If Caitlin Cahow didn’t have a previous commitment, she would be sitting by the fireplace in her parents’ Vinalhaven home, reading a book and looking up from time to time to gaze out at the ocean.
“Couple that with a good family meal and it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Cahow whose father is from Rockland.
But Cahow is busy these days.
She is a defenseman for the United States women’s hockey team and will soon head to Vancouver for the Olympic Games. They open against China on Sunday, Feb. 14.
It will be her second Olympics.
The former Harvard University All-American played on the 2006 U.S. Olympic team that earned a bronze medal in Turin, Italy.
“In a couple of weeks, I think people will be astounded at how we come out on the ice. We aren’t looking for anything but a gold medal,” said the 24-year-old Cahow, who was a finalist for the 2008 Patty Kazmaier Award given to the nation’s best player.
The Short Beach, Conn., native will enter the Olympics on a high note stemming from last April’s 4-1 United States win over Canada in the title game at the World Championships in Finland in which she scored a pair of goals.
Due to injuries, coach Mark Johnson had put her at left wing on a line with Jenny Potter and Hilary Knight.
“I had trained the entire year in Blaine, Minn., away from home, to play defense. I didn’t think I would serve the same kind of role I do on defense,” said Cahow, who was a little apprehensive about the move.
The apprehension left after 24 seconds.
“Jenny gave me one of the most beautiful passes I’ve ever received and I put it in the back of the net. It broke the record for quickest goal in a championship game. I scored the other one on the power play in the third period,” said Cahow. “It was a big moment for me. It gave my confidence a boost.”
But performing well in big games is nothing new for the effervescent Cahow.
“When the game is on the line and there’s a lot of pressure, I have a blast,” said Cahow. “The puck seems to find my stick and I’m able to put it in the net. I rarely make stupid plays. I don’t know where it comes from.
“I always do my best and give all I can give. That’s all you can do,” added Cahow.
She loves to compete as evidenced by the fact she played four sports at The Hotchkiss (Prep) School in Connecticut. In addition to hockey, she played lacrosse and soccer. She eventually left soccer for field hockey.
She even played lacrosse at Harvard in addition to ice hockey.
“I loved being able to play so many different sports. It keeps you fresh and helps you become a better athlete,” said Cahow.
But hockey is her first love and she can recall when the hockey bug bit her.
“My mother was a big-time figure skater and her brother played hockey,” began Cahow. “She worked at the Yale Medical School. She would take me skating on ponds and she’d also take me skating at Yale.
“I was about 5 or 6 and we were at Yale for figure skating practice. We had season tickets to Yale University men’s games so I had seen hockey. Then the Yale women’s hockey team took the ice to play Dartmouth. I saw the ponytails coming out of the backs of their helmets [and realized it was women’s teams]. I couldn’t be-lieve it. After that, that’s all I wanted to do,” said Cahow who played on teams with boys until her freshman year in high school.
In addition to playing several sports at Hotchkiss, she also played on a club ice hockey team, the Southern Connecticut Stars.
Cahow knew she wanted to attend an Ivy League school and got her wish when she was recruited by Harvard.
“Education was real important to my parents. They made sure I focused on school first. I wanted to get the best possible education and Harvard also had one of the best teams in the country,” said Cahow.
There was a pivotal moment in her career when, as a freshman, she took a pair of “stupid penalties” and was benched by coach Katey Stone for the rest of that game and the following game.
“I was feeling sorry for myself. I was being a punk about it. I went out to dinner with my mom afterwards. My mother is a pretty smart lady and saw that I was upset. She told me if this is making me miserable and, in turn, making her miserable, why don’t I quit. But I wasn’t upset because I didn’t like hockey. I loved it but something wasn’t working for me,” said Cahow.
“That was the best wakeup call I’ve ever received,” she added.
She flourished at Harvard, leading all ECAC defensemen in scoring her senior year with 37 points in 34 games.
That led to berths on three national teams and, now, two Olympic team appearances.
When her schedule allows it, she loves coming back to Vinalhaven.
“It’s absolutely great up there. It’s my favorite place in the whole world. It’s all about my family and my friends there,” said Cahow, whose family had a summer home but have since moved there full time after her mother retired.
“I always get a good rest there and it gives me a chance to regroup. Getting away to Vinalhaven has been real important in my career: having down time with my loved ones. When I leave Vinalhaven to go back, I’m rested and respect what I’m doing a lot more,” she said.
She also said she and her family “like to be a part of what is happening on the island” and they enjoy water sports.
“We love to sail,” said Cahow, who also enjoys cooking for family and friends.
She is understandably excited about the Olympics and her team’s chances.
“There are six of us old bags who have played in the Olympics before and 15 rookies. But these are the most experienced rookies I’ve ever seen. And coach Johnson hasn’t shown all of his cards yet. Every time we go on the ice, we get better,” said Cahow, who earned a Harvard degree in social/biological anthropology and intends to attend law school.