February 2, 2013

On home ice, girls struggle 'to be seen'

With increasing opportunities at high schools across the state, more Maine girls are playing hockey than ever before. But those who want a college future in the sport often need to leave the state to have a fighting chance.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When Dakotah Clement hopped over the boards to join the third line on her Boston Shamrocks hockey team, it became clear this was no ordinary group of high school players.

click image to enlarge

Dakotah Clement, left, a high-school ice hockey player from Berwick, left her home and school in Maine to join the Boston Shamrocks hoping to attract attention from colleges.

Todd Huxley Smith photo

click image to enlarge

Megan Fortier decided to stay in Maine and still managed to earn a spot on the Colby College team. She plays on the Mules’ top line as a freshman.

Courtesy photo

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GIRLS HOCKEY IN MAINE

Sixteen high schools (or combined high school programs) in the state offer girls a chance to play ice hockey:

Biddeford

Brunswick

Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete

Cheverus

Falmouth

Gorham/Bonny Eagle

Greely

Leavitt/Edward Little

Lewiston

Mt. Ararat

Portland/Deering

Saint Dominic

Scarborough

Winslow

Yarmouth/Freeport

York

Third lines on high school teams usually feature slower, less-developed players. But Clement's third line kept up a blazing pace with aggressive forechecking and back-checking, crisp passes, powerful shots.

Clement, of Berwick, left her home and school to join the Shamrocks of the Junior Women's Hockey League, a collection of 12 intense teams from across the United States and Canada that demand commitment and pricey fees, with a schedule of more than 65 games. Clement's goal is to play hockey in college, preferably on scholarship at a Division I school. For that, she is willing to make sacrifices.

"I gave up pretty much all my social life," Clement said. "I don't see my friends as much, or my family."

Clement, like many girl hockey players in Maine, believed she had to go away to get noticed by a college.

"If you play for a high school in Maine, the chances of you being recruited are slim and none," said David Venditti, the Colby College women's hockey coach. "I don't mean that in a negative way, but you have to play for other teams -- you have to be seen."

Maine high schools began sponsoring high school hockey in 2008. Now with 16 teams, the talent is improving. But the best players believe they have to leave to get a chance at playing in college. Many of the top boy players also leave their high schools, but they have other opportunities locally, playing juniors hockey.

The girls usually go. Ashley Winslow of Portland attended St. George's School in Newport, R.I., and is now a goalie at Quinnipiac University. Abby Rutt of Scarborough is finishing her senior year at the New Hampton (N.H.) School.

There are exceptions. Katy Massey of Waterville played for her high school -- on the boys team -- before making the University of Maine team. Megan Fortier played prep school hockey at North Yarmouth Academy, but missed her friends at Falmouth High and returned there for her senior year. Fortier stayed in Maine and still made the Colby College hockey team. She plays on the Mules' top line as a freshman.

But most players do not simply jump to college from a high school team, especially in Maine. They have already played on travel youth teams and/or gone to prep school.

So what is the best way a player can be "seen?"

"I get that question asked a lot," said Katie LaChapelle, a Lewiston native and now an assistant coach and recruiter for Boston University. "Obviously a lot of it depends on the kid and the family."

THE OLD DAYS

When LaChapelle began playing hockey in the late 1980s, there were few avenues for girls. She played on the Lewiston High boys team, graduating in 1995.

Back then, the NCAA did not sponsor a college women's hockey championship. Few schools offered scholarships, yet LaChapelle landed one at Providence College.

In 1995, there were 11 Division I colleges sponsoring women's hockey teams, and 10 Division III teams. At the University of Maine, the women's hockey club threatened legal action if it was not made a varsity sport. Maine elevated women's hockey to varsity status in 1997 and began offering scholarships the next year.

That year, 1998, also featured the first Olympic women's hockey competition, with the United States defeating Canada for the gold medal. Interest spiked.

In 2000, the NCAA began sponsoring women's hockey. This year, there are 34 Division I teams and 49 in Division III. ( In the NCAA, Division I programs can offer a set number of scholarships -- currently a maximum of 18 for women's hockey. Division III schools cannot offer athletic scholarships. The NCAA also has a Division II in several sports, featuring a limited number of scholarships, but does not sponsor Division II hockey.)

(Continued on page 2)

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