Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Dr. Allyson Howe had an early hankering for ice skates, and not the white ones with toe picks.

“I wanted to be a hockey player when I was 10,” said Howe, who now lives in Portland and practices medicine with InterMed. “I tried to get my dad to let me, but it didn’t fit in our family plan.”

Instead, Howe played soccer and basketball in college, served 20 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard, and became a family physician with a specialty in sports medicine.

This winter, in her eighth year of involvement with USA Hockey, she’s heading to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as head physician for the U.S. women’s team.

“It was never a done deal, never a sure thing I would go,” Howe said recently by phone from San Jose, California, where Team USA was preparing to play Team Canada for the sixth time since October as part of a pre-Olympic tour on both sides of the border. “But it was absolutely something I was looking forward to, so I feel really lucky.”

Howe, 45, and her husband, Dave, have three children between the ages of 10 and 14. Their daughter, Lucy, a high school freshman, is on the Portland/Deering girls’ team.

This actually marks the second Olympic trip for Howe, who went to Sochi, Russia, in 2014 as a general physician for U.S. Olympic Committee staff, high-level donors, former Olympians and family members. She dealt mostly with colds and flu, although there were a few finger lacerations, ankle sprains and a foot fracture.

“I’m glad I did that first, to get a view of how big the USOC is,” Howe said. “That job was huge and awesome, but now I’m excited to be with a team. It’s going to feel much more focused to be part of a team with a goal of a gold medal.”

‘VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE, VERY PASSIONATE’

Howe became involved with USA Hockey in 2010 as team physician for a team preparing for the Under-18 World Championships. She moved to Maine in 2008 after completing her active duty service at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., and joined the sports medicine division at Maine Medical Center.

Dawn Strout, the head strength and conditioning coach at Colby College in Waterville, also worked at Maine Med at the time and knew that USA Hockey was looking for physicians, particularly women who could double as role models.

“Ally is just very knowledgeable, very passionate,” Strout said. “Any time I was around her, no matter what age level she was dealing with, she just had a passion for the individual, the person, to help them become better. And she loves hockey and loves working with athletes.”

For the first few years, Howe accompanied the U-18 team to the world championships and returned home. Gradually, she went to more tournaments. Her passport includes stamps from Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland and Hungary.

After the Sochi Games in 2014, she moved up to the national team. Of the 23 women on the national team roster, a dozen were on Howe’s U-18 teams. Her children keep in touch with them through social media and texts. Her youngest son sends one player videos of him telling jokes.

“Every time I wore USA, I couldn’t wait to do it again,” Howe said. “When I got back from (Sochi), that started the dream for me. My ultimate goal was to go with a team.”

Howe volunteers her time and USA Hockey takes care of her travel expenses. When she was interviewing with InterMed in 2015, she explained her hockey responsibilities and said if the job didn’t seem like a good match, she would understand.

Turns out Dan McCormack, CEO of InterMed, is a hockey fan.

“We were eager to have Ally join our practice,” McCormack said. “For us, I think it just adds to who she is as a physician. For her to follow a passion and represent the country this way, it was easy to say yes.”

Howe’s colleagues help cover for her when she is away. She sent a letter in October to her patients – one quarter of her practice involves family medicine, the rest is sports medicine – letting them know she would be gone for five weeks.

“They could have been upset,” Howe said. “Instead, I was flattered there was so much support.”

‘THEY’RE SO COMPLETELY FOCUSED’

In Pyeongchang, Howe will see a familiar face on the ice. Jessica Leclerc, 32, of Sanford is one of four American women serving as an on-ice official during the women’s tournament.

“She refs my children as well,” said Howe, who said the quality of officiating has improved dramatically in international women’s hockey. “Jess is a big part of that. I’ve seen her at quite a few events.”

A center midfielder for the soccer team at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, and a small forward in basketball (she’s 5-foot-10, having sprouted after playing point guard in high school), Howe coaches youth soccer and has coached basketball.

Two years ago, she even laced up skates and started playing hockey, although she’s taking a break leading up to the Olympics to avoid injury.

She’s hoping the young women in her care do likewise in South Korea.

“I always hope that my job is to fill water bottles and give them high-fives when they go out on the ice,” Howe said. “If someone gets hurt, all that can change, but they’re so completely focused on what they want to accomplish, it makes my job easy.”