Laker Ledger: Coach’s Corner

It’s been nine years but sometimes it seems like only yesterday I was hired to re-launch the women’s hockey program at Oswego State. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the early days lately and how we got started, mainly because the women’s hockey program is approaching the 100-win milestone. People have been asking about it, asking me as a coach if I’m focused on the number… and quite honestly the answer is no. I’m focused on preparing my team for our next game and post-season play

Is it a tremendous accomplishment for Laker hockey?  Absolutely, but the journey and the people are the real stories… and the possibilities for the Lakers’ future is what is most exciting to me.

When we started in 2006, everything was brand new – the program, the (Marano) Campus Center, the coaching staff and all the players. It was a crazy ride that season and everything was a first.  I can still remember the morning of our opening game. The game jerseys had just arrived the day before, workers were still painting hallways in the arena, and our young team was excited and petrified all at the same time. Once the puck dropped and the Lakers settled into the game against Chatham University, the nerves melted away. When Jenna Kirkwood ’10 scored our first goal, the Campus Center went crazy. We went on to win that game 3-1, and it was the first of many wins to come and just one of the many memorable moments in our program’s history.

The program has come a long way since 2006. We’ve improved every year by becoming more competitive, more dedicated to the process of winning and upholding the proud traditions of Laker hockey established through years of success by our men’s teams. The ride hasn’t always been a smooth one, but it’s certainly been exciting. Adding to that excitement has been one of the strengths of our program – solid goaltending. Goalies Hilary Hitchman, Emi Williams ‘11, Catherine Cote ‘14, Tori Trovato ‘16 and Bridget Smith ‘15 have been the backbone of our teams. If you have great goalies in the net, you have a chance to win every night and that brings me to another moment in our history that stands out to me. It was February 2011 and Williams was in the net for the Lakers on the road at Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT was unbeaten with just a few games left to go in the season. They were celebrating their Senior Night, Ritter Arena was packed and their band was in rare form. We were hanging tough but being outshot pretty badly. Williams was standing on her head in the net, making incredible saves, when RIT ran her and popped her shoulder out of joint.  Not willing to back down, Williams and the team battled through, took the lead in the third and handed RIT their only loss that season.  The Tigers went on to win the Div. III National Title… but with a blemish courtesy of the Lakers.

The next few seasons saw the Lakers progress steadily from a team in the lower half of the standings to a team contending for the top spots in, arguably, the toughest league in Division III hockey. Much of the credit for our continued climb can be attributed to the hard work of the coaching staff, especially the assistant coaches, on the recruiting trail. Finding new student-athletes to carry on the Laker tradition of winning hockey is the lifeline of any team and the Lakers have been very fortunate to have dedicated recruiters leading the way.

Since the rebirth of the program, the Lakers have qualified for the playoffs six times and made it to the semifinals twice. This season will mark the fifth season in a row the Lakers have made it to postseason play, so the expectations are running high as the program continues to build toward winning the ECAC West title and an NCAA tournament bid.

In order to be successful, a team needs so many things to go well and it needs support to make those things happen. One of the constants at Oswego has been the support of the Athletic Department, the administration, the college community and the city of Oswego. So many people have been instrumental in the development of the women’s program, too many to name, but they are proud members of our Laker hockey family. The future is bright for the Lakers as Oswego continues to attract top students, talented hockey players and good people.

Am I excited about earning the 100th win for the Lakers? Yes of course, but I’m even more excited about our future as the Lakers are a young and very talented team just starting to hit their stride. Ask me again when we’re close to our 200th win.