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Recalling U.S. women's hockey gold from yesteryear

Karyn Dietz, a former Olympic athlete for the United States women’s hockey team, visited Footprints Academy on Feb. 10. Dietz brought both her gold and silver medals to show students, as well as her original hockey jersey and the Wheaties box that featured her and the 1998 United States women’s hockey team. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith) 1 / 2
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Like many Americans, Hudson, Wis., resident Karyn Dietz has been glued to the television watching the Winter Olympics.

But the Olympics isn’t just a television for event for her, it’s a chance to relive some great memories.

Dietz, formerly Karyn Bye, competed in both the 1998 and the 2002 Winter Olympics on the United States women’s hockey team.

Dietz shared her experiences with students at Footprints Academy on Feb. 10.

“I still get the chills watching the Olympics,” she said. “It brings back so much emotion. It was amazing to be a part of that experience.”

A hockey family 

Dietz, who grew up in River Falls, Wis., first started skating when she was 4 years old when her father installed a skating rink in her front yard.

“I absolutely loved to skate,” she said.

It wasn’t until she was 7 years old that Dietz tried her hand at hockey.

Dietz’s brother, then 9 years old, played the sport, but one day he was sick and wasn’t able to go to practice.

So Dietz’s father had the idea to dress her in her brother’s gear and send her off to practice as a joke.

“They figured out it was me,” she said, “but, I had an absolute blast.”

Dietz quickly joined the hockey team as the only girl.

Her hockey dreams kicked into overdrive when she was in second grade, the year of the 1980 Olympics and the “miracle on ice.”

“I remember sitting in my kitchen just glued to the TV,” she said. “I told my parents that I wanted to go to the Olympics and win a gold medal.”

Dietz continued with hockey through high school, where she again played on the boys team.

Dietz didn’t play for a women’s hockey team until she went to college in New Hampshire.

However, after having played with the boys for so long, Dietz said it was hard to adjust to women’s hockey, where checking is off-limits.

“I checked a few people and spent some time in a little thing called the penalty box,” Dietz said.

An Olympic journey

Dietz began her Olympic journey in 1997 when she tried out for the first-ever women’s Olympic hockey team.

After going through weeks of practices, Dietz got word that she had been selected as one of 20 to represent the United States in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

“The first part of my dream came true,” she said.

During her stay in the Olympic Village, Dietz said she made some wonderful friends, but one encounter sticks out.

Dietz was in the cafeteria looking for a place to sit when she noticed a male athlete sitting alone. It was Wayne Gretzky – the former NHL star considered by many as the greatest ever to play the game.

“He’s Canadian, but I didn’t hold that against him,” Dietz said.

During the Winter Olympics, Dietz and her teammates played against a number of countries including China, Finland, Sweden, Japan and Canada.

“We beat them all,” she said.

The United States ultimately faced off against Canada in the final game for the gold medal.

The night before the game, Dietz and her teammates came together to motivate each other.

“It was 10 o’clock at night and I was ready to play hockey,” she said.

The day of the game, the nerves kicked in.

“I finally told myself, “You can’t do anything more to prepare for the game. Just go out on the ice with a smile on your face,” she said.

The United States women’s hockey team beat Canada for the gold medal.

“Our coach came into the locker room and told us it was time to collect the hardware,” she said. “The medals came out on blue velvet – I’ll never forget it.”

Dietz went back to the Olympics in 2002 for the games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Again, the United States faced off against Canada for the gold medal. This time however, they lost.

“That was a hard loss,” Dietz said.

The gold medal game during the 2002 Winter Olympics marked Dietz’s last hockey game in her career.

After 24 years, she had decided to retire.

“I was ready to close that chapter of my book and open another one,” she said.

Dietz said winning the gold medal is definitely among her best memories, however she’ll never forget the people she played with.

“I loved being on a team,” she said. “That’s the one thing I miss most about hockey right now is playing all together and everyone having the same goal.”

Having a dream

In addition to sharing her story with students, Dietz also had a few surprises for students at Footprints.

Not only did Dietz have her gold and silver medals on hand for students to see, she also brought the Wheaties box that featured the 1998 United States women’s hockey team and her jersey that she wore in the Olympics.

Dietz ended her presentation with a challenge for students: “When you go out into your world, let’s try and have a dream.” 

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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