Norwich women’s ice hockey team
had a standout first year in NCAA © March 31, 2008 Norwich University Office of Communications

Team co-captain Sophie Leclerc moves the puck against Castleton.

photo by Jay Ericson Team co-captain Sophie Leclerc moves the puck against Castleton.

Describing the Norwich women’s hockey program’s first year of varsity competition as “successful” would be an understatement. With a team roster dominated by student-athletes from New England, including 10 from Vermont, the Cadets exceeded expectations for their first year in the NCAA Division III Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

“Our goal at the start of the season was, number one, to be competitive, and number two, the coaching staff thought we could be a .500 team,” said Head Coach Mark Bolding ’95. The Cadets trumped those goals by finishing with an overall record of 12-10-2, including a 9-8-2 record in league play.

Their fourth-place finish in the ECAC Women’s East Hockey League also earned the conference newcomers a home game in the first round of the league playoffs. The team’s season ended on the Cadets home ice on March 1 with a 2-1 overtime loss in the quarterfinals to Salve Regina College.

Individual players had equally stellar showings. Team co-captain Sophie Leclerc was named to the ECAC East’s second team, one of three Norwich women’s ice hockey players to earn all-league honors. The junior forward led the Cadets in goals and scoring with 13 goals and 27 points. (LeClerc had also ranked second on the Norwich club team with 14 assists). In addition, freshmen Kelsey Cone and Cindy Fortin each earned a spot on the league’s All-Rookie Team.

…I thought I’d try Norwich because I thought, ‘Hey, it’s got a nice rink,’ and Northfield is a good hockey town.

~Sophie Leclerc

A native of nearby Barre, Vt., Leclerc has been playing hockey since she was four years old. “My family is French Canadians, and we all love hockey,” Leclerc explained, adding that her father and two older brothers each played for several years.

Leclerc’s success at Norwich was especially satisfying because injuries had sidelined her athletic career for several years. She was recruited to play at the University of Vermont, but she sat out her freshman year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. She eventually tore her ACL again and endured surgery four times on her knee.

“I thought I’d never play again,” said Leclerc, a business management major. “But I thought I’d try Norwich because I thought, ‘Hey, it’s got a nice rink,’ and Northfield is a good hockey town.”

Leclerc believes one of the reasons for the team’s successful season was strong community support, bolstered by keen local interest in hockey at all levels (for example, the Times Argus, the local newspaper of record, publishes weekly high-school women’s hockey scores on its website).

Norwich students proved fans of the women’s ice hockey team, and youth hockey teams from the area, including some from as far away as Essex, Vt., attended games regularly. The team also attracted nearly 200 season ticket holders, Bolding said.

“It’s a lot of fun being part of a great hockey town, where everyone appreciates the game,” Leclerc said.

Hilary Davis ’09, the team’s other co-captain, who attended nearby Elmira College as a freshman, left Elmira and became an assistant coach at Spaulding High School in Barre, Vt., for several years, where she coached Leclerc. The most significant difference in between hockey at the club level and Division III varsity hockey was the “consistency of competition,” Davis observed.

“When we were a club team, some weekends we’d play a team and beat them 10-1,” Davis said. “Then we’d play someone else and the score would be 1-1. This season, we were in a lot of games decided by one goal.”

Davis credited Fortin for much of the team’s success. The freshman goalie from Quebec City, Canada, talllied a .916 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against average en route to a 10-10-2 overall record. She also registered four shutouts.

Freshman goalie Cindy Fortin makes the save.

photo by Jay Ericson Freshman goalie Cindy Fortin makes the save.

“She’s great,” Davis said. “She kept us in a lot of games.”

With talented young student-athletes such as Fortin, Bolding foresees a bright future for women’s hockey at Norwich. Moving up to Division III status will help attract student-athletes and depth to the program because of the higher level of competition and the added resources for training, equipment, and facilities.

This level of competition also means the team will travel farther and more often than it did as a club. Budding rivalries with in-state competitors such as Castleton State and St. Michael’s College will help to attract more fans. Bolding hopes to add Plattsburgh State and Middlebury College to the Cadets’ schedule within two years.

“It will be fun to start those rivalries, similar to what the men’s hockey team has with Plattsburgh and Middlebury,” Bolding said.

Both Davis, who has used up her athletic eligibility, and Leclerc hope to remain in the game as coaches after they graduate in 2009. “Hockey has always been a part of me,” Leclerc said. “I can’t imagine letting it go.”