Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Mixed feelings as COVID clip snowbirds wings
SaltWire Selects: Stories worth sharing today
Daily fall forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
What you need to know about COVID-19: September 30, 2020
St. John’s native excelling as a freshmen forward with Princeton Tigers, who are rising to new heights in NCAA women’s hockey
She’s won a mittful of prep school championships, including the coveted U.S. national under-19 crown last season. She was part of Canada’s bronze-medal team at last year’s IIHF world U18 women’s championship in Russia. She’s one of the top performers on the fourth-ranked women’s college hockey team in the States, as a freshman. And just this week, she was the top female athlete in the all of NCAA hockey.
Did we mention she’s on the radar for Canada’s national women’s team?
Meet Maggie Connors of St. John’s, perhaps the best female athlete from this province (who still lives here when she’s not going to school, for all you Kaetlyn Osmond fans) … certainly its best female hockey player.
After dropping a pair of games to top-ranked Wisconsin to open the season, the Ivy League Princeton Tigers are unbeaten in their last 18 games and tops in the ECAC women’s hockey conference standings.
“I’ve always hoped for the 2022 (Beijing) Olympics, but if not, 2026. Beijing is a lot closer than I thought … it’s a little less than four years away. I definitely have to get a lot better. But I think I’m on the right path to do so.” — Maggie Connors
What’s more, the Tigers have climbed to No. 4 in the overall NCAA rankings.
And Connors, a product of the 2015 Canada Games program, has been a big part of the upsurge, with two goals in each of her past four games, putting her third in team scoring (14 goals, 10 assists in 20 games).
With four goals and two helpers this week in a pair of wins over Cornell and Colgate, Connors, 18, was named the conference and NCAA top performer for the past seven days.
Of course, like any athlete, Connors deflects any personal praise, preferring to tout the exploits of the Tigers and what they hope will be a run to their first conference title and perhaps even an NCAA championship.
“At the start of the season, Coach (Cara Gardner-Morey, who was part of Hockey Canada’s national women’s development program as a player and coach) had a belief that we could be a top four team in the nation,” Connors said.
“Everyone at the time, certainly those back from last year’s team, were probably a little skeptical. We kind of thought that, but we probably weren’t convinced.
“Once we started practising and playing, that belief started spreading throughout the team. Having confidence changes how you play.”
Connors gained a great deal of confidence attending prep school in Minnesota, specifically Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a hockey factory which produced, on the guys’ side, Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Toews. American Olympians Amanda Kessel and the Lamoureux twins, Jocelyne and Monique, also skated at Shattuck.
Connors spent five years at Shattuck, beginning in Grade 8, and playing on the U16 team as a 13-year-old.
She would win three U.S. national U16 championships, and last year, as a 17-year-old, was part of the U19 U.S. national championship team, finishing the year with 75 points in 50 games.
It goes without saying the Princeton coaching staff were happy she had committed to the Tigers.
NCAA DI hockey, Connors said, offers a quicker brand of the game, but she’s learning on the fly, pardon the pun.
Connors credits her time in at Shattuck, located in Faribault, Minn., just south of Minneapolis, for preparing her for college hockey. It was at the prep school that she was playing with and against some of the best U16 and U19 hockey players in the U.S. and Canada, most of the time surrendering a year or two in age.
“I loved my time at Shattuck,” she said. “It was the best five years of my life. Actually, I still miss it, and not just the hockey. I made some great friends, and I’m still really close to them.
“But it also helped shape me who I am as a player. I went in there as a 13-year-old from Newfoundland, who was a pretty good player at home, to a school that had people on the U18 national team. I didn’t play a lot my first year, but it was still an eye-opener as to where I could get.”
Her time in Minnesota, though she didn’t realize it then, also helped prepare her for college. Though the schedule may be a little different, collegiate athletes have to learn to juggle books with sports, in this case either skating or weight training each day of the week.
It was a routine with which she was familiar, having done the drill at Shattuck.
But perhaps the biggest ‘A Ha!’ moment came last summer at Hockey Canada's Summer Showcase in Calgary, when Connors dressed for three games for the national development team against their American counterparts.
The trio of games involving U22 players allowed coaches and management to get a glance at athletes who could be part of the national team program, which will soon begin a new Olympic cycle leading up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“To be invited was a huge honour,” she said. “I thought I’d get an invite, but not that soon. It was eye-opener in the sense that, ‘Wow, how good are these players?’
“But it was also an eye-opener for myself in that when I did start playing, there was the realization that, ‘Yeah, I can play with these girls.’ I found my stride and started playing well.
“It was an experience that really helped me with the jump into NCAA. DI is very fast hockey, but I think I’ve adapted.”
Like any elite female hockey player, the end game is a spot on the national team and the Olympic Games.
Connors is no different, and her resolve has only been strengthened with stints on the U18 squad and last summer’s trio of games with the development team.
She hopes her performance there, and with the Tigers, will land her another invite to the Hockey Canada U22 camp in May.
“My goal is certainly to make that (national) team,” she says.
“I’ve always hoped for the 2022 (Beijing) Olympics, but if not, 2026 (when she will be 25).
“Beijing is a lot closer than I thought … it’s a little less than four years away. I definitely have to get a lot better." — Connors
“But I think I’m on the right path to do so.”
For now, she’s enjoying her time at Princeton, a school founded in 1746 which sits half-way between New York City and Philadelphia in New Jersey.
“I talked to a decent amount of schools, but I only visited a few,” she said. “Princeton was the first or second campus. I when I saw it, I loved it right away.
“It’s a small campus, only about 8,000 people, but it’s a tight-knit community. I really do love it here.”
The Tigers, no doubt, love having her on the hockey team, too.