After four years of college hockey and being a student athlete, a lot can change. The seniors of the St. Cloud State University women’s hockey team took some time to reflect on how their experiences have impacted them, both individually and on a team level. Through many ups and downs, the team has persevered and is beginning to fall into a rhythm of success on and off the ice.
Following a complete change in coaching staff and two transferring players in fall 2014, the women’s hockey team pressed the restart button and went to work. After a season of working through these changes, the 2016 senior class unanimously agrees that they wouldn’t change a thing about their experience and that the hardships only made them stronger.
Senior goaltender Katie Fitzgerald said, “I think our group of seniors have grown very close, especially considering that our first two years may not have been the brightest, but I think it really helped us learn a lot just about ourselves and about each other. I think it made us stronger in the long run.”
Fitzgerald, Hanna Brodt and Vanessa Spataro are the three seniors who are graduating this year that have spent all four years at SCSU. With an overall record of 9-24-3 in 2012-2013, and 4-27-5 the following season, the Huskies certainly went through their fair share of game disappointments.
Spataro, team captain her senior year, explains how the team struggled and, in turn, learned a lot about the ups and downs on the ice, in the locker room and in life. “We started out losing a lot, and you think that’s the end of the world,” explains Spataro. “You learn over time that you kind of have to hit rock bottom before you go up. I think we hit rock bottom at one point, but ever since, we’ve just been going up.”
The women’s team has gone 13-16-3 overall in their 2015-2016 season, going on a record-breaking seven-game winning streak earlier in the fall. Skilled individual players coming together to form a winning team has had a definite impact on the feeling around the rink.
“I’d say just this year in general has been a blast. There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t been excited to come to the rink; even though our record may not be the best, we’ve still been doing better, making it that much more encouraging to show up every day and keep battling,” said Spataro.
Molly Illikainen and Lexi Slattery both transferred to St. Cloud State from Providence College last season as juniors, and both seem nothing but happy about the decision to play here in Minnesota. “Coming as a transfer, St. Cloud has made me enjoy hockey again,” explains Illikainen. “The team aspect here is really special and coming here, being a part of this program has made me really enjoy my last two years [of college].”
Slattery also talks about the experience saying, “Coming here to a really loving and supporting team was really special. Being under this coaching staff and a part of this team has had a really positive impact on my life.”
In a schedule that keeps them plenty busy, between practices, home games, road trips, classes and schoolwork, all the women admit that they will miss being student athletes. “I think I will miss the routine,” said Brodt, “Whether you’re in a good mood, bad mood, tired, sick, you show up and you go to practice.”
Hockey teaches individuals discipline, communication, teamwork, understanding, responsibility and dedication, among other things. Staying busy keeps the players motivated and focused, allowing them to have the best success both on and off the ice. However, it is the little things in between an extremely busy schedule that truly brings together and builds a team.
If hockey is anything, it is a family, and the seniors will certainly be missed by their teammates. “They are my best friends so it’ll be hard to lose them,” said freshman forward Hanna Potrykus.
Another freshman player, Ivy Dynek said, “Personally, they have always been a group of upperclassmen that I can go to and count on. [The seniors] are a big part of the team so when they’re gone it’s going to feel a lot different, it’s nothing we can’t handle as a team, but it’s going to be hard to be without them.”
Moving on from SCSU after graduation, all the seniors seem to want to stay involved in hockey in one way or another, whether it’s continuing to play, future coaching, or staying in the rink with family, not one plans to hang up the skates for good.
“I have nothing but good things to say about my experience, how I’m going to end my season, and how I’m going to end my career here.” Brodt said. “Overall it’s been nothing but positive. If I were to change anything I would be more appreciative and have a more positive attitude, even through the bad times. The only thing you can control is your effort and attitude. [College] goes so fast and now that my four years are up I wish I would’ve had a better outlook, even through the bad times.”
All that can be said to younger players is the years go by fast, so take in the moments, enjoy it while it lasts, have fun, and just try to leave the program better than when you came.
“It’s an experience that’s been such a privilege to me,” said Slattery, “I’m just trying to appreciate all of it.”