By Karen Rosen – teamusa.org
It takes quite a feat to become the answer to a sports trivia question.
Who scored the first hat trick in the National Women’s Hockey League?
That would be Brianna Decker, a forward for the Boston Pride, against the Buffalo Beauts on Oct. 25, 2016.
Now Decker wants the ultimate hat trick. She has an NCAA championship (for the University of Wisconsin in 2011) and not just one, but four world championships titles with Team USA in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016. All that’s left is an Olympic gold medal.
“That would cap off my career,” she said.
Decker, 25, was part of the Team USA squad that took silver at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Along with many of her Olympic teammates, she’s wearing the red, white and blue jersey again for the Four Nations Cup in Vierumaki, Finland, Nov. 1-5.
Team USA, comprised of 19 world championships veterans, is the defending champ and will face Canada, Sweden and Finland – three of its toughest opponents on the world stage.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to see where our team stands at the beginning of the season,” said Decker, who is playing in her eighth Four Nations Cup going back to 2008.
The 2016-17 campaign culminates in Plymouth, Michigan, with Team USA seeking to defend its title on home ice at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.
“It’s in the back of your mind that we’re hosting world championships, but we’re a team that really focuses on the present and what we can do now and take care of business now,” Decker said.
The four teams in the NWHL – the Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters – take a break for the Four Nations Cup. Boston leads the standings with a 4-0 record, with Decker tallying three goals and three assists.
Team USA has not won Olympic gold since the inaugural women’s tournament in 1998, taking home silver in 2002, 2010 and 2014, and bronze in 2006. Yet the United States has won four of the last five world championships.
On the flip side, arch-rival Canada has won four straight Olympic gold medals, but hasn’t won a world championship since defeating Team USA in 2012 in Burlington, Vermont.
“Honestly, with Canada, a game can go either way,” Decker said. “It’s like a chess match. It’s really hard to put a finger on why that happens (Canada prevailing at the Olympic Games and Team USA at the world championships). I hope we’re going to change our pattern this time around at the Olympics.”
Decker can play a big part in that, centering a line that includes fellow Olympians Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne.
“Knighter is probably the best scorer you have on the ice in the world and you have Coyner’s speed,” Decker said. “Put those together, and I just try to jell the line a little bit, being in the middle. My job is to go out there and get the puck to Hilary if I can. Coyner can score as well and I know I can find the back of the net, too.
“Also, we’re very positive with each other and we jell pretty well off the ice, so that helps as well.”
Team USA coach Ken Klee, who first put Knight and Decker together on the line two years ago, said “it’s exciting that other teams can’t just key on one player. They’re awesome players in their own right, but together as a unit that’s what really raises them above others.”
Klee calls Decker “just one of those complete players that you love to have on your team. She does everything. She can score, she can pass, she can be responsible defensively.
“Decks just brings a different skill set that’s one of the best in the world and I think she realizes playing with two other great players how much they can all just enhance each other to really make an awesome unit that has tremendous success.”
He said Decker isn’t overshadowed by Knight.
“If you were to ask other teams if they worry about one more than the other, I would say they probably don’t,” Klee said. “They know how good the three of them are together, and Decks is a big part of that being the center. There’s no question playing with two other great players adds to her game.”
Decker and Knight are also teammates with the Boston Pride.
“They have good chemistry,” Klee said. “They know where each other are on the ice, they get open for each other, the work hard for each other and they communicate very well.”
Decker was destined for a hockey career while growing up in Dousman, Wisconsin. She followed older brothers Bryan and Ben onto the ice at age 3 1/2 , and younger brother Brody is playing collegiate hockey for Concordia University Wisconsin.
Decker credits her brothers with instilling her competitive drive, while her parents carted the quartet to practices and games every weekday and weekend.
“I tried to pass my first puck when I was 4,” Decker said, but she doesn’t remember when she scored her first goal.
“I don’t think I had too hard of a shot when I was 4,” Decker said.
By high school, she knew she had a shot at the Olympic Games. She remembers thinking, “I really want to be able to play in the Olympics and win a gold medal. That’s what triggered me to go for it and fulfill it.”
Decker never aspired to be a goalie, always wanting to be at the forefront of the action.
“There’s something about when you’re making plays out there and scoring goals,” Decker said, “that feeling you get inside that keeps you striving to do more. Once you get that feeling, you don’t want it to leave.”
For Decker, explaining that feeling is harder than finding the back of the net.
“When you’re working your butt off to try to make things happen, and you score a goal,” she said, “happiness fills your whole body.”
In college at Wisconsin, Decker was such a prolific goal scorer that she set a single-season record with 11 game-winning goals as the Badgers won the national title.
“One of my favorite moments was winning the national championship,” Decker said. “It’s one of the hardest things to do and that was a huge aspiration for me and I was able to do that.”
She also won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top female player in the NCAA while at Wisconsin. As a senior, she led the team with 29 goals and 26 assists, ending her career as the second-leading point scorer at Wisconsin behind Knight.
Decker played for the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, where she was the Rookie of the Year after scoring 16 goals and 32 points in 12 games, and helped her team win the 2015 Clarkson Cup.
With the NWHL starting in 2015 as the first women’s ice hockey league in North America to offer salaries to players, Decker joined the Boston Pride. Her team won the Isobel Cup and Decker was named the NWHL’s Most Valuable Player.
“Last year was huge for us, being able to launch the league and it being pretty successful,” Decker said.
Players share in a small portion of their jersey sales and Decker said it’s exciting to see some No. 14s around Boston. “It’s nice to see any Pride jerseys out there,” Decker said, “whether it’s me or one of my teammates. It just shows the support around our community.”
With women’s salaries paling in comparison to their NHL counterparts, Decker augments her income by giving lessons to girls ranging in age from high school to 10-and-under.
“I enjoy coaching, so I look forward to that during the year as well,” Decker said. “It’s awesome to see how many skills that the girls pick up on in such a short period of time. There’s kind of instant gratification in being their coach.”
Klee said working with younger players can give Decker a new perspective on the game. And he added, “Any time you have a situation where you feel like you’re connecting with a kid and helping them to love the game that you love, it’s a great feeling.”
Decker said it’s important to help bring up the next generation.
“I’m doing my best,” she said. “It’s just awesome to see where women’s hockey has come in the past 10-15 years. The speed and the movement of the puck has increased so much. It’s good for our sport. “