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Hockey pucks in Hawaii

SHERRY MAYS

Hockey and Hawaii don’t normally appear in the same conversation, unless you happen to bump into the gold medal winning American women’s ice hockey team while catching some sun in Maui.

While Squaw Valley USA was dedicating a ski run and handing out a lifetime pass to Jonny Moseley, Michael Brooke of Truckee Tiffany’s was learning the sad truth about some Olympic gold medal winners who, once out of Nagano, Japan, were all but forgotten.

His awakening to the fact that not all Olympic memories are golden took place in Maui, during a trip to the island with his two sons Ryan, 16, and Justin, 8.

The three were standing in line to get wristbands to use the Sheraton’s swimming pool, when they heard a group of young girls protesting the band requirement.

“I said, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to wear the bands either,'” Brooke said. “The girls looked at me and asked, ‘Who are you?’ I said ‘I’m just a nobody from Tahoe. Who are you?’ and one girl said, ‘We just won the gold medal in hockey.'”

Brooke, who is known for his Truckee Follies productions, said he was totally impressed from the first day he met the women.

“They are the nicest group of women,” he said. “My sons and I spent some time with them and got to know them pretty well. That’s why I wanted to make people aware that these women deserve more recognition.”

Brooke said he didn’t realize how much the team was being overlooked until mid-day when one of the women asked another if she wanted to go to lunch at the hotel.

“She said, ‘I don’t know if I can afford it,'” he said. “I couldn’t believe it … that some of the girls couldn’t afford lunch.”

He offered to buy them lunch at the hotel and they joined him and his sons.

“I’m not saying that I think all Olympians should be instant millionaires,” Brooke said. “I just think that the hotels and restaurants would want to be better hosts.”

Brooke said the girls told him about what it was like being women hockey players. He said after the Olympics the fanfare waned and reality set in.

“I don’t think they realized what they had done in the Olympics,” Brooke said. “They are heroes for women and men, and really changed the face of women’s sports. But no one is acknowledging that.”

He said the hotel offered the team a discounted rate and Planet Hollywood offered T-shirts and free dinners.

Brooke and his sons were invited to tag along with the team when they appeared at the Planet Hollywood restaurant for a signing.

“It was pure mayhem,” he said. “It was a media frenzy, but they had fun including us in their night.”

Brooke said the women had traveled from Nagano, appeared on the Letterman Show, then flew to Hawaii. In between they posed for a Wheaties cereal box and VISA commercial.

“But they didn’t get paid,” he said. “I don’t think everything is about money, but it would be nice to show appreciation for their impact on sports.”

Brooke said one woman unavailable to make the Hawaii trip was Cammi Granato, who had been approached to do endorsements.

“No one seemed jealous of Cammi, but I don’t see how sponsors can break the team up,” he said. “They competed as a team.”

He added that he thought Truckee or the Tahoe area could probably offer them a chance to appear possibly in an exhibition game or teen camp because of the area’s interest in hockey.

“I think it would be great to for our area to help them get more exposure and press,” he said. “We have always been supportive of Olympic athletes.

They raised our (American) spirits and awareness of women’s athletics and they deserve more recognition.”

The women who Brooke met in Hawaii were Colleen Coyne, Tricia Dunn, Shelly Looney, Sarah De Costa, Jenny Schmidgall, Angela Ruggiero, Alana Blahoski, Katie King, Chris Bailey, Sue Merz and A.J. Mleczko.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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