Growing up in Westfield, Mass., Kacey Bellamy knew early her heart belonged to hockey. "My brother played," she explained. "My parents had no thoughts about me playing -- my mom actually hoped I'd become a ballerina -- but one day when I was about 5 years old, I got the idea to try on his uniform, and right then, I was hooked."
Fast-forward two decades -- through her high school years at the Berkshire School, where Bellamy played hockey as well as softball, and four years at the University of New Hampshire, where she fine-tuned her defensive maneuvers and qualified for her first Olympics team in Vancouver. "That experience was eye-opening," she said. "To see athletes from all different parts of the world who came together to compete -- I didn't understand how amazing that feeling is to be part of the Games until I was there."
In 2010, the women's hockey team was good, but not good enough. They left with silver in hand, having been beaten once again by the Canadian women's team, their chief rival and the dominating force on the hockey circuit, both men's and women's. Bellamy knows that the road to gold in Sochi in 2014 will likely require the team to once again go head-to-head with the Canadians. "I think everyone is eager for Sochi to get here," she said. "We are ready to win it all."
Before the Vancouver Games, Bellamy had just finished four years as a standout college player at UNH. Joining the national team gave her an immediate focus post-graduation, but once the Games were over, she found herself in new territory, for the first time being solely responsible for pursuing her passion for the sport.
Staying motivated and remaining committed to the training is a challenge. ... You have to remember why you really want to do this.” -- Kacey Bellamy
She was recruited to join the Boston Blades, a newly formed team that's part of the Canadian Women's Hockey League. Life as a pro has required discipline and mental adjustments. "Staying motivated and remaining committed to the training is a challenge," acknowledged Bellamy, who lives about 30 minutes outside Boston. "It's a lot of travel time in the car, a lot of time away from home. You have to remember why you really want to do this."
She also trains with the national team three times a week, with an eye on making the 2014 team for the Sochi Olympics. Though some might assume that a player of her caliber is a shoo-in, Bellamy pointed out that every camp and tournament she plays in with the national team is, in effect, a tryout. "Every player at this level wants to make the Olympic team -- everyone is training for a spot," she said. "People are performing at their highest level in every tournament, which adds to the excitement." And the pressure.
The pressure is on with the Boston Blades as well. Now in their second season, the team is looking to improve upon last season's third-place finish. Bellamy has upped her training routine, including workouts in the weight room and other off-ice training. "It's hard," she said. "I have no time for a job, no free time to hang out with friends. It's all training and playing games."
But don't get her wrong: She wouldn't have it any other way. "I've learned since graduating college that it's the work you put in off the ice -- the strength training and conditioning, bike sprints, treadmill sessions -- that really make the biggest difference in improving the game on the ice," she said. "The single biggest difference between college hockey and pro hockey is the speed. So anything you can do to increase your speed is a huge advantage."
Bellamy is known for playing physical defense, walking a fine line in women's hockey, where checking is not allowed in the same manner it is with men's teams. Her aggressive style can partly be attributed to her early years of playing on boys' teams, since there were no other options for female hockey players in Massachusetts then.
"It was a bit of an adjustment when I went from playing on boys' teams to being on an all-girls team in high school," she admitted. "I had to learn a different style of play, and I really did enjoy the more physical games that the boys played." But she adapted to the new rules, mastering her stickhandling skills without losing her edge.
Though attendance at women's hockey games is still far below that of men's, Bellamy is hopeful the sport will catch on as more opportunities arise for young girls to play. "Women's hockey is getting better every year," she said. "There is less 'Girls can't play' and more 'Wow, they're really talented.' It's exciting to think where this might lead for women's hockey in the next few years. The potential is big."
Growing the sport requires mentoring by the older players, something Bellamy is eager to do. She spent a year after college as a volunteer coach with UNH and loved it, but her busy game schedule, training and travel time made it impossible to continue.
"When everything is said and done and I retire from competing, I definitely want to coach," she said. "Until then, the plan is to keep playing until I can't do it anymore."
With any luck, that day will come long after the 2014 Games. "It's a rush just to play at the Olympic level -- it's the farthest you can go in the sport," she said. "But next time, the goal is gold."