From Hockey Valley To Beijing: Alex Dawes’ Olympic Journey
Becoming an Olympian is no ordinary feat, and nobody knows that better than Alex Dawes, Penn State men’s hockey’s director of operations.
While Penn State was grinding through the final stretch of its Big Ten schedule in Happy Valley, Dawes was serving as the video coach for the 2022 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team, a position he acquired back in January. Since the NHL opted out of participating in the Olympics, most of Team USA’s coaching staff came from the collegiate level, and Dawes had already gained experience with the national team in the past.
He won a gold medal with the 2015-16 U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team at the 2016 IIHF World Championships and a silver medal with the 2019 Men’s U.S. National Junior Team at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships, serving as the video coach for both teams. Still, it’s not easy to get selected as a coach for one of the most prominent teams.
Dawes had formed a relationship with Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings, who was the head coach for Team USA at the 2019 World Juniors and served as an assistant coach alongside Dawes in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Once the NHL opted out of the Olympics, spots needed to be filled quickly, and that’s when Dawes was brought to the table.
“Between my relationship with [Hastings] and a little bit of luck, I guess, is how it all came together,” Dawes said.
Once he had arrived in Beijing, Dawes shared a five-bedroom apartment with the team’s coaching staff, whom he spent the most time with. Even though three weeks of living with the same four people seems tiring, Dawes enjoyed the setup and the camaraderie that the coaches shared.
“It made for a really good working environment because it allowed us to bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Dawes said. “The players in the village were also right there, so we could do meetings, we could do things together. It was actually really easy.”
Dawes also felt that it was easy to work with the players since all of them were only focused on winning a gold medal.
“The players were awesome,” he said. “Obviously, these are all elite of the elite-level athletes that want to succeed and be the best at what they do, and it’s easy to work with people like that…The coaches were the same way, too. Everybody came from their own teams and were sacrificing their own thing to be at the Olympics.”
Going to the Olympics can be a very surreal experience, and Dawes started to realize it was all happening when he was going through the Olympic Village.
“The village was by far the coolest part,” Dawes said. “Being able to see athletes from everywhere with everybody wearing their country’s garb was really cool…I can’t even explain it.”
Of course, Dawes needed to leave Penn State as it was in the last month of its regular-season schedule. Leaving your job for almost one month isn’t something that’s easy to do, but Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky and Penn State Athletics were very supportive of Dawes’ unique opportunity from the start.
“They were supportive from the beginning,” Dawes said. “It was good for all of us and for Penn State hockey. It’s good for everybody to have a representative at the Olympics, but I would be remiss if I didn’t thank them for their support.”
Dawes also expressed his gratitude to the student managers and the rest of the team’s staff that had to pick up the slack.
“There’s a lot of work that gets done [at Penn State] on a daily basis, and all these folks had to cover for me while I was gone. That’s where a lot of the appreciation really lies,” Dawes said.
Even though Team USA lost a heartbreaker in the shootout to Slovakia in the quarterfinal round, it was prideful three and a half weeks that Dawes will never forget.
“I’d be lying if I said I had dreamed of being an Olympian my whole life, because I hadn’t,” Dawes said. “But the amount of support that goes into getting the athletes there and helping them be successful is truly inspiring…that’s where the pride comes in with putting on the American flag. You know how much work went into doing that, and to see it firsthand was inspiring.”
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