Laura Monk is finding out this season what it means to be lonely at the top.
Ironically, her collegiate hockey season was lonely at the bottom as well.
Monk is Wayne State’s sole senior, a role the 22-year-old native of Ontario, Canada, is finding mother-henish to say the least.
“I think they look up to me,” she said of the team that’s loaded with underclassmen — seven of them freshmen and seven of them sophomores. The team lost seven seniors to graduation.
“I try to stay positive for them,” she said of a few tough losses the 3-5 Warriors have had to weather. “I definitely feel old,” she said, adding that her teammates are like having a bunch of 17- and 18-year-old sisters. “I’ve been where they are doing silly immature things, but I never thought I’d be chirping at others about them.”
Monk also found it lonely at the bottom when following her freshman year at the University of Findlay, where she was named to the CHA All-Rookie team, rumors started flying after Christmas break that the college was going to discontinue men’s and women’s hockey.
“The first day back we were practicing, but it didn’t feel normal,” she said. Then a meeting was called with both teams and they were told this was the last season. “I’ve never seen so many guys and girls crying in one room except at a funeral,” she said.
But she regrouped, and found a new home at Wayne State, where she is now co-captain. It all worked out for the better, because she is now three hours from home, and her parents can see her skate on a regular basis.
Like others on the team, she’s been enduring a tough season, in which the Warriors are losing one-goal games or giving up too many late scores and losing leads.
Her 23 shots are the second most on the team (resulting in just 2 assists) but it’s clear that sophomore Melissa Boal is the leader on the ice with 61 shots that yielded 10 goals — nearly half of the team’s total of 21. Freshman Chelsea Burnett is next closest with 3 goals.
This past weekend, Wayne State eked a pair of one goal wins over Cornell, which Boal said was huge for a team that is showing some signs of coming together.
Players said there have been too many games that the Warriors have controlled, like when they blew a 4-1 lead against St. Lawrence. Three of the five losses were by one goal.
“In the beginning it was frustrating,” Boal said. “We have to learn to hold onto leads.”
Boal does not want to be a puck hog — but she finds herself in the proverbial “it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it” position when it came to trying to make something happen in net.
“A lot of our scorers are struggling right now,” she said. This weekend, however, four different players scored in the second game against Cornell, and that was taken as a good sign, she said.
Coach Jim Fetter, who entered his fourth year at Wayne State with a 42-48-12 record, said the team is working hard. “At times we make mistakes that inexperienced players make,” he said. “But their skills are getting better.”
He said Boal takes a lot of shots because she’s not afraid to throw the puck into the net. “A lot of female players wait until they’re in too tight to shoot but Mel moves the puck and plays with her head up so she is able to see where the shots should go,” he said. “She always finds a way to get through to the net.”
Seven of Boal’s 10 goals are power play scores which should not be surprising since, he said, the power play is set up around her. Boal said she’s always been a prolific shot taker — it’s just her game.
Boal said she’s sure the offense will show more balance soon, but that won’t stop her from shooting. “If I don’t have a lot of shots on net, I probably wasn’t playing very well in that game,” she said.
This weekend the Warriors have a pair of games with Minnesota State, and then the following week, they play at Hockey East powers UNH and Boston College. The CHA schedule kicks in after that. Four games against Mercyhurst will be the toughest challenge.
Fetter said by the time league play kicks in in the second half, he expects to put a much better team on the ice. For example, sophomore Sam Poyton, who was named to the All-CHA First Team her freshman year, has only scored one goal in 18 shots so far this season. Last year she didn’t score for the first six games but ended up with a team-leading 29 goals on 116 shots.
“As long as they’re working hard, I’m sure in the second half we’ll start to come together,” Fetter said.
“It will start to even out soon,” said Boal. “I’m just glad to be helping out.”