the brawl) should be the focus of fans. This is a new opportunity to battle.”
The quarterfinals are Feb. 15, followed by the semifinals on Feb. 17. The bronze- and gold-medal games are set for Feb. 20.
“Everything is all coming together. I personally worked through a lot of struggles to pursue this goal,” Fry said. “I don’t want to come home without a gold medal.”
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