Rookie Sensation Holds Center Ice
Hockey's A. J. Mleczko
Despite scoring five goals and notching six assists at last weekend's All-American Women's Ice Hockey Invitational Tournament in Minnesota, rising hockey star A.J. Mleczko is unfazed.
The first-year center radiates confidence and ease. She doesn't seem to understand what the fuss is all about--but to everyone else she looks like the future of Harvard hockey.
"She's fantastic. She's a great athlete and a great gal," said Harvard women's hockey Coach John Dooley.
Mleczko arrived this fall at Bright Arena after breaking the all-time scoring record (111 goals in only three years) at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut.
Before transferring to Taft, Mleczko honed her skills by skating for three different teams at once. One squad--a boy's team at New Canaan Country School--was coached by her father.
Family ties are important for Mleczko, who spends her winters on ice and her summers on her father's commercial fishing boat off the Nantucket shore.
At Harvard, she is teamed up with her sister Winkie, who plays defense for the Crimson. "It's fun to play with my sister," Mleczko said. "[And] it makes it easier on my parents."
Mleczko's mother accompanied both sisters to Minnesota last weekend, while her father stayed home to babysit Mleczko's younger brother. "My mom had to call my dad between every period," Mleczko said.
With the season just underway, Mleczko said she looks forward to the time when the team is a more cohesive unit. "I think the team will start to hang out together whenever we're [not on the road]," she said.
Although seven other talented first-years join her on the varsity team, Mlezcko still stands out. "She was heavily recruited," said Patsy K. Odden, Mleczko's Taft coach. "Coach Dooley had big expectations because he's watched her since she was very young."
Both Odden and Dooley praise Mleczko's skill and persistence. "She's clever with a stick and has an uncanny understanding of the game," said Dooley. "She puts in all the effort required of a great athlete."
Mleczko's teammates are impressed by her poise. "She's in the right place at the right time and she knows how to get the puck in the net," said senior Co-Captain Francie Walton. "She's the offensive spark the team needed."
Senior Co-Captain Joanne Alissi concurred, adding, "If you can get a loose puck and put it in front of [Mleczko] she can get it in."
Although she's just getting started, Mlezcko's fate at Harvard seems sealed. "She's going to do nothing but get better," said Dooley. "As we play the strongest teams...it's going to bring up [her skill level]."
Dooley goes so far as to predict that someday she'll make the U.S. national team. But Mleczko's response is typically modest--she said she's "never really considered it an actual possibility."