A.J. Mleczko and Jen Botterill will team up as studio analysts for two late-season Islanders games on MSG Plus – at Montreal on Thursday and at Florida on April 4.
The plan is a natural, given that they have worked separately alongside host Shannon Hogan all season, and that with Hogan’s travel restricted in the late stages of pregnancy, MSG needed a Plan B.
But the pairing also has a back story, because of their history as both historic teammates and intense rivals.
On one hand, they share a bond from Harvard’s 1999 national championship, in which the final was decided on an overtime goal against New Hampshire in which Mleczko assisted Botterill.
On the other, Mleczko is American and Botterill is Canadian, which in women’s hockey usually means a battle for international supremacy.
In 1998, Mleczko won an Olympic gold medal and Botterill a silver. In 2002, it was the other way around. In 2006 and ’10, Botterill won two more golds, this time with Mleczko working for NBC as an analyst.
Now this. The two have been in contact via phone and text during the season but have worked in parallel, both having joined the network for this season.
“We’ve done a sort of tandem tag team,” Mleczko said. “I have a real appreciation for MSG for allowing us to do it. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing for networks to do. We are both sort of unknowns for them.”
The two have worked both on a set and between the team benches. Without Hogan, they will have to do it all. Hogan also will miss the March 28 game at Winnipeg, which Botterill will work alone in her hometown.
Mleczko, 43, is four years older than Botterill. They got to play together at Harvard because of a two-year break Mleczko took before the ’98 Olympics, honing her skills on the advice of current Rangers coach David Quinn.
The result was an iconic moment in Harvard hockey, that 6-5 overtime win over UNH in Minneapolis.
“I have a lot of great highlights from my experience at Harvard, but that is certainly right up at the top,” said Botterill, who was a freshman then.
“After the goal I remember jumping in the air, and there’s a photo capturing it,” she said. “I think it’s one of the best verticals I’ve ever had with my skates on in terms of the excitement.”
Said Mleczko, “It was an awesome game . . . I separated my shoulder in the second period. I was getting a cortisone shot. It was certainly not without drama.”
The international stage was another story.
“I always called it a positive rivalry,” Botterill said of USA vs. Canada, “like ‘OK, you guys are good, we need to be better. We’re great friends and we respect you a lot, but we also know we’re competitive athletes.’”
Said Mleczko, “No matter how much we hated each other, the Canadians and the Americans, there was always a deep-rooted respect. And I think playing with ‘Botts’ for that year and sharing with her what we went through, wearing the Harvard jersey, it sort of cemented that respect.”