- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - In her carry-on bag for the trip to Russia - never under the plane with the checked luggage - or hanging in her locker at the Shayba Arena, Lyndsey Fry always keeps the jersey close by.

It is not the one she is wearing for the U.S. women’s hockey team in Sochi this week.

It is the reason she is here.

Despondent over the death of friend and former teammate Liz Turgeon, Fry nearly played herself out of contention for a spot on the U.S. women’s hockey team. Two years later, the defenseman found motivation in her sorrow, telling her parents, “I’m going for it,” and rededicating herself to the sport.

“We kind of made this promise to each other,” Fry said in an interview at the team’s training base outside Boston before leaving for Sochi. “I’ve been set on keeping it - this past year, especially. To be able to do that … it’s all going to become very, very real.”

Fry’s hometown of Chandler, Ariz., is a Phoenix suburb where swimming pools are common and ice rinks are not - the state has never before sent a hockey player to the Olympics. But her father had her on roller skates at 4 and handed her a hockey stick not long after. Then came the “Mighty Ducks” movie, in which girls played on same team as boys, and Fry was sold.

Lyndsey’s mother said that when an ice rink opened up five miles from her house, the first in the area, “all of the girls switched over.”

“And the next year they were all playing on travel teams,” Lynne Fry said.

Like most young girls playing hockey, Fry played with boys until - seeking better women’s competition than she could find in Arizona - she joined a team in Denver called the Colorado Selects. The coach was former NHL star Pierre Turgeon and his daughter, Liz, was on the team.

Liz and Lyndsey became like sisters. When Fry grew tired of commuting from Arizona, she stayed with the Turgeons, adopting them - not just Liz, but her parents, too - as a second family. Fry took online courses to finish high school and she was accepted to play hockey at Harvard.

Liz, who still had another year of high school, was committed to Minnesota.

“So we didn’t know when we were going to play together again,” Fry said. “We had always hoped that this would be where we would kind of reunite.”

Liz died in December 2010 when the pickup truck she was driving crashed into a semi-trailer just after midnight about 100 miles outside of Albuquerque. She was 18. Fry spoke at the service, then returned to school and to hockey.

But it wasn’t like it was before.

“It was two days before Christmas and it was tough,” said U.S. coach Katey Stone, also Fry’s coach at Harvard. “It was a very, very difficult time for her.”

Lynne Fry said Liz lost her motivation and “just kind of went through the motions the next year, year and a half.” She didn’t want to go to the USA Hockey winter camp, nearly taking herself out of the pool of players the world championships team would be drawn from.

“She didn’t want to go. We talked to her about commitment,” Lynne Fry said. “And she remembered that she made a promise to her: ‘We’re going to go on. We’re going to play for something bigger.’”

It was two years ago, and another Christmas, when Fry told her parents, “I’m not a quitter.” They opened their presents: One got the gloves she wore for the national team, the other got her hockey socks.

“We each opened up that gift and she said, ‘I’m going for it,’” Lynne Fry said. “That’s when everything really started falling into place.”

Fry started working harder, seeing a nutritionist, committing to hockey again. A point-per-game scorer at Harvard and with the national under-18 team, she is still looking for her first goal or assist of the Olympics.

“I felt like it was (flipping) a switch,” Fry’s mother said. “Lyndsey just said, ‘I’m going for it. And I’m not going to let anything hold me back. And I’m not going to let anyone tell me I can’t do it.’”

The general manager of the Olympic hockey team, Reagan Carey was going through the offices at USA Hockey when she came across the jersey Liz Turgeon wore for the under-18 team. Fry asked for it, and with the permission of the Turgeons, she has carried it with her ever since - rink to rink, game to game and country to country.

“It’s nice to know that Liz is being remembered,” said her mother, Elisabeth Turgeon. “Playing in the Olympics was definitely one of Elizabeth’s biggest dreams. We feel honored and blessed.”

At the Olympics, where the United States is 2-0 heading into the biggest game of the round-robin, against Canada on Wednesday, Fry has been hanging Liz’s jersey in her locker. She also has a piece of tape on her stick with “8967” written on it - Turgeon’s uniform No. 87 surrounding Fry’s No. 96. When she takes the ice, she pulls out a locket with a picture of the two of them and opens it.

“And I kind of talk to her a little bit, then say ‘I love you,’ and point to the sky,” she said. “And that’s how I start every game. I’ll continue to do that. I’ve done that since she passed away.”

And she has one more tribute in mind as well.

“I guess there’s this image in my head of being able to kind of bring her jersey out if we win a medal,” she said. “But we’ll see.”

___

Follow Jimmy Golen on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/jgolen.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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