ADLER, Russia - New York's Josephine Pucci is one win away from an Olympic gold medal.
The 23-year-old Harvard University student hails from Pearl River, a hamlet of roughly 16,000 people on the New York-New Jersey line. While the United States men's team has six New Yorkers, plus three who play for the Empire State's NHL teams, Pucci is the only New Yorker on the women's team.
On Thursday, she and her teammates take on that familiar rival, Canada, in the championship game at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Josephine Pucci skates with the puck during the United States women's Olympic hockey team's game against Switzerland on Feb. 10 at the Shayba rink.
(Enterprise photo - Lou Reuter)
United States women's Olympic hockey team defenseman Josephine Pucci in action during a game against Canada on Feb. 12.
(Enterprise photo - Lou Reuter)
You might think Pucci has been overwhelmed competing in her first Olympics, but along with her teammates, she is focused on the task at hand, which is claiming the gold medal that Canada has won at the last three Winter Games.
"Obviously, being in the Olympics is an incredible feeling," Pucci said. "This is what it's all about. This is the biggest stage their is for women's ice hockey. But we are here to do a job. We're here to win, so everything we do is revolving around how to be prepared.
"We haven't been running around very much at all," Pucci added. "We've been kind of staying on our path and heading in the right direction."
Like many hockey players who excel in the highest level of the sport, Pucci started the game as a youngster. And like the many of the top women who play hockey in the U.S., her first experiences competing were on boys teams.
"When I was growing up, there wasn't really a girls program around, so I started playing boys hockey," she said. "I played boys hockey until high school with the Ramapo Saints. My two younger sisters played as well, and then I went away to Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn. to play girls hockey.
Pucci, who is a captain of the Harvard Crimson's women's hockey team, said she is thankful for all the help that she has received along the way from the community where she grew up.
"Everybody in my hometown has been so supportive and encouraging," Pucci said. "And it's not like the support just started now. There are a lot of people who I feel strongly about who have always be there along the way in my younger years, and even now, whether it's teachers, teammates or coaches. It's my hometown roots."
Heading into Thursday's game, the U.S. has posted a 3-1 record. The Americans went 2-1 in pool play, topping Finland and Switzerland and then falling 3-2 to Canada. The U.S. beat Sweden 6-1 on Monday to reach the gold medal game.
In four games so far, Pucci, a defenseman, has picked up one assist, which came in her team's 9-0 victory over the Swiss.
Pucci has certainly had her share of excitement competing in her first Olympics, but at the same time she is trying to stay as grounded as possible.
"The Olympics have been wonderful, they've been great, but I'm just trying to take it a day at a time," she said. "This is something we've been working on for the last six months. We're just trying to build whether we win or lose. I think we're all trying to do our best to be prepared. We want to be at our best when it counts."