USA Hockey’s Savannah Harmon blazes unexpected path to Olympic debut

Defender Savannah Harmon #15 of Team United States celebrates with her team after scoring a goal at the Beijing Olympics.
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U.S. defender Savannah Harmon heads into the women’s hockey gold medal game vs. Canada on Wednesday with two goals and five assists in six games at the 2022 Winter Olympics. But while the 26-year-old is one of just three American players to record seven or more points in Beijing, she’s the only one making her Games debut.

Joining Harmon with seven points so far is three-time Olympian Amanda Kessel (two goals, five assists), while four-time Olympian Hilary Knight has nine points (five goals, four assists).

“Just to be able to celebrate and be alongside these women that are on this team – they all inspire me every day and I’m just so incredibly honored to be with them and be their teammate,” Harmon told On Her Turf prior to leaving for Beijing.

Harmon has quickly proven she belongs, too, even if she didn’t follow the typical path for the U.S. national team.

While the majority of Harmon’s teammates competed for the U.S. at the U-18 level before joining the senior national team, Harmon never got those call-ups.

“I wasn’t invited to any camps; I wasn’t really a part of the USA program,” explained Harmon, who played all four years at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., and won back-to-back NCAA national titles her last two seasons.

“That was always a goal, in the back of my mind. But how I envision[ed] myself getting there was being really good for Clarkson and helping the team the best way I [could] there. And then hopefully [making the U.S. team] comes after, which it did.”

Upon graduation from Clarkson, Harmon stayed in New York and headed to Buffalo, where she joined the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women’s Hockey League (later rebranded as the Premier Hockey Federation). She played while earning her master’s degree in legal studies, with an emphasis on sports law and business, through a virtual program at Arizona State.

Those were definitely lean times, but Harmon never let go of the dream that began before she was in kindergarten, growing up in Downers Grove, Illinois. The town, located just outside Chicago, is the same hometown as Hockey Hall of Famer and 1998 Olympic gold medalist Cammi Granato, and Harmon was a fan. She attended Granato’s all-girls youth hockey camps at just 4 years old and grew up with a picture of the 1998 U.S. team captain on her bedroom wall.

“She was always my favorite player growing up, and because of that visibility, I was able to attend her camp,” she remembers. “I’m so thankful my parents put me in it because at that time, and for years after, I really only played on the boys teams, and this girls camp was just so fun. …I was definitely starstruck and definitely just inspired by her.”

In 2019, Harmon finally had a chance to put on a USA jersey when the then-23-year-old was invited to participate in the final three games of the 2018-19 USA-CAN Rivalry series.

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS: USA-Canada hockey gold medal preview, rivalry history

Fellow teammate and rookie Olympian Hayley Scamurra is another rarity among the American squad, never having represented the U.S. team internationally at the youth level. But she grew up close to the world of professional hockey thanks to her father, Peter Scamurra, who played for the Washington Capitals for four seasons from 1976-80.

The 27-year-old Scamurra, from Getzville, N.Y., played four years at Northeastern University, where she was teammates with Kendall Coyne Schofield. Prior to college, she played three seasons of junior hockey in Canada’s Provincial Women’s Hockey League, and after graduation, Scamurra was the 10th overall pick by Buffalo in the 2016 NWHL draft.

“I think I’m able to come into the USA Hockey scenario with a different kind of perspective,” Scamurra told On Her Turf in October. “Not everyone’s going be at their best in their college years… We need that time to build as a player, build the confidence, whatever it might be, and I think it was really beneficial for me.”

Harmon and Scamurra are also encouraged by the expansion of this year’s Olympic women’s hockey tournament, up from eight teams to 10 in 2022. As members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) – Harmon plays for Team Adidas, Scamurra for Team Women’s Sports Foundation – they hope the spotlight the Olympic Games provides will translate into growth for the women’s game.

“What we’re all fighting for is just bigger visibility, and that’s where it starts: The more teams and more people in hockey, [the more women] wanting to play and continuing to play as long as they can,” said Harmon.

She also hopes that young players will be inspired by her and her teammates’ various journeys to Beijing.

“Everyone’s path to get here is just so different,” she said. “And I think that’s what’s so awesome about this team, specifically. … I think it’s trusting your own path and just working hard and never giving up on your dreams, whatever they are, however big or small they are.”

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi and NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report. 

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