Canadian Star Corriero Puts College Hockey First

Conventional wisdom says that recruiting top Canadian women can be a mixed blessing. Though they bring plenty of talent, they also bring plenty of disruptions. The exceptional Canadian players who put their college team first above junior national and senior national commitments are a rare find, but Harvard has such a player in Nicole Corriero.

Corriero gets plenty of recognition for her statistics, ranking first nationally with 41 goals and third nationally with 72 points. But perhaps her most valuable statistic is games played–she hasn’t missed a single one. That’s a big part of why she was one of only two Canadians to make the final 10 for the Patty Kazmaier Award, while more highly-regarded players at the international level like Dartmouth’s Cherie Piper and Gillian Apps and St. Lawrence’s Gina Kingsbury did not make that cut.

The Canadian Press called Corriero’s non-selection to the Canadian national team a testament to Canada’s depth, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Corriero was on Canada’s radar back when she made the Under-22 team in the summer of 2002, but she declined an Under-22 invite in February 2003, reason being that in conflicted with Harvard’s biggest home game of the season against Dartmouth. Corriero wouldn’t throw her teammates under a bus, in the words of linemate Kat Sweet.

She hasn’t been given a junior or national-team invitation since, but she has no regrets.

Corriero was not invited to the 28-player camp to try out for the World Championship roster, which came as no surprise since there was never any question she would play for Harvard in the Frozen Four in lieu of training with Team Canada, contrary to what Piper, Apps and Kingsbury all decided.

“I personally don’t think I would be able to leave my team for that kind of individual pursuit, but I’ve never had the same kind of opportunities,” Corriero said. “But I’m happy that we’re going to have a full team intact and we’re not going to have to deal with those kinds of problems when it comes to the postseason. I guess different people have different visions for their hockey career, but for me it’s Harvard hockey all the way.”

While her senior national-team absence is understandable given the college conflict, that was not the case this summer when Corriero was denied a spot on the Canadian Under-22 team–a move that she referred to last November as an unexpected slap in the face, but also a wake-up call.

Corriero worked hard on and off the ice to improve her skating and defense, and Harvard has reaped all the benefits. What doesn’t show up in Corriero’s statistics is that she has been a devastating forechecker and penalty killer. When there’s an unexpected change of direction of the puck, Corriero can make up for her it with speed and hustle. According to coach Katey Stone, she now plays good hockey in each zone.

Corriero didn’t get to be so successful overnight. In her freshman year, when many top players were out for the Olympics, she ranked second nationally in points with 32 goals and 30 assists, but she took on a different role with the team her sophomore year and her numbers took a dive as a result–17 goals and 22 assists.

But Stone says Corriero developed through the course of that sophomore year, and that she was one of the best players in the country in the final weeks of the season. That showed when she scored a go-ahead goal for Harvard in last year’s NCAA final–though that lead did not stand.

“Her No. 1 focus from the day she got here was to be the best Harvard hockey player she could be,” Stone said. “She’s become a complete player for us. She does a lot of things she didn’t do when she got there. She’s had steady improvement all the way through. She plays hard. Her mind is always right where we need it to be.”

“How she’s playing is a testament to her work ethic,” Stone added. “She does a ton off the ice. She does more than we ask her to do to get herself ready to go–there’s no question. Many of our players do, and she’s one of them.”

“To go above and beyond the call of duty is standard for this team,” Corriero says. “I’m just trying to keep up with everyone else.”

In staying with her team full time, Corriero has developed a great synergy with her teammates. While she is consistently earning her goals, she has shown a great ability to help her teammates as well. She’s set up linemate Lauren McAuliffe for some of the biggest goals in Harvard history–the Beanpot semifinal overtime game-winner in 2002 and a game-tying goal against UMD in the 2003 national championship game. This season Stone waited until February to pair the two on the same line, and the results have been exceptional since then, in the four St. Lawrence games in particular.

In the second game against the Saints, Corriero fell to the ice but still managed to nudge the puck ahead to McAuliffe for the finish. In the ECAC final, Corriero kicked the puck across the ice to McAuliffe for an easy finish at the crease.

In terms of her points, it’s a matter of quality and not quantity. She did have nine goals and seven assists in two games against Union to start the season, but her greater value has been against the toughest opponents. In Harvard’s second win over St. Lawrence, she nearly single-handedly put the game away with a hat trick. In the ECAC final win over the Saints, she led all scorers by assisting on three goals. In the NCAA semifinal against the Saints, she struck again with her body down on the ice, when she swatted a no-look goal on her backhand off an errant Saint pass–one of the most exceptional goals the Frozen Four has ever seen.

All this and more is why Corriero has proven herself worthy of her Kazmaier nomination. After first hearing the news, she feels she put a bit too much pressure on herself, but now she’s as good as ever.

“It was an absolutely incredible honor to be put in the same category as those nine other players,” Corriero said. “It was something I never ever thought I could accomplish. It was a dream come true for me. I was so fired up and just so honored to be placed in that group.”

She’s also the first Harvard player to make the Kazmaier final 10 that didn’t have the reputation of an Olympic medal before coming to Harvard.

“Who says you need a medal?” she giggles. “I guess for me Harvard hockey has always been my No. 1 priority and it has helped me to put a lot of focus and time and effort into going out there and playing my best for my teammates. Having such a close knit team of players who love to play–it’s a great motivation. It’s a great individual honor but I obviously want to play well for my teammates so we can go far and bring home a national title.”

Corriero has scored 10 game-winning goals in playing well for her teammates, one of which came late in the third period in a 3-1 win over Niagara back in November. The intrigue there is that Niagara coach Margot Page is also the Canadian Under-22 coach. Corriero denied that was a motivating factor that day.

“I think [Margot Page] was worried about her team,” Corriero said. “I don’t think she was worried too much about the other side of the ice. I just try to play the best for my teammates, really. Whatever happens with Team Canada happens with Team Canada. I can’t really control that except by playing the best I can play. I try to play better every game.”

Page was not surprised to hear after that game that Corriero had used the Under-22 decision as motivating factor in the past.

“She’s a great offensive talent, no question about it,” Page said. “She’s got great determination and she’s got a great attitude. I’m sure it would motivate anyone to work in the offseason and I hope she continues to do it because she’s a great talent. If she works hard, works on her speed, works on her conditioning, prove it and come out there, and I would love to see her be able to come in and take the job back from someone who’s already there.”

“It’s very competitive at the U-22 level. I think she realizes that by seeing the talent out there. She’s such a great kid and a very team person a very motivated person. I think she’ll work on her game and definitely be back there in the future.”

The Canadian Under-22 team of last summer was one of the worst performing offensively in its history with an 0-2-1 mark against the U.S. In one game, the team did not even manage 10 shots on goal. Even after those results and seeing Corriero play against her, Page could not say whether she felt Corriero deserved to be on that team.

“It’s so hard to tell because in the summer she’s playing with different athletes in a different system in a different style of game,” Page said. “It’s a more open game, it’s more of a team game. You have to be able to play all three zones. There are a lot of good players out there. Sometimes you can’t control who the coaches pick.”

“Does she look better? It’s tough to tell. She looked great this weekend against us.”

Whether Canada will let Corriero have an impact at the national level remains to be seen, but in meantime she has the full support of her college coach and teammates.

“Is she worthy of opportunities at the national level? Absolutely,” Stone says.