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Welcome Home, Silver Medalists!

Day, Jessica – February 21, 2014

Although the US Women’s Hockey Team won’t be coming home from Sochi with Gold, there will be plenty of people who will welcome the athletes as victors, who fought the good fight and gave it all they had. Among the crowd will be Bob Hrabchak ’81 and his family, who have forged a special bond with fellow alumnus and “adopted” daughter Molly Schaus ’06, who served as a goalie for the team. The following is a story by Deerfield sports writer Bob York, who discovered that sometimes finishing up strong is all in the family. 

The autographed picture of the “Miracle on Ice Team” that had long occupied a prominent spot in Bob Hrabchak’s home office has been moved to the opposite wall. In its place is an autographed picture of this year’s United States Women’s Olympic Hockey Team.

The remodeling job was something Hrabchak (Class of 1981) would never have dreamed of until about six months ago. Considering the closest his game face ever got to a hockey rink was a swimming pool, that picture of the gold-medal-winning 1980 US Men’s Olympic Hockey Team is thought of as a keepsake. Even the way he came to own it—winning it in a fundraising lottery—was kind of a miracle unto itself.

Hrabchak’s office transformation didn’t occur until a few days after Christmas. The changeover, which would soon become inevitable, however, began last June.

“That,” explained Hrabchak, “was when I held up my hand when some people from the Concord (MA) youth hockey program asked if my wife Anne and I would be interested in serving as a host family for players on the US Women’s Olympic Hockey Team during the six months they would be at a training site in Bedford— about eight miles from our home.”

Hrabchak must have held up both hands when the question was asked, though, because he and his family ended up hosting two players: Molly Schaus ’06 and teammate Jessie Vetter. As the family head count grew overnight from four to six, which now included mom and dad, their two sons, Matt and Will, plus, as Hrabchak described, “two instant daughters,” Hrabchak and Schaus suddenly learned what a small world it really is. “I don’t really think having attended Deerfield had much, if anything, to do with the matchmaking,” said Hrabchak, “but it certainly has turned out to be a very interesting twist of fate for both Molly and me.”

“It was just a coincidence that we had the Deerfield connection,” said Schaus, who is arguably the premier goaltender to play for Big Green girls hockey during the 24 years of the program’s existence, “but it was an instant ice breaker, as we could all share stories and compared our times there.”

Nor did the matchmaking hinge on any obsession with hockey—by Hrabchak’s account—either, as there was none. During his Deerfield days, he might have watched the game, but never played it. He spent his winters in Deerfield’s swimming pool, where he earned All-American honors and went on to swim at Harvard, serving as captain of its swim team his senior year.

Despite the sudden rise in the household enrollment, which officially took place on August 25, the transition from four to six went quite smoothly. . . and returned to four less than two weeks later when both Matt and Will headed off to dad’s alma mater: Deerfield.

“I never had any sisters, so it’s really been awesome having Molly and Jessie around,” said Matt ’15, who, like his dad, has made a splash on the Big Green swim team, helping Deerfield to chalk up the New England Prep School Division I Swimming and Diving Championships last winter. He did so with gold-medal performances in the 200 and 500 freestyle races, as well as the 400 freestyle relay. Will ’17, meanwhile, is making his prep school debut this winter in his specialty, the backstroke.

“Molly and Jessie arrived in late August and Will and I left for school just after Labor Day, so we got to spend about a week-and-half with them and it was really cool,” explained Matt.

“When they first arrived, they stayed in our guest room,” added Matt, “but once we left for school, they moved into our rooms. And I think that’s been the only weird part of having them stay with us; when we came home on break, Will and I stayed in the guest room.”

“This has been a fantastic experience for everyone—host families and athletes,” said the elder Hrabchak, “and I feel quite confident the other families in the area and the players staying with them would all say the same thing.

“As for my wife and I, well, we’re finally experiencing what it’s like to have daughters,” quipped Hrabchak.

“Seriously though,” he quickly added, “as far as we’re concerned, this has been a tremendous opportunity for all of us. We treat them like family and they treat us like family and we’d all do it again in a minute.”

“Living with the Hrabchak family for the past five months has been an incredibly positive experience,” said Schaus, who, along with Vetter, earned a spot on the US women’s team that that won a silver medal at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.  “Bob and Anne have created a great living situation where we can get away from the rink, relax, and have a lot of fun.

“We spend most nights playing ping pong, euchre (card game), cooking, talking sports or just watching TV, and it’s amazing how close and how comfortable we have all become in such a short period of time, and I definitely consider them all family.

“I’m sure it was an adjustment for them to all of a sudden have two mid-twenty-year-old girls move in,” added Schaus, “but they didn’t miss a beat in welcoming us and supporting us on and off the ice. We definitely have a few more passionate USA fans in our corner now. I am so grateful to have had this experience and to be able to share the Olympic journey with them.”

“I think living with a host family has allowed the girls to enjoy the best of both worlds,” said Hrabchak. “Primarily, it has served as an oasis from the daily pressure they face at the rink—mainly the pressure to make the team. And once they’ve made the team, there’s the pressure of competing against the very best hockey players the rest of the world has to offer. Plus, considering that both the US and Canada are already considered heavy favorites to meet in the gold-medal game, there’s already pressure to win gold.”

“Moving in with a host family has allowed the girls to get away from the dormitory-style living conditions that they have known prior to this and gives them a chance to get away from hockey and get some normalcy in their lives for a little while.”

Another advantage Hrabchak sees as a positive for the host family system is its cost effectiveness.

“Living in and around the Boston area is not an inexpensive proposition—especially when you’re only trying to rent for a six-month period.” said Hrabchak. “Let’s face it, these young women are the last of the true amateurs. They play hockey because of their love of the sport and they’re among the very best in the world at what they do.

“Living with a host family also means the girls don’t have to worry about such things as paying the rent or buying the groceries,” added Hrabchak, “although both Molly and Jessie have chipped in for groceries during their time here and have cooked some meals for us as well, and I must say, they’re pretty good cooks, too.”

Will also appreciated their kitchen prowess, but discovered firsthand that what these girls do best is play hockey.

“While we were home on break, we played a game on a pond near our house,” said Will. “A few neighbors came over and we had a game of three-on-three.  Molly played, but Jessie didn’t; she had another commitment that day.

“Molly was on the other team,” he added, “and she really killed us. Even though she’s a goalie, she skated circles around the rest of us. I don’t think you can appreciate just how good they really are until you get out there on the ice and try to play against them.”

If they had been able to swap the boots that always seem to serve as goalposts in such pond hockey encounters for a real goal, Schaus could have conducted a how-to clinic on shutouts. After all, she chalked up 23 of them in three years at Deerfield and notched 21 more during a two-time All-American career at Boston College.

While playing for the Big Green, Schaus never owned a goals against average over 1.50 per game, nor a save percentage under .930. At BC, she registered a final record of 80-36-18 and established career records for wins, goals against average (1.82), save percentage (.934) and saves (3828).

Vetter is no slouch when it comes to shutting down opponents, either. She led the University of Wisconsin to three NCAA championships, while posting 91 wins during her four years with the Badgers. Those victories include 39 shutouts, with 14 coming during her senior season. She also culminated her collegiate career by being named the winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award, which is annually presented to the NCAA’s best women’s hockey player.

The team left for the Olympic Games on February 1, “but they left a bunch of their stuff here, so this will be their first stop upon their return,” said Hrabchak. “So it wasn’t goodbye but rather, see you later.”

The Hrabchaks watched as many of the girls’ games as they possibly could on TV, and kept some of the gifts the girls gave them for Christmas close to their hearts.

“One was a real Olympic hockey jersey, with ‘Hrabchak’ embroidered on the back,” said Will.

The other was that autographed team picture that now occupies a place of prominence in the Hrabchak home.