Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Harrington, four teammates pacing UMass after USA bronze medal

By Peter Cappiello

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Courtesy of Paige Harrington

Courtesy of Paige Harrington

Paige Harrington’s body was in Trentino, Italy, but her mind drifted back home to Mansfield. She recalled playing on the boys’ varsity hockey team for three years, the first of which was with her brother Shane, then a senior. But when she looked across the European ice at a lineup of tall Russian skaters, it hit her: she was on Team USA.

The junior defenseman won bronze alongside four of her Massachusetts women’s club hockey teammates at the World University Games in late December. Amanda Abromson, Chelsea Corell, Caleigh LaBossiere, Sarah Oteri and Harrington have since shifted their sights to an American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division 1 title.

“That’s a memory I won’t forget,” Harrington said of the national team’s run. The hardware marked USA hockey’s first medal at the winter games. “It felt like gold to me.”

UMass second-year coach Bill Wright is counting on his returning core to lead by example through the rest of his team’s slate. The fifth-ranked Minutewomen went 13-3-1 before Christmas. They are 5-0 since the national team members returned on Jan. 6.

Wright added that there are high expectations for the squad that finished fourth at the national tournament in each of the last two years.

“It’s a blessing to have them coming back,” he said. “It’s nice to know that you’ve got that stability back for another year. We’ve got eight seniors and eight juniors, we’re top-heavy.”

Oteri, a forward, and goaltender Corell (9-1, four shutouts) are two of the senior class’ biggest cruxes. The former, who was named captain this season, has a team-high 29 points (10 goals). Her on-ice leadership extends to the locker room.

The English major has reinforced a culture of cohesiveness, which she said has existed throughout her college career. It starts with four practices a week – one to two hours a day at 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. – and continues with bonding away from the rink. As a club team, nothing is mandatory.

“I’ve played on so many teams growing up and in high school,” Oteri said. “Our team is unbelievably close. Just coming to practices, coming to games and being happy to be around everyone translates to the ice.”

The captain also feels that this year’s team is the most skilled she’s skated with. She said the club often reminds itself of March 13, the start of the national tournament, which is hosted by Delaware. Motivation grows with each victory.

LaBossiere, a junior defenseman, said the team’s recent winning streak was influenced by experience gained abroad. The ice time was invaluable for her personally since she was away from the Minutewomen on domestic exchange at Cal State Northridge.

“You obviously have to get faster when you’re playing against girls who are elite,” LaBossiere said. “You end up getting harder passes and seeing things quicker. I think everyone is a little bit more confident.”

That assurance hasn’t waned despite losing Abromson, a junior, to an ankle injury in her second game back (Adrian College on Jan. 11). The winger from Braintree has taken on an assistant coach-type role, opening doors from the bench and giving advice during games.

She’s also brought back drills from Team USA, like a playmaking exercise that ends when one team scores a 3-on-0 goal. Rushes start from 1-on-0 and gradually increase until the race is won.

“Trust me, I’d much rather be out there with them,” said Abromson, who originally suffered an ankle injury in October and returned before it was fully healed. “It makes me more determined to come back stronger.” She predicts a return in three weeks.

Wright said the next stepping stone in his team’s long-term success is to win the Eastern Collegiate Women’s Hockey League conference finals. UMass will host the event Feb. 21-23 as defending champions.

“It’s a big year for us,” Wright said. “We want to possess the puck, be aggressive and we want to attack. It’s something we need to take advantage of now.”

Peter Cappiello can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @petecapps.

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