More than 6,100 miles separated Karyn Bye-Dietz from the action on the ice Wednesday night.
But that couldn’t dampen a jubilant celebration in Hudson when the Team USA womens hockey team took Olympic gold with a 3-2 shootout win over Canada in Gangneung, South Korea. Bye-Dietz was watching from home with her 14- and 12-year-old sleep-deprived children in a game that spilled into the next day for Wisconsinites.
“My kids wanted me to wake them up to watch the end, so at 12:30 a.m. Tatum, Brody and I were all watching the game in my bedroom,” Bye-Dietz said. “So much fun ... Brody was jumping up and down at 1 a.m. during the shootout.”
Bye-Dietz was Team USA’s leading scorer when it last won the gold in 1998. She also helped the team win silver at the 2002 Olympics.
“I felt a lot of different emotions during the game,” she said of last week’s gold-medal match. “At times I felt nervous and at other times I felt very calm, saying, ‘We got this.’
“At the end of the game when USA won, I knew exactly how Team USA was feeling ... it brought back all of the memories and emotions from 1998. At times I was crying because I was so happy, and at other times you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.”
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Bye-Dietz grew up in River Falls and starred collegiately at the University of New Hampshire. She is now a business owner, professional speaker and coach in Hudson.
As a longtime member of the national team, Bye-Dietz is no stranger to the Canada-USA rivalry. In international women’s hockey, there’s an enormous gap between those two programs and the rest of the world. Canada had dominated at the Olympics, but Team USA has won eight of the last 10 world championships.
Bye-Dietz rightly labels the rivalry as one of the best in sports, likening it to Packers-Vikings, Badgers-Gophers and Red Sox-Yankees.
“I used to love playing them because you always knew it was going to be a tough game,” she said. “It was like going to war.
“When we walked by each other in a hotel or in the cafeteria at the Olympics, you wouldn’t make eye contact or acknowledge them in any way. The games were so intense and physical, you knew you had to bring your ‘A’ game every time.”
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The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on its webstie says Bye-Dietz is “a pioneer in women’s hockey in the United States, (who) has had a significant impact on the sport’s continued growth and evolution.” As one of the first women inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame, it’s hard to argue that point. Team USA captain Meghan Duggan gave credit to the program’s past after last week’s game.
“I can’t think about anything except pure pride, excitement and honor for our team,” she told the IIHF. “A lot of us have wanted this since we saw the 1998 team win 20 years ago. To have this experience together, to represent our country is the greatest honor in the world.”
Added Bye-Dietz: “I think the 1998 team and win was a springboard for womens and girls hockey. The number of girls that started playing hockey after 1998 skyrocketed. This win is only going to help grow the game.”
Now that she’s a parent, Bye-Dietz said watching her children in the Olympics someday would be even more nerve-racking than playing in them.
“When I was at the Olympics, WCCO-TV’s Mark Rosen wanted to inverview my dad before one of the games,” she said, “and he was too nervous to do the interview. When you are playing, you feel like you have some control of what is going on. When you are watching, you have zero control.”
And being on the sidelines does not wear well with Bye-Dietz.
“If I could lace them up and play in another Olympics,” she said, “I would do it in a heartbeat.”
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