By Brian Heyman
The punches were flying now, the Team USA women and the Team Canada women, brawling and wrestling at one end of the rink, a page out of the NHL erupting right there on this slice of North Dakota ice.
The theme from “Rocky” filled the speaker system, merging with the excited noise from the crowd, watching this spectacle that would lead to 10 fighting majors with nine seconds left in Team USA’s 4-1 pre-Olympic win Dec. 20. And this was all over a woman from Pearl River.
That would be Josephine Pucci.
Brianne Jenner elbowed the 5-foot-8, 149-pound defenseman late in the game. Pucci’s dad, Victor, watching on TV, saw the impact in the area “above the chest, below the chin.” Pucci’s teammate, Monique Lamoureux, called it “a head shot.” Pucci, who had suffered a devastating concussion on Jenner’s blindside hit to her head in August 2012, wasn’t injured. But Pucci’s team still stuck up for her.
Jenner did her time in the box. Then Jocelyne Lamoureux, Monique’s twin sister, retaliated. She crunched Jenner against the boards with a body check — there isn’t supposed to be any of that in women’s hockey, let alone fighting — touching off the incident, the teams’ second brawl of their fall exhibition series.
“The rivalry is really heated between the United States and Canada, obviously,” Pucci said. “Cheap shots shouldn’t be taken. You just show that we’re a team; we’re going to stand behind each other.”
The puck is about to drop at the Sochi Olympics. The U.S. women will try to stop their archrival from striking gold for the fourth straight time and claim it for themselves. Pucci is thrilled to be there at the age of 23 to try to help the cause in the ultimate tournament, her first Winter Games.
“I think it’ll be so energizing,” Pucci said. “I’m just excited to put everything we’ve been practicing and preparing, to just finally go out there and play. … Obviously, the whole experience, I’m at a loss for words about it. I think it’s just going to be an unbelievable experience.”
Her old youth hockey coach with the Pearl River travel, Ramapo Saints and Connecticut Stars programs couldn’t be more proud. That would be her father.
“She has worked so hard for this,” Victor said. “This has been her dream since she was a youngster.”
It’s even more special because she has overcome her history of head trauma to get there. She suffered her first concussion in high school playing for Choate, her second playing for Harvard and the third eight months later playing for the U-22 national team against Canada in Calgary.
That one came with symptoms so bad, she had to drop out of Harvard only a few weeks after arriving for the fall semester of her senior year in 2012.
“She knew that she had to heal 100 percent before she made any attempt to come back, knowing the dangers,” her dad said. “She studied about it, listened to her doctors. She realized that if she wanted to pursue her dream, she had to get healthy again.”
By last February, she felt well again. Pucci plans to return to Harvard later this year to play and finish off her studies.
“Knock on wood, thankfully I’ve been feeling healthy,” Pucci said. “My body is feeling great and my head is feeling great. I’m obviously very thankful for that.
“Concussions are very serious, and you cannot play through symptoms. You’ll have lingering effects if you do that. I feel like my recovery, I did it the right way and the safe way. Fortunately, I took the time needed to ensure that I wouldn’t have lingering symptoms.”
Her parents and two younger sisters will be in the stands Saturday when Team USA opens against Finland. Then comes a game against Switzerland Monday before these women square off against Canada next Wednesday. They played seven times overall in the fall, with Canada winning the first three and the U.S. taking the final four.
“I think we’re confident in our preparation, and now we have to go and execute,” Pucci said.
But are more fists going be flying in Sochi?
“I think it’s going to be a different situation out there,” Pucci said. “You can’t fight in the Olympics. At the end of the day, you have to play physical, but we also have to play within the game.”