By DYLAN HAND
After a tough 10-23-3 season, the women’s hockey team is looking to reload. The Wildcats will lose five seniors to graduation this year: forwards Hannah Armstrong, Kayla Mork and Brenna Boulanger, along with defenders Caroline Broderick and Jess Ryan. There are plenty of returning players to fill in the gaps, but the team will also look to the 2015 recruiting class to come in and make a strong impression early in the season.
Head coach Hilary Witt is heading into her second season as head coach at UNH and is bringing in her first recruiting class this fall. It can be difficult to come to a new program and inherit a team of players you didn’t recruit, but Witt said she welcomes this.
“When you take a job, no matter what, the first day you step on campus it’s your team. As excited as we are about the future recruiting classes, I’m also excited about the team we have now and the kids that have been here, because their experience is just as important,” Witt said.
Witt added she was happy with how the team improved each day of the season, even if it couldn’t be seen on the score sheet.
THE SALES PITCH
College recruiting is a business. Recruiters have to be good salespeople and be able to sell their school and program to potential players. While it may seem difficult to sell a program to a prospect after only a 10-win season, Witt said she knows prospects consider much more than the hockey team when choosing a school. When Witt gives her sales pitch, she says the people of UNH are what makes the school stand out.
“To me, it’s the community, it’s the people that are here. People here love UNH and love UNH hockey,” Witt said. The coach said she also sells the great team culture and the program’s history of success.
Sometimes, the decision for the prospect is simple. When freshman forward Amy Schlagel visited campus, she said she knew it was the place for her.
“I liked the smaller school feeling,” she said. “I liked the hockey school part of it. I really liked the coaches, and it was just the best place that I saw.”
MAPPING THE ROSTER
The current roster has players from all over the world. One-third of the 24-player roster comprised players from Minnesota. These eight players outnumbered those from any other region. Schlagel, a native of Blaine, Minnesota, said she welcomes any fellow Minnesotans on the team but stressed they are all Wildcats when they come to UNH.
“You always want kids from your home state to come, but it doesn’t really matter in the long run,” she said.
Geography may not be an issue for the team, but UNH fans love to see local players on the ice. Surprisingly, only three players were from New England this year. Witt, a native of Canton, Massachusetts, said she would “absolutely” try to bring more local players into her program.
“I think New Englanders love New England, so it’s our job to make sure that those players know everything they can about UNH,” Witt said, adding that there will be two more players from New Hampshire and one more from Massachusetts in the incoming recruiting class. She noted that the most important thing was having the best players and the best people on the team, no matter where they are from.
The young team should get back to its winning ways. The team returns its top-three scorers Jonna Curtis, Amy Boucher and Nicoline Jensen, who combined for 54 of the team’s 144 total points on the season. However, the Wildcats will need more than those three to produce.
“We’re going to look at everyone to score more because even though we’re returning our top three scorers, we didn’t score enough,” Witt said. “We’re certainly going to rely on the incoming class to bring some more goals and a little more production to our team.”
Schlagel agreed with her coach about the team’s scoring woes, saying, “I think we struggled a lot with scoring this year and we did lose some pretty influential forwards up front that helped us. I’d like to see a couple strong forwards come in that can either fill those places or even do better than last year and score more.”
This is a hungry team that is trying to get back to the winning ways of this great program. The departure of the five key seniors means there are spots open on the roster, and those spots are fair game for both current players and new recruits. Schlagel has one simple piece of advice for incoming recruits: “Come in ready to work hard and have some fun.”