Like so many other young girls, Molly Schaus grew up playing pond hockey in her backyard.
“I always wanted to play hockey with my older brother so one day he said ‘O.K. You can play if you’re the goalie,'” she said.
The Natick, Mass. native has parlayed that slight into the beginnings of a distinguished collegiate career where she is 8-1-1 as the starting goalie at Boston College, ranked No. 9 in this week’s USCHO.com poll. Overall, she is 7th in the nation in goals against average (1.59) and fifth in save percentage (.939).
Her coaches and teammates praise her poise in the net, a demeanor that they have come to count on even in tense situations.
There was no edge in Saturday’s BC-UConn game, a clash between the the top two teams in the Hockey East point standings. The game, in Storrs, went all BC’s way — the faster, more defensive Eagles (9-1-1, 5-1) handed the Huskies (9-4, 6-1) their first league loss. As one player put it, the 5-1 result made it clear that the Eagles, who won their first ever Beanpot title last year, are a power to be reckoned with in the conference.
Connecticut only took 16 shots to the Eagles’ 31, and the one Husky goal came on a scrum at the net when Schaus could not keep track of the puck.
Schaus is one of the 15 freshmen and sophomores who are powering the Eagles this season. After losing to defending league champion New Hampshire by a 2-1 score in Durham, BC exacted revenge with a 7-2 victory at home a week later. Schaus had the start in the latter game. Although the score was lopsided, she was tested with 33 saves. Schaus was named Pure Hockey Defensive Player of the Week for her efforts.
Connecticut is still in first place in the conference with 13 points, but BC and UNH are tied for second with 10 points and two games in hand. Fourth-year coach Tom Mutch is cautious about the road ahead.
“I still think we’re trying to find our way,” he said following the UConn game. “But we’re moving along on the correct path. This was a terrific win for us. Two points means a lot in Hockey East, but it doesn’t get any easier.”
Mutch, in his best ‘fair coach’ voice also praised the backup goalie, sophomore Johanna Ellison, but it’s clear he’s impressed with Schaus’ work ethic and her abilities. He also made it clear in preseason, the job was up for grabs.
“She’s playing very hard and is a great fit here,” he said of Schaus.
“She’s steady as a rock back there. She doesn’t get rattled,” said assistant coach Alison Quandt, who set records in goal for BC from 2003 to 2006 when she graduated. “[The team ] can take chances because they know she’s steady back there.”
Quandt praised Schaus’ ability to move around (“she can hop, jump, skip”) and said she handles rebounds — seeing where the puck will be — like a seasoned veteran. “There’s no limit to what she can do.”
Schaus had no illusions about starting when she arrived in Chestnut Hill from her home down Route 28 in Natick. She had played for Mutch in Hockey USA venues but figured it was going to be tough.
“I thought he was going to split the first two games between us,” she said, referring to Ellison. Schaus was in net in the season-opening win at RPI but also got the nod in the second game, a 6-0 shutout of Quinnipiac.
“When he started me in the second game, I knew the job was mine to lose,” she said.
She said she was on edge before the UNH game, but then she calmed down after the first five minutes and settled into playing hockey.
“If I get rattled, before I know it it’s 3-0, 4-0,” she said.
She has a standard pre-game ritual: left skate, left pad, right skate, right pad. She also listens to country music on her headset. “I don’t know when all that started,” she said, but it works.
When Boston College is way ahead, Schaus has to focus on keeping focus. Periods in college are five minutes longer than at Deerfield Academy where she went to high school.
“Years ago a hockey coach told me to break it down to 2 and 3-minute segments,” she said.
She signed with BC (over several Ivy League schools who were in the hunt) because she liked the fact that the campus was so near a large city, and the coaches and other players were welcoming. BC is unique among the top teams in that younger athletes make up the bulk of the squad. The two youngest classes account for 91 of the team’s 108 points.
Nevertheless, Schaus has had to earn the trust of the veteran players, and she has.
“She is so strong back there,” said junior Deborah Spillane, whose 25 points (17-18) led the team in last season.. “We really trust her — she works very hard on and off the ice.”
Zavisza, who had a solid freshman year with 29 points (17-12), is picking up where she left off. As Spillane has battled injuries, Zavisza (6-8) is the team’s scoring leader, and she’s shooting the puck more than a year ago.
“It took a year to get comfortable,” she said.
Zavisza said Schaus gives the rest of the team more confidence because they know they can count on her. “We do everything we can to protect her,” Zavisza said. “If someone comes at her, we go smashing them.”
Schaus’ father David tells a story about when his daughter was the goalie for the boy’s team of Benet Academy, a private high school in Napierville, Ill., when the family lived in the Chicago area. Her brother, Michael, (the same one who put her in net in pond hockey) played hockey for the public high school.
One night the teams played each other. “Everyone there was cheering for one or the other,” said David Schaus.
After the puck was dropped, Michael came driving through the middle and “let one rip,” he said. “Molly put her hand down and swiped it away.” Although his team won the game, Michael, now a 21-year-old junior at Purdue University, didn’t score that night.
David Schaus, who handles the East Coast investment division for the Bank of Canada, isn’t surprised at his daughter’s poise in the net. He’s seen it before.
“When she was growing up she was the pitcher on the (all boys) Little League team,” he said. Her attitude then was as it is now: “Just give me the ball,” she would say. “I’ll win or lose with it.”