Bringing care packages of snacks and crossword puzzle books to teammates quarantined in a motel just off the University of Maine campus was not one of the captain’s duties Taylor Leech expected when they sewed the “C” on her Black Bears hockey sweater.

But there was no how-to manual for being a captain during a pandemic, either.

Taylor Leech

So throughout the women’s hockey team’s abbreviated 18-game season last winter, Leech focused on making the Black Bears feel like they were together even when they couldn’t be together. She organized Zoom game nights, Zoom team meals, Zoom workouts. A team that only got together at the rink for practices and games, and even then spread across four locker rooms in order to maintain safe distance protocols, bonded.

“(Leech) did anything to help them feel connected, to make them feel like a team. I know we wouldn’t have had that experience if she wasn’t our captain,” said Richard Reichenbach, UMaine’s coach.

“She is a rock for our team,” said forward Maddie Giordano. “She sets the example.”

A Bowdoinham native, Leech is a fifth-year senior who plays defense and is still the captain. Leech and her team open the season this weekend with a pair of games at Quinnipiac.

“Even though I was the captain, everybody knew what needed to be done in order for us to be able to play, which was really helpful. Everybody was on the same page,” Leech said.

A graduate of Hebron Academy, Leech saw her ice time and presence increase as she adjusted to the speed of the college game. Reichenbach first noticed Leech when she participated in the U.S. Under-18 national development camp in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

“What struck me was how hard she competed at that camp, how hard she competed at Hebron. Her last season at Hebron, they only had three defensemen, so she’s out there two-thirds of the game. I was impressed by the effort she gave in the situation, where it’s impossible to give 100 percent for 60 minutes,” Reichenbach said.

Leech played in just 14 of Maine’s 38 games her freshmen season. As a sophomore, Leech was mentored by defensemen Alyson Matteau, who now plays for the Buffalo Beauts in the National Women’s Hockey League, and Ebba Strandberg, who is now in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League.

“They’re both really hard workers, and just instilled in me about working every day. They really pushed me and showed me what it takes to play at this level,” Leech said.

Leech had a goal and eight assists as a sophomore, and two goals and 12 assists as a junior as she developed into a defenseman adept at getting the puck out of her own zone and on to the sticks of teammates on the attack. Last season, Leech had three assists, helping lead the Black Bears to an 8-9-1 record and the Hockey East semifinals.

“I’d say I play a smart game, always trying to read the plays ahead of me, always trying to communicate with my teammates the best that I can,” Leech said. “I’m not the fastest one on the ice, but I try to read the plays well so that I can anticipate where the puck’s going or where I need to put the puck when it’s on my stick.”

Reichenbach called Leech one of the best conditioned members of the team, a player who exceeds his expectations each fall when the Black Bears undergo fitness tests to measure improvements in speed and strength. He sees it on the ice, and it’s what helps Leech log 25-30 minutes of ice time per game, often playing back-to-back games within 24 hours. That’s what Maine will do this weekend at Quinnipiac, with games at 6 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday.

“She just finds another gear in her speed every year, and she finds another level of strength. She’s winning puck battles. For somebody who’s matched up with the other team’s best line and best players the last couple of years, it’s nice to have that one more year,” Reichenbach said.

Leech’s value to the Black Bears as the captain off the ice cannot be measured in metrics that account for speed and strength. Giordano said Leech has helped her meditate and go through affirmations to help her get in a better frame of mind.

“Me and other people on the team can go to her with anything. She’ll go out of her way to make you feel special. If I’m ever down in a low spot, Taylor is the one there for me,” Giordano said.

That natural leadership and empathy will serve Leech well after hockey. A premed and biology major, Leech plans to study to be a physician’s assistant. For now, her work is geared toward making sure the Black Bears are a better team in March than they are now, and a team ready to make a run in the Hockey East playoffs.

“The work we put in now, I know it seems that March is so far away, but every game, every practice matters. We all know that’s what we’re training for. Everything matters when it comes to playoff time,” Leech said.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: