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US women have monster of time

By John Powers
Globe Staff / January 5, 2010

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The US Olympic women’s ice hockey team was told just before the holidays that there would be a little Christmas present that couldn’t be opened until after New Year’s - an invitation to lace up inside Fenway Park.

“The locker room was pandemonium,’’ said coach Mark Johnson. “It was ecstatic.’’

For a rosy-cheeked hour yesterday morning in the midst of a string of road games, the world champions had their easiest and most exuberant practice since the core group was named in August, hanging out with friends and family after their last appearance in the East before they head to Vancouver for the Winter Games.

“It’s such a thrill to be here,’’ said Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympian. “Fenway has such history.’’

Ruggiero was sitting in the stands in 2004 when David Ortiz drove in the winning run in the 14th inning of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. This time she was gliding across the ice-topped infield along with nine teammates with New England roots, including fellow Harvard graduates Caitlin Cahow and Julie Chu and Boston College players Molly Schaus and Kelli Stack.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime,’’ Ruggiero said, “especially for us Boston kids.’’

Their exhibition schedule just happened to put the squad in the vicinity yesterday. The Americans had beaten the ECAC All-Stars in Hamden, Conn. Sunday and had a few spare hours yesterday to drop by Yawkey Way before flying to Madison for today’s game at Wisconsin, where Johnson will get to coach against his varsity, which won the national title last season at BU’s Agganis Arena.

The all-skate in the Fens was also an opportunity for a five-ringed reunion. AJ Mleczko, who won gold and silver in 1998 and 2002, turned up, as did three-time former coach Ben Smith and Mike Eruzione, who came by to chat with Johnson, his 1980 teammate.