Rivier women’s hockey endures
NASHUA – Culture.
It’s a word that is often, in some opinions, overused at all levels of sports, but in the mind of Rivier University women’s hockey coach Chris Czarnota, it’s
“I go back to the culture,” Czarnota said when asked what he likes most about his program as it begins Year Two with an Oct. 28 season opener vs. Curry College at Conway Arena. “I think we built a real good team culture. I believe that a culture can really lead to results. We’re trying to create that good culture, I think we’ve done a real good job, but it can always be improved.
“So we have eight new faces, and it’s up to us as a group to incorporate our culture into these new players so we can evolve as a group.
“So everything we do, every decision, every hockey play we make, everything we do on campus, off campus, it’s for we, it’s for us. So our culture is that’s really propelled us to where we are today.”
And where the Raiders are is a young team ready to make take the next step from a historic 1-14-3 inaugural season.
“After a year, I think we’re in a real good spot,” he said as the Raiders prepare for two preseason scrimmages this weekend. “Year One was an awesome effort by everyone involved in our program. It was very successful with regard to two things : We built an awesome foundation of our program from the ground up, and two, our team culture is something to be really proud of and continuing to grow for the future.
“So Year One, even though the results weren’t there, as a young program, still in its infancy, we’re doing more than OK, I think.”
Czarnota says that is all due to the players in the program.
“I have to give a huge round of applause to our players, they stuck through it every single day” Czarnota said. “I give them a ton of credit, because, again, our results (in terms of wins) weren’t there. … Losing is tough. It’s very contagious, and tough to get out of that rut. But every single game we played, and we were ready to go for whatever opponent there was, and that’s the players. Good on them.”
The Raiders had 22 players a year ago, lost a couple at the semester break, and kept about 85 percent of the roster for this season. When Czarnota went out for his second year of recruiting, he again was looking for a culture fit.
“We want to bring in good people who are good hockey players,” Czarnota said. “The way I operate as a coach, is we all want to win, so how do we get there? For me it’s character, culture, then you get your results. We brought in some really good people who are also some real good hockey players, so we want to see what we can do.”
Czarnota wanted talent across the board, but there was an emphasis on bringing in more scoring. The Raiders were shut out six times and had only one goal in 10 other games.
“We’re definitely looking for more scoring for this year,” he said. “We had a top five goaltender in the nation last year (in terms of save percentage, sophomore Rachel Hinkley), we had a top 10 penalty kill in the country last year, so we’re looking to build off of those.
“Our defensive game is solid; it can always be improved, but we’re looking for more goals this year.”
Along with Hinkley, Czarnota has sophomore Rachel Symmes from Chugiak, Alaska and senior Madelyn Morgan out of California. He’s confident with any of the three.
“We were getting outshot every single game last year and it’s a team effort, don’t get me wrong,” the Raiders coach said. “But our goaltenders definitely bailed us out of some not-so-great situations last year, and kept us in games. We were highly competitive last year – that’s six players on the ice, goaltender included.”
Indeed, the Raiders were in 10 one or two-goal games last season. Besides Hinkley and the two other goalies, other key returnees included sophomore defenseman Heather McHatton, and up front sophomore forwards Briana Paxon and Brianna Parent, plus Ellie Grady. All were award winners at the league level, but Czarnota expects them to take the next step.
As for his recruits, Czarnota has a Nashuan, Paige Anger, who transferred in as sophomore forward from Division I Post University and played before then for the Boston Shamrocks club team. Also, there’s Jessica Driscoll from Tewksbury, Mass., who was a three-time All-Conference player in high school and was regarded as one of the better high school players in the Greater Boston area. Czarnota also snared Jillian Hallee from Berlin, an former All-State player and an exceptional skater. “We’re hoping for big things from her as a defenseman,” he said.
Also there’s former Nashua North-Souhegan player Anne McIntosh coming in.
“We’re trying to create some influence in the community,” Czarnota said. “There’s some good players in our backyard. We’re just really excited. We have some really good people who are new to the program and obviously some good returners who are excited about what we did last year and also for the
Czarnota said Rivier has a different image than it did a year ago when it had yet to take the ice. “We’re gaining some traction in the recruiting world,” he said. “People know who we are. So last year was really laying the groundwork, networking with all sorts of coaches, the public school level here and all across New England. Then it’s to the club programs, then it’s to the prep schools. So we have players from all three areas, all across the Unites States really, so our name’s getting out there. … People can put a name to the face when they see us on the road.”
As an example, the Raiders have two freshmen from Michigan on their roster, defenseman Molly Dukesherer and forward Brianna Rumptz.
The numbers are a roster of 23, and Czarnota said he and his assistants, Helen Markovic and Sarah Plourde plus skills coach Hugh Murphy, continue to be on the lookout for talent to recruit.
Last year, the Raiders enjoyed the historical nature of their season. Now, it’s business as usual.
“We’re in a much better spot today than we were a year ago today,” Czarnota said. “What I’ve said to people, every single person in our program, myself included, was new to Rivier University and Rivier women’s hockey. So every day was kind of new and unexpected.
“So now we have a group of returners, and they understand kind of my expectations, and can educate some of the new faces in the locker room with that. But just overall we’re in a better spot today than we were a year ago.”
The Raiders fall under the ECAC umbrella with Worcester State, Anna Maria, and Assumption, but would love in the future to be part of an NCAA sanctioned league. But that’s for down the road “because we’re still in the developmental stage.”
Czarnota says that new AD Jonathan Harper is working on the league issue for down the road. “We do feel we’re a real good fit in multiple facets to be part of a league,” Czarnota said.
Overall, Czarnota is happy with the progress that’s been made since he was hired nearly two years ago.
“The players did a great job last year, they’re doing a great job this year to start,” he said.
“But I’ve got some really good help with me as well. … We’ve got a great supporting cast helping me.”
And, it goes without saying, that Czarnota has the support of the university and its
“Without the support of Rivier University as whole, we wouldn’t be talking today,” he said.
Most home games will be at Conway Arena but with scheduling conflicts, just as with the men, the Raiders have a couple of home away from home games, one at familiar area rink Skate III in Tyngsborough, Mass. and a couple at Janas Memorial Rink in Lowell, Mass.
“Conway’s been awesome to us as a home rink,” Czarnota said. “Our players, the culture we built, are able to deal with a little bit of adversity. We get to play hockey. Overall, it’s been really awesome (at Conway), we get to use he facility, locker rooms, we’re excited to continue that.”
And in terms of scheduling, Czarnota said teams in New England are basically receptive, despite not playing in an established league with tons of teams. “Everyone wants to help one another,” he said. “It’s a little extra work, but it’s rewarding. We’ll get our games, we just have to dig a little bit harder for it.”
And there you go – Rivier women’s hockey, like the men, is past the groundbreaking stage.
Welcome to Year Two, Raiders.