Practice for the women’s hockey team begins with more than 20 women of an average height of five-foot-four skating laps around the ice. As they skate by, one can see pony tails of varying lengths peeking from beneath their white helmets bearing their numbers. In a game known for its rough play, there is no checking in women’s college hockey, so speed and not size is the crucial factor in college hockey greatness. And these ladies certainly are fast and accurate. During a drill Jill Powers, senior, forward, speeds to goalie Karen Jamnik, sophomore, and stops fast a mere two inches from Jamnik’s skate. She doesn’t even flinch.
Two years ago, the women’s hockey team barely reached the .500 mark by the end of their season. Things looked grim for the fledgling sports program, which began in the ’98-99 school year. Then, in 2000, Coach David Venditti swooped in and took the Lady Huskies’ helm. Since then the team has seen playoffs and victory and records.
“People are different so I teach all three ways . see, do, and listen,” Venditti explains his coaching method, catering to the three main learning styles. He works with the “ladies” as he refers to them, until they feel comfortable, making sure they all understand. For some ladies it takes iteration through more than one learning method before she gets to that point.
In addition to his attention to the technical aspects of hockey, and perhaps more responsible for the success of the team, Venditti has a very positive attitude which keeps the players motivated, yet grounded.
“We have to win. I teach the ladies to play every game like it is the National Championship. I tell them never underestimate your opponent, never overestimate yourself.”
“He knows what he is talking about. It’s a long season, and he picks us up when we are having a tough time.” says Beth Fulton, senior, forward. Fulton has been on the women’s hockey team since its inception and has seen the difference that Venditti has made for the team. “He’s not just a coach; he’s a friend who helps us out.”
During practices, Venditti is on the ice participating in drills, doing and coaching. As he defends against the ladies’ offense of a drill, he shouts encouragement, tips, and constructive criticism. Another voice heard from the ice is that of Fulton.
One of the captains, Fulton is certainly the heart of the team.
“She’s here every day and works 100%,” says Heather Aube, junior, defenseman. Fulton is a mere 5-foot-3-inches, but on the ice she is a force to be reckoned with. She has set many of the school records for a few different categories, most notably assists. This is Fulton’s fourth and final year on the team in accordance with university eligibility policy.
“I will miss the team. I will miss Coach the most.” Although she is graduating a communication major, she has plans for hockey in the future. “I want to come back and coach against my coach!” she laughs.
A team that Fulton does not plan to sign up with any time soon would be division rival Manhattanville. Last season in the first round of playoffs Manhattanville beat Southern Maine in a tight, impassioned game.
“Everyone went crazy,” remembers Aube. The Lady Huskies saw the Valiants the first game of the season, which ended in a tie. They meet them again at home on Saturday, Feb.3 in a game the ladies encourage no one to miss.
“We are going to kick their butts,” Fulton promises. “They are a cocky team, rough, physical. They keep us on our toes. We’re faster, though. We see the game better.”
On Tuesday Jan. 15 the ladies played a tough game against an historically formidable opponent, Bowdoin. At the time Bowdoin was ranked second overall in the division, although they do not play in the same conference as Southern Maine.
“They have a strong program,” says Venditti. “They’re in the game.” Fulton acknowledges the strengths of Bowdoin as well, but also makes note that despite a 3-0 loss Southern Maine ladies held their own.
“We are the underdog, but they are always great games. They have nerves too. They are always close games.” However, Fulton also emphasizes that in the conference, “no one can beat us. We’re stronger, we’re faster. Even on off days.”
One of the contributing factors to close games and overall technical performance is freshman Rachael Wollstadt. Wollstadt, a native Mainer from Old Town wasn’t planning on playing hockey when she registered for classes at USM. Rumors of her talent on the ice circulated to Venditti, however, and the summer before her enrollment he approached her about joining the team. She remained on the fence until Molly Zogby, freshman, forward, convinced her to play. “And now we’re stuck with her,” laughs Venditti about the team’s third highest overall scorer.
The Lady Huskies look strong moving towards playoffs and into next year. The loss of Fulton will be noticed, however. “Her attitude, her everything.” laments Aube.
One of the potential successors is Katie True. Although Fulton has large skates to fill, True demonstrates great leadership ability and talent though it might not show predominantly in her stats.
“She knows the game. She’s a friend on and off the ice. Without her and the Wall [goalie Jamnik,], the team would fall apart,” says Fulton.
With the best record in the short history of women’s hockey at USM, the team feels positive about the upcoming games and eventually playoffs. Fulton leads her team with a mantra, “This is the year!” And then, almost wistfully, “It has to be.”