As we approach the Thanksgiving Holiday, we have every reason to be thankful. It was Rudyard Kipling who encouraged us to “delight in the little things.” And so we should.
It’s been an exciting two months for our athletes and coaches. Without fanfare, adversity has accompanied us every step of the way. This group has chosen to be resilient in the face of challenge. We have grown collectively. Veterans have rallied to steady the course and youth has invigorated our charge. It’s been a rewarding journey to date.
I’m inspired by this team. What we lack in talent, we manufacture with heart, effort and desire. Make no mistake, we have plenty of talented players. Yet we’re clearly a team of balance as opposed to one reliant on a few exceptional players. This years squad appears to be more about different players making a difference on different nights. It’s been a collective effort for the Wildcats.
It’s been rewarding to watch. Hannah Armstrong fighting her way up ice to score and cement our win over BU; Arielle O’Neill banging home a short handed goal to earn a tie on the road at Providence; Brittany Redlick scoring the game winner at Maine and Jess Hitchcock notching a pair of goals last night to help the team pull away from a talented Quinnipiac squad.
That doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of course. This year has been quite simply witnessed a locker room full of determination. Senior captain Kailey Chappell has raised her game and been a terrific leader on and off the ice. Kailey is a heady defender and her confidence has helped stabilize a young blueline. Freshmen Megan Armstrong and Alexis Crossley have been outstanding as well and recognized as Rookie of the Week in Hockey East for their efforts. Kristine Horn continues to be a resilient and valuable piece of our puzzle. Kristine came to UNH having played forward most of her life. Last year we experimented with her on the back end and she proved to be as versatile as she is talented. We’ve asked her to resume that role this year and she’s been invaluable once again. Our team is so much more in sync when we control the backend and this group has provided us with the consistency we need to be successful. The blueline core has been a catalyst for us on both sides of the puck and a big contributor to our offense to date.
Up front we’ve been bolstered this season with our play down the middle. Junior’s Arielle O’Neill and Nicole Gifford combined with freshman Sara Carlson, have yielded stellar play at the center position. The first month saw a number of different line combinations which can be unsettling for a young club. However our play down the middle has given us the balance and confidence to experiment while seeing which combinations work best.
Scoring has been a challenge at points this fall, but Kristina LaVoie and Jess Hitchcock have lead our team in scoring chances generated and points. Sophomore Hannah Armstrong has returned to form after taking a redshirt year due to injury. Freshman Brittany Redlick has settled in and contributed several big goals over the past several games. Although scoring hasn’t been prolific, the Wildcats have been much better at generating quality chances than we were a year ago.
On the back end our goaltending this first half has been in a word: solid. As with our other positional contributions, it’s been a group effort. Freshman Vilma Vaattovaara and Marie Eve Jean combined with sophomore Jenn Gilligan have each contributed to winning efforts this fall. I’ve been impressed with the development and growth of all four of net minders to date. Despite the internal competition, they’ve demonstrated a healthy work ethic and have pushed one another to keep improving.
THE VALUE OF A COACHING PARTNERSHIP
Players play, coaches coach. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it’s been a ‘team’ effort behind the bench as well. Without question the addition of Stuart Frye and his daily workings with our goaltenders has been a huge plus. I’ve been in this business long enough to realize just how valuable the coaches you surround yourself with, are. Jamie Wood and Stephanie Jones are two of the best. It would be easy to take their huge contribution to our program for granted, but I don’t. From recruiting to on ice training and off ice counsel, they’ve helped move this program forward in a big way this year. They make sure every gap get filled; they provoke with new ideas or a different point of view; they understand the difference between short term fixes and long term objectives.
We are united in our quest to reshape and rebuild our storied program into a national contender. This team has come a very long way in a short period of time. Over the final two weeks of the first half we face some of our stiffest competition to date, and make no mistake: we’ve already played one of the toughest schedules in the country. I’m convinced the best is yet to come.
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Willie Nelson
Long ago someone much wiser and perceptive than I, shared the value of gratitude. You hear it said, you read the words, but to live by them is what makes all the difference. It’s not easy to weave gratitude into a life filled with challenge and adversity. Hence, it is apparent to anyone who’s occupied this earth long enough, that fault and complaint come to mind far easier. But gratitude, sincerely felt and expressed, is the currency of kings.
“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer