Madison Mahre, 14, works on hockey drills during a 6 a.m. private training session with Patrick Houlihan at the IceFourm in Duluth in February. Mahre wears her jersey from the U16 AAA Team Pittsburgh. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
Madison Mahre will head to St. Cloud, Minn., this week as one of just 36 defensive players in the country selected for USA Hockey’s national girls Under-14 camp.
If she were a little bit older, the camp would be a chance to make the U.S. U18 national team which competes at the World Championships. Mahre just finished eighth grade at Greater Atlanta Christian and, at just 14, is a year too young to make that team. But the camp is a tremendous first step toward accomplishing her ever-expanding goals.
“This first year is to get my age group set up, get the feel for it and next year really get into it,” Mahre said. “I heard it’s really hard. All the other girls there want the same thing as you.
“It’s fun but it’s very hard. You come out with a new need to work harder.”
Commitment isn’t really an issue for Mahre. Since spring when her season on the AAA Fire boys team ended, Mahre has skated four and five times a week, spending countless hours working on her game. In April she was one of just two eighth-graders invited to a prestigious Canadian hockey camp on Kelowna, B.C., which had 17 NCAA coaches in attendance.
She was even asked to come up early to work out for three days with the hosting academy’s elite players. Seven hours each day of skating and conditioning which led up to the actual camp.
“It was really nerve-wracking,” Mahre said. “It’s hard. It’s some of the top girls in the nation and they’re all in high school. One girl was picked as the best (prep) defenseman in the world.
“It was a little intimidating at first. It’s amazing what they do up there.”
It was yet another chance for Mahre to measure herself against players from traditional hockey hotbeds.
“Down South is not exactly the best competition for girls hockey,” Mahre said. “It was pretty scary, but I felt like once I got in the swing of things, I kept in mind there were girls four years older than me and girls who had been playing far longer.”
Mahre started playing hockey less than five years ago.
“It was a big thing for me, playing in that camp with all the college coaches,” Mahre said.
It was only recently that Mahre was introduced to the idea of going to boarding school — she’s headed to St. Paul’s in Concord, N.H., on a Merritt Scholarship in the fall — and she’s already starting to think about colleges.
“I hadn’t seriously started thinking about it before,” Mahre said. “But really that camp told me, I was really surprised — I thought I’d be the worst one out there. And I think I did pretty well.
“There were a few times where I was hard on myself because the competition was amazing. It was definitely good for my mental game. It was difficult, but I think I compared really well for my age group. I wasn’t the best one out there, but it was good because I know what I need to work for.”
When she returned home, Mahre went right to work preparing for for the national camp district tryouts. Mahre was picked from there to go to St. Cloud., Minn., for a camp that begins Friday and runs through next week. She will compete against 50 or more girls her own age from all over the U.S.
After that, it’s tryouts for a new club team. The U16 girls team she played on out of Pittsburgh is too far away from her prep school and she was invited to try out for one of the best U16 teams in North America, Assabet Valley, which has become a virtual pipeline to the U.S. National team.
Then, after a couple weeks of family vacation overseas, it will be off to St. Paul’s in September to start prep school.
“You know, it’s been going pretty well,” said Mahre, who has been going with the flow as opportunities unfold in front of her.
“I’ve been winging it pretty much,” the straight-A student said. “Two or three years ago, I knew exactly where I was going, which teams I was going to play on.”
Now, because of her hard work and innate talent, a whole world of possibilities are there for the taking. As her private skating coach Ray Hemms predicted, Mahre may one day indeed be the first Southerner to play for the U.S. Olympic team.