Hockey, as we all know, is a game of funny bounces.
And some bounces send shocks fanning out across the hockey surface a little further than others.
Take for instance a careening puck that, last year, ended St. Lawrence’s NCAA hopes against New Hampshire. Fired by UNH’s Sadie Wright-Ward, it ricocheted off a derriere (some say it was a Saints defender, others said it was New Hampshire’s Leah Craig) in front of Saints goaltender Meagan Guckian and into the net.
That one carom, that one little detour, managed to change the trajectory of women’s college hockey forever. Not to mention the lives of the Flanagans, formerly of Canton, N.Y.
It was the early exit from the NCAAs that left St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan free to listen to the sales pitch of Syracuse University, which zeroed in on him to be its first-ever women’s hockey coach.
The rest, as we now know, is history.
“I often think,” said Flanagan, “that had we won, we would have been off a couple days later to the Frozen Four. And after that, I would have been gone to China (with Team USA) for three weeks. I probably wouldn’t be talking to you right now. Because they (Syracuse) needed to hire a coach. I wouldn’t have been able to see the school with my family. So talk about a twist of fate, huh?”
As it is, Flanagan accepted the post and set about building the Orange from the ground up. Now at the halfway point of their maiden season, it seemed like a good time to take stock of the progress made by Flanagan’s crew.
“It’s been a busy year,” he said. “It’s been non-stop. But we’re in pretty good shape. We’re up and running, and trying to get everything going in the right direction.”
The Orange finish the first semester with a 3-12 mark, with two wins coming against independent Sacred Heart, and none yet coming within their home conference, the CHA.
However, they nearly pulled off a shocker over Colgate in their very first game, but fell to the Raiders 4-3. Their next outing was a 3-0 loss to Wisconsin, currently the best team in the land (as it has been most of the year). Since then, there have been squeakers and blowouts, and that all-important first win (over Quinnipiac).
All in all, the Orange are about where Flanagan thought the might be.
More or less.
“It was hard to predict before we played our first game,” he said. “I had very little idea until we actually dropped the puck at Colgate that night what to expect. Coming from such a solid program, I got kind of spoiled in having pretty good teams. I didn’t know where we were going to fit in.
“I felt the work ethic would be there. I just didn’t know where we would be in terms of skill.”
As it turns out, the Orange do have skill, and plenty of it. Freshman Megan Skelly arrived from Canada’s National Sports Academy to lead the Orange in scoring (8-6-14), with Lisa Mullan and UNH refugee Stefanie Marty (both with 11 points) following close behind.
Another transfer from New Hampshire, Lucy Schoedel, has been a workhorse in the SU net.
Now, after having gotten the Orange somewhat aloft, Flanagan is taking steps to see that they keep rising, however slowly.
“There have been some low points,” Flanagan said. “But we’ve been pretty consistent with our effort. Now it’s a matter of turning the page on our first semester, and really work on a culture of winning. Not accept losing. I think the next step for us is to figure out what it takes off-ice and in our practices, that produce wins. That’s what we’re gearing up for in the second semester.”
And, they hope, get a few helpful bounces along the way.