The grind to make a national team in any capacity is tough on an athlete, especially one that is still in college.
Britta Curl, a former Bismarck Blizzard hockey player who stars for the Wisconsin Badgers, has been dealing with that grind for over a year now.
“It’s definitely a lot of juggling,” said Curl, who graduated from St. Mary’s in 2018. “It’s hard as an athlete to be peaking at the right time for different things. As a college player, all you have to worry about is peaking for the season, but playing for both collegiate and national teams means you have to peak at different times.”
Curl’s journey to make a name for herself on the national stage started last year when she entered the process to try out for the US Olympic Hockey team.
That process has given her some of her highest highs and lowest lows of the past year.
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“I was excited to have the opportunity to be part of the residency program, which started in October,” Curl said. “It’s a stressful and tough environment to be in for a few months. I was grateful to be there, I got some good experience under my belt.”
Curl survived the first round of cuts for the Olympic team, but when the final cuts were announced, she was one of the players summoned to the coach’s office for bad news.
“I’ve gotten cut from things before, but this was a little bigger, and was a little tougher,” Curl said. “I headed back to Madison to train with (the Badgers) for a few weeks, then when the Olympics were going on, I got a text and got asked to join up with the team because they had an injury, which was crazy news to get.”
Needing to jump through a massively abbreviated process to get checked out before heading to China, Curl traveled to California to go through a round of medical testing, including COVID tests.
Just before she was about to head to the airport to get on a plane to join her teammates in China, her final COVID test popped up as positive, sending her into quarantine and preventing her from playing with Team USA.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation, and it’s still kind of hard to believe,” Curl said. “I’ve had enough time now to process it and deal with it, and I’m excited about the upcoming year.”
Her time off has allowed Curl to heal a little from the arduous training regiment required to play at the highest level.
“After a year like this, there are some injuries that can wear you down,” Curl said. “I’ve been trying to get back to 100 percent.”
The upcoming year will include a second chance for Curl to play for her country on an international stage, as well as a return to her teammates in Madison.
Next week, Curl heads to Buffalo, NY, to take part in USA Hockey’s Women’s Festival, with a potential opportunity to play for the US in the IIHF Women’s World Championships later this month.
Curl helped Team USA win silver at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championships, and is looking forward to getting back on the ice for the tournament.
“I head out Monday morning,” Curl said. “I’m excited to get back into the atmosphere again. I feel my experiences this year have benefited me a lot on the mental side of things, especially in dealing with adversity. There’s a new coaching staff there, so it’s a blank slate for everybody and I get to show them what I got.”
When either the IIHF Championships, which take place this year in Denmark, or her other national commitments have wrapped up, Curl intends to return to Madison to play for the Badgers.
With the COVID year adding an extra year of eligibility for all college athletes, Curl is looking forward to spending the next two years playing for Wisconsin. The Badgers advanced to the second round of the NCAA regional before losing to Northeastern last season.
“I plan to play the full season this year,” Curl said. “If things work out I have another year of eligibility, too. (Wisconsin) has a great team and some returning players that should make us strong. I’m excited to get back and play at the collegiate level.”
Curl scored seven goals and 10 assists for the Badgers in their national championship winning season in 2020-21.
“It would be great to win another national title,” Curl said. “It would also be great to have some individual success along the way, but I’m not too worried about that right now.”
Curl, who has 45 goals and 30 assists in three seasons with the Badgers, still hopes to play on the biggest stage in women’s hockey.
“I’m definitely keeping the door open for the next Olympics,” Curl said. “I want to try that again and see if I can make the next roster.”
What may end up being the biggest challenge for Curl is that while she still retains two years of collegiate eligibility, the next Olympics cycle is three years away.
That leaves an extra year for Curl to need to stay in hockey shape before entering the residency cycle again, something she’s aware of as she continues her career.
“It’s nice to have the extra year of eligibility because of COVID,” Curl said. “It leaves me just one year to figure out what I’ll do between then and the next Olympic cycle. I’ll definitely be thinking about professional women’s hockey, and it’s nice to see those start to develop.
“(In the end), God will open whatever door I’ll end up going to.”