It is hard to predict where that next great hockey player will originate. Most typically, one would look to a rink or pond in somewhere like Ontario or New England. Gems can also be formed in unlikely surroundings, such as a driveway in a state with less of a hockey tradition.
Boston College sophomore forward Haley Skarupa, of Rockville, Md., serves as a prime example. As is often the case, her interest in sticks and pucks followed that of an older brother.
“He started playing when I was like four years old,” she said. “I started by playing roller hockey. So we always played out in the driveway with the neighbors and stuff.”
It wasn’t until she was six or seven that she found her way to the ice. That hasn’t held her back. Skarupa was selected for the United States roster for the Under-18 World Championships in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
“Every time you get to represent your country, it’s a whole different experience, a whole different level,” she said.
This summer, she received an invitation to the U.S. Women’s National Team Selection Camp.
“You’re playing with and against the best players in the world, so I cherish every tournament, every game, and every practice that I get to have with Team USA,” Skarupa said. “It made me so much better, too. Every single drill was a battle. I felt like everyone was getting better each and every shift.”
“I think Haley has improved from last year to this year,” Eagles coach Katie King Crowley said. “She’s gotten herself stronger and more physically fit than she was last year.”
Not that there was much wrong with her game as a freshman. Skarupa racked up 53 points and was honored as rookie of the year in Hockey East, an award her BC teammate Alex Carpenter had taken home the year before. With Carpenter centralized with the U.S. national team preparing for the Olympics, Skarupa figures to attract a lot of the attention that opponents previously gave to Carpenter.
“I played with her for a while last year, and I got to see how she did deal with that adversity throughout the season,” Skarupa said. “People shadowing her, giving her a hard time, and she really kept herself composed all the way through.”
Before Carpenter, Skarupa was learning by watching another Alex.
“I’m a big [Washington Capitals] fan, so when [Alex] Ovechkin started to play for the Caps, I always admired the way he played,” Skarupa said. “I wouldn’t say I modeled myself after him, but he was always a player that I looked up to.”
It’s just as well that she doesn’t emulate everything he does on the ice, because Ovechkin’s bone-jarring checks would be frowned upon in the women’s game, but there are attributes that most great players share.
“She’s a smart hockey player, she’s fast, she’s got hands, kind of all the tools that you need to be an elite player,” Crowley said. “She certainly is on her way to being one of the best.”
Some elements of Skarupa’s offensive game already place her in a very select category.
“She can be deceiving when she attacks the defense,” Crowley said. “They don’t think she’s quite as quick as she is. That, combined with the way she can handle a puck, is a dangerous combination. She definitely makes the defense think about what she’s going to do next. She’s got quite a few moves up her sleeve.”
In turn, defenses counter with a variety of tactics, scrutiny shared with Carpenter a season ago, now focused primarily on Skarupa.
“She knows what to expect,” Crowley said. “She knows she’s going to have someone on her a lot. That’s the way the college hockey game is. It’s a little more physical than she was used to in high school. I think she’s definitely gotten used to that so far this year.”
Skarupa’s parents both attended Boston College, and that led to their daughter’s initial interest in the school.
“Like sophomore, junior year in high school, I came and visited and I loved the campus, the team was awesome, the coaches were great, so I just fell in love with it,” Skarupa said.
Once enrolled at Boston College, the positive experience continued.
“I loved every bit of it,” she said. “The team was great, like the upperclassmen, they really took us freshmen under their wing. The pace obviously was a lot faster than high school. Every game was like a new adjustment.”
Skarupa and her teammates made the necessary adjustments to advance the Eagles all the way to the Frozen Four, the team’s third straight trip, where BC faced tournament host Minnesota.
“The crowd was unreal, even though most of them weren’t rooting for us,” she said. “It was a great atmosphere, great game, great tournament. I had so much fun, and I feel like all of us got a lot of experience out of it, too, which is positive for the future.”
In that future, the Eagles would like to get through the national semifinal, a round where they have been stopped four times, and secure the program’s first Hockey East season title after missing out by the narrowest of margins each of the last two years.
In order for that to happen, Boston College will need contributions from a variety of sources to offset the production lost from Carpenter and the graduation of seniors. That was evident on Wednesday night, as the Eagles suffered their first loss of the season, 3-1, on home ice to New Hampshire. Skarupa scored her team’s lone goal, and now has a team-leading eight points through four games, but she’ll need more help.
The freshman class has the potential to provide that assistance once they get settled.
“I’ve been really happy with our young kids coming in,” Crowley said. “We’ve kind of thrown some of them right into the mix. Andie Anastos had a great weekend for us. She’s just one of the smartest players I’ve seen at that age in a long time. Obviously, she has the pedigree with her dad being a coach, but she has always been a two-sport athlete, and basketball was the same season. She’s going to continue to get better and better. Kristyn Capizzano has also been a player that I’ve enjoyed watching so far this year. She’s a smart player and can penalty kill, she can play on the power play, and we’re asking both of them at center to do a lot in the defensive zone. They’ve really impressed me in terms of their knowledge of the game and how they’re using it at the college level. Haley McLean is another one that adds offense as she gets going with her linemates. Those three kids have logged a lot of minutes for us already, and will continue to do that.”
Scoring is just one piece of the puzzle. The team also has to replace the leadership that Carpenter brought to the table, and Skarupa is a candidate there as well.
“The kids really take to Haley,” Crowley said. “She’s a nice kid. She’s mature, but likes to goof around too, and have a good time. Probably a little more goofy than [Carpenter] can be, but she does handle herself in a great way around our team. I think the kids really look to her on the ice and with her work ethic and everything off the ice as a leader in that way.”
One place where the Eagles will likely have to look elsewhere for a solution is their blue line.
“Defensively, we have five returning defensemen, with a couple who are young and who had to log a lot of minutes, but when you lose Blake Bolden and Dru Burns back there, you have big shoes to fill,” Crowley said. “We’re still looking to fill those shoes.”
Recruiting student athletes to Chestnut Hill and honing their talents is made all the more challenging because unlike most coaching staffs, Crowley has only one full-time assistant, Courtney Kennedy.
“Courtney does a great job on her recruiting side and she’s really taken charge of that kind of since she came on board,” Crowley said. “The two of us really work well together. It’s something that I haven’t minded being on the road and going out and recruiting and helping. We’re set back a little bit by not having another full-time coach, but we’ve been able to make it work so far. That national championship still eludes us. Hopefully, we’ll be able to nail one of those down in one of these couple of years.”