Goalie Ava Boutilier will do something tonight she has never done during her hockey career.
The Charlottetown native will take her customary position in the blue ice for the University of New Hampshire Wildcats, but this time her uniform will include the captain’s C. The redshirt junior said she was surprised when the leadership group was recently announced.
“To know that my teammates believe that much in me was what meant the most I think more than the letter itself,” she said. “It’s a vote of confidence from your teammates and kind of reassurance that what you’ve been doing over the last three years … is what they want to see in a captain.”
It is the first time Boutilier, who turned 21 on Monday, has been a captain during her hockey career.
“On the ice, it will be different because I obviously can’t skate down to the other end and ask the ref about a certain call,” said the daughter of Jo-Ann Campbell-Boutilier and Dean Boutilier. “I think my role is more of an off-ice role.”
She said assistant captains (Maddie Truax, Lauren Martin) will take on more of the on-ice responsibilities.
Coach Hilary Witt, who recruited Boutilier to New Hampshire, said the goalie earned the respect of her teammates through her play, commitment and competitiveness.
“We went through a lot of exercises on what leadership is, and ultimately the team decided she fit the mould and we’re really proud of her,” Witt said.
She said Boutilier is a positive person and a deep thinker, who is thoughtful of others’ feelings. She is also an excellent student.
“She’s a great listener and she can understand different situations really well,” she said.
“She is phenomenal in the classroom. She is going places in her life. She is brilliant and she works hard, she’s driven and she keeps it even keel.”
Need to know
Who – Ava Boutilier, a 21-year-old goalie from Charlottetown.
Team – University of New Hampshire Wildcats.
The latest – Boutilier was recently named the team captain.
Did you know? Boutilier ranked sixth in the nation in both save percentage (.940) and shutouts (six) last season and was ninth in goals-against average (GAA) at 1.80. She posted a 13-10-2 record in 2019-20 and received national and league monthly awards for February, when she went 4-2-1 with a 0.99 GAA, .960 save percentage and two shutouts.
One of the things captains traditionally do is take part in ceremonial faceoffs, but Witt said one of the other players will likely handle those duties this year.
“I’m going to start working on my faceoff skills, just in case,” Boutilier said with a laugh.
New Hampshire won its first-round playoff series in 2020 and was eliminated in the second round. The Hockey East championship was held, but the NCAA tournament was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Boutilier came home and waited through the long off-season to see what the fall would bring. She wasn’t sure she would go back to the United States.
“It was a really tough decision for me,” she said. “I knew when I came down here, I probably wasn't going to be able to come home until May.”
It means Christmas apart from her P.E.I. family but with her hockey family this year. People returning to New England have to quarantine for two weeks, and the NCAA has an additional four-week resocialization period after the quarantine for student-athletes. The Wildcats are also recommending families not visit to keep everyone safe.
While it is going to be tough for the players, Boutilier said they will do lots of team events during the holidays to support each other and make the best of the situation.
“We’re already pretty close, but I imagine Christmas break we’ll become almost family like.”
The Wildcats host the Boston College Terriers today at 5:30 p.m. Atlantic to begin a season some weren’t sure would happen.
“We’re pretty lucky that our league has been able to facilitate a safe way to start the season,” Boutilier said.
Witt said she is proud of how her players have responded to the unusual circumstances this season.
“I can’t wait for Friday to get here, so they can be rewarded.”
Boutilier said the returning players have elevated their games and they have a strong freshmen group, including an all-rookie first power-play unit.
“They are phenomenal,” she said. “I think our program is really going to take off.”