TAMPA, Fla. – Sometime in mid-March, Emily Pfalzer will return home and share her Olympic experience with Buffalo. For now, she's busy being a role model for the whole nation.
Pfalzer's whirlwind journey since winning the gold medal with the U.S. women's hockey team continued Wednesday night in Tampa Bay. She and most of the players were in Amalie Arena to see the Lightning host the Buffalo Sabres, and they were celebrated before the national anthem.
Chants of "USA, USA" drowned out the public-address announcer. The team held its pre-Olympic training in the Tampa area, so the visit was essentially a homecoming.
"It's so cool just to see the excitement," Pfalzer said. "When we came back to Tampa, there were so many people at our airport gate cheering us on. Delta had cake at the gate and a champagne toast, and it was pretty special.
"Seeing everyone's reaction is amazing, and we want to share it with everyone."
They're doing their best. The Olympians were also honored before a Kings game in Los Angeles. They've made television appearances with everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to NHL Network.
"It's a lot of responsibility but something that we're really embracing," Pfalzer said. "Hopefully, we influence more girls to start playing hockey."
The 24-year-old defenseman flashed back to her roots Wednesday. She recalled playing on the family's backyard rink in Getzville with her brothers. Her family joined her in South Korea for the Games, and her extended Buffalo family is looking forward to welcoming her home.
"Buffalo has been amazing. Everyone is so supportive of everyone," Pfalzer said. "My parents have literally done everything they could to put me in a position to succeed. Just to share it with them, it's as much of journey for them as it was for me. It was pretty special."
The U.S women won the gold last week with a 3-2 shootout victory over Canada.
"It was pretty crazy, nerve-wracking definitely, but I knew all our shooters were going to do amazing, and our goaltender was just a rock back there," said Pfalzer, whose team got the winning goal from Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and the clinching saves from Maddie Rooney.
Since arriving in the United States, the players have seen how the victory has inspired a legion of young girls and hockey fans.
"You see the support and the smiles, and you rally around it because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity," said defenseman Kacey Bellamy. "You're just there for them, and you're celebrating it together."
So far, Seth Griffith has been as advertised. He's a big-time scorer in the American Hockey League and a guy who struggles in the NHL.
He hasn't given up hope of becoming a regular in the big leagues. The coaches in Rochester are some of his biggest boosters.
"The coaches down there believe in me," Griffith said after rejoining the Sabres for Wednesday's game. "They believe I have the skills to be an NHL player. It's just little things I have to work on, so I've been trying to do that down there. Just continue moving my feet the whole time and playing good D-zone."
Griffith was in the Sabres' lineup for the first time since Nov. 25. He made Buffalo's roster out of training camp but put up two goals and one assist in 18 games. He began producing after reporting to Rochester, recording 13 goals and 34 points in 36 games.
During Griffith's five-year career, he has eight goals and 19 points in 76 NHL games. He has 79 goals and 236 points in 239 AHL games.
"Just up here, I've got to continue to move my feet the whole game," Griffith said. "Sometimes I get away from that and I tend to try to slow down the game a bit.
"I just want to come up here and play a solid five-on-five game and prove to the coaches that I can play at this level and I deserve to be at this level."
Griffith earned the recall after goals in consecutive games with the Amerks, part of a run of five goals and nine points in eight games.
"He's earned his right to get back up here," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "He's playing some really good hockey lately. If you ask him, his confidence level's up.
"The one thing I'd like to see is just bring his speed and skill. I think he's got to create offense for us whether it's on the forecheck using his speed that way or creating room for himself and trying to find guys open."
The Amerks were on a 3-7-7 slide before dropping league-leading Toronto, 7-4, Sunday. Griffith hopes it re-energizes Rochester, which is solidly in a playoff spot but has cooled considerably to fall to 27-15-14.
"As long as we're starting to pick up where we did before Christmas, we'll be fine down there," Griffith said. "We realize that we're a good team down there. We have all the right pieces to go far on a playoff run. We have a great group of guys in the room. We're all really close.
"It was just a matter of sticking together, and I think the last two games we played against Toronto were an indicator of how good we can play playing against the top team in the league."