It takes a lot of guts to step in front of an opponent’s slap shot, just like it does to ask for the privilege of doing so. Melissa Perry knows that as well as anyone.
Perry, a junior defenseman at Quinnipiac, has gone from being a walk-on hopeful to being a key member of the Bobcats’ air-tight blue line corps.
“It’s amazing,” said Perry, who hails from Chelsea, Mich. “Ever since I found out that there is women’s college hockey, it’s been a goal of mine. Just obtaining that goal is very satisfying and gratifying. But now I just want to keep proving myself. Try to be the best player that I can be. It’s a great feeling to know that I’ve made it, but it’s a continuing process to try to better myself.”
Perry might not have even come to “the Q” at all if the schools in her home state, particularly Michigan, where her father Mark played for four years, offered the sport.
However, a visit to the rustic hills of Central Connecticut convinced her that Quinnipiac was the right place to pursue her major, physical therapy, if only she had a chance to pursue that other passion, hockey.
That she admitted, took the summoning of some nerve.
“I had talked to coach (Rick) Seeley before I had come to the school,” she said. “He said that there were spots open. But not necessarily scholarships. He didn’t approach me. It did take courage to put myself out there and hope that somebody would give me that chance to prove to them that I would be able to help the team. Be a big part of it.”
“Obviously, hockey is a huge part of my life and to leave Michigan and come all the way up here, and hoping to play a leading role. I wasn’t completely blind coming in. But I still had an idea that I would be on the team and be able to play.”
Oh, she can play all right.
Standing a solid 5-foot-6, Perry has played in every game since the beginning of her freshman year. In the process, she has become one of several reasons why the Bobcats rank among the top 10 teams in the nation in scoring defense and scoring margin.
Which means that Quinnipiac has been doing a lot of winning, too, currently sitting second in the ultra-competitive ECAC.
“When we’re playing our best,” Perry said, “we’re all holding each other accountable. We don’t want to be the one to let the rest down. We’re doing our best, knowing the other five are doing their best. We’re pressuring hard, we’re communicating well. We’re trying to step up into the play and help in the offensive zone. We go through that every day in practice. It’s kind of second nature to us.”
The same way the game itself — and the will to grasp everything within it — is to her. That, she said, is a credit to her father, who was also a shutdown “D-man” back in the day (1978-82).
“He and my brother (Matt) were the reason I started playing hockey,” she said. “He’s coached me a lot of my life. He has been a huge influence on my game. He helps a lot on the mental aspects of my game and how to play defensively. Just everything.”
Like his daughter, Mark Perry didn’t have anything handed to him, either. Not heavily recruited, he managed nonetheless to stick with the Maize and Blue, buffing up his game with each shift.
“He was talked to by other schools,” Melissa said. “But at Michigan, he did have to prove himself. He went out. Worked hard and came back to have a pretty big role.”
Which is to say that how one gets the chance to play is less important than wringing the most out of the opportunity.
“Once we put our jerseys on and get ready for practice, once we get to the school, there isn’t really that big of a difference,” Perry said. “We all came here for a reason. The way that we got here doesn’t matter anymore.”
NOTES: One aspect that Perry has over her dad is goal scoring. Mark Perry scored just once in his four year career — he did it as a freshman — but Melissa has tallied twice. Perry, who excelled in both physics and French in high school, attends Quinnipiac on an academic scholarship, not an athletic one.