For the women competing in collegiate hockey, the probability of turning professional is so small that the NCAA doesn’t even measure the statistic. And while after graduation they could compete in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League or a comparable system, most will finish out their careers on the collegiate ice.
So for players such as Harvard senior Lyndsey Fry, taking a year off from school to play for Team USA is a dream come true.“This is the pinnacle of women’s hockey,” she said. “There’s no NHL for us. [When I realized that,] that’s when I decided to start on the path and how much I really wanted it.”
Fry -- along with five other NCAA student-athletes -- withdrew from playing collegiate hockey this academic year to compete on the women’s national team at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“To play with the USA jersey on,” Harvard junior Michelle Picard said, “there’s no feeling like it.”
They will keep their year of eligibility, their amateur status, their chance to return to school to continue playing and working toward a college degree -- all while experiencing competing for their country.
“You want your focus to be on hockey, not on academics.” Fry said. “With all the effort it takes to compete at this level, I don’t think I could [have balanced] a year of school [with hockey].
“When hockey becomes life, it takes on a whole different role.”
Setting aside their books, they completed a residency training program in Bedford, Mass., with the 15 other women on the final roster to prepare for the Games. Instead of balancing classes and hockey, days now consist of conditioning, training, practice and video analysis.
“It’s very different,” Northeastern senior Kendall Coyne said. “You get to focus on hockey alone. There’s no study hall, no homework, no finals. We are 110 percent in for hockey.”
But the transition has not been without its bumps.
The biggest difference for Fry has been the mental balance. At Harvard, Fry said, regardless of a good or bad day at practice or in a game, she had school to take her mind off of hockey. “Here,” she said, “you have to ride those emotions, good or bad, all day without distraction.”
“It was very hard not to worry about school,” Boston College junior Alex Carpenter said. “[In Bedford,] I’m very close to BC and I can hang with my teammates there, but playing for the two just can’t compare.”
“At first it was hard for me,” Fry said of the jump between collegiate life and professional hockey. “I talked to [head coach Katey Stone]. I was used to the fast pace and structure [of college] and it wasn’t an easy transition at first.”
But Coyne hasn’t just missed her teammates and her studies. She’s also missed going to other Northeastern athletic events and supporting her fellow student-athletes competing in other sports.
“I don’t miss the late nights studying!” Picard said, chuckling. “But I definitely have such a respect for pro athletes now.”
“I just hope I don’t start crying!” Coyne said with a laugh of living out her dream. “The older girls are helping us prepare emotionally so it doesn’t hit you like a brick wall, but I didn’t leave the couch for those two weeks during the Olympics growing up. This experience can’t get any cooler.”
School will be waiting for them when they return, but these six girls hope they can end college with a degree and a gold medal.