Riding out a hurricane is no way to prep for the Olympics.
But that was the situation the U.S. women’s national hockey team faced this weekend when Hurricane Irma made a late turn and came barreling up the west coast of Florida.
While other teams – including the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning evacuated to a safer locations – USA Hockey opted to have its female top players shelter in place.
The American players entered a secured area of the Saddlebrook Resort – 30 minutes north of Tampa’s airport – at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday and didn’t come out until 9 a.m. Monday morning, according to a report from USA Today.
“Six months out from the Olympics why would you put your best athletes through the stress of a hurricane,” Brant Feldman, an agent who represents players on the team, told the newspaper on Saturday. “I wish my clients well and hope for their health and well being as they ride out a hurricane 3 or 4 because they weren’t evacuated.”
Despite the criticism, USA Hockey stood by the decision to leave the team in Tampa.
“We knew every detail of the building including how many steel trusses there were in the building and whether it was poured concrete,” Reagan Carey, the director of women’s hockey for USA Hockey told USA Today. “We were confident we were in a safe, secure area.”
USA Hockey said in a statement Saturday that the team was not in an evacuation zone.
Despite widespread power outages, flooded streets and downed trees, Tampa got lucky and received only a “glancing blow,” from Irma according to Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn. Projections on Sunday morning had warned that Tampa could suffer a direct hit.
The U.S. women – who will be skating for a second gold medal when the Olympics open in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February – appear to have made the best of a bad situation.
“Indirectly, it ended up being a great team-bonding experience,” U.S. forward Brianna Decker said. “Hanging out together for that long, we still all got along and it showed a lot about our team.”
“#Irma was a beast but we tackled her w positivity, support, & a plan!” team captain Meghan Duggan tweeted Monday. “Proud of our teams mentality & VERY thankful to every 1 who kept us safe.”
Duggan called it a “giant sleepover in a very secure area.”
She added: “We made the best out of a situation that wasn’t great.”
That’s been the situation for the U.S. women all year.
The team had to threaten to boycott the World Championships earlier in the year in order to secure a contract that would pay them oustide the six-month Olympic period.
The two sides eventually agreed to a last-minute, four-year deal and then the U.S. women went and took home the title with an unbeaten run in the tournament, capped by a 3-2 OT win over Canada in the gold-medal game.
“Our sport is the big winner today,” Duggan said in a USA Hockey release in March. “We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey’s leadership listened.”
After winning the gold in the inaugural women’s tournament at the Nagano Games in 1998, the U.S. has finished second three times including a heartbreaking loss to Canada in Sochi in 2014.
The players will trade board (bored) games for skates when they return to practice Tuesday.