Rock Solid

Since 1994, women’s hockey coach Katey Stone has been a fixture behind the Harvard bench, raising the Crimson to national prominence while rising to the top of her profession

It’s pretty hard to surprise Katey Stone.

The Harvard women’s hockey coach has been in the game for a long time, so when what seemed like a season of destiny for the Crimson fell apart in seven brutal minutes against Wisconsin at the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals last season, Stone was disappointed, but far from shocked.

“Games sometimes—very much like the Wisconsin game—they can get out of control very quickly,” Stone says. “That’s something that sometimes just happens.”

Harvard came into that game the clear favorite and ranked No. 1 in the nation. The team was 32-1-0 at the time and had already racked up the Beanpot and ECAC championships. But none of that mattered against the Badgers, who turned a 1-0 Crimson lead into a 3-1 deficit within seven minutes in the second period and went on to win the game, 4-1, sending Harvard packing.

“That’s hockey,” Stone says.

It’s also another missed opportunity at an NCAA championship, a highlight that is yet to be included in Stone’s otherwise extensive and highly decorated coaching résumé. Harvard did win a national trophy under Stone in the American Women’s College Hockey Coaches Association (AWCHA) national title game in 1999, but since the NCAA began holding a college women’s hockey tournament, the Crimson has appeared in the championship game on three occasions and lost each time.

There may be a sense of frustration over seeing the national title within reach year after year without ever attaining it, but another product of Stone’s 14 years of experience behind the Harvard bench is perspective.

“I have an opportunity to pick up my bootstraps and do it again–a senior who just graduated doesn’t,” Stone says. “So I’m in a very different position where we can try to reinvent some things and put ourselves in another position…I feel bad mostly for the kids when they work so hard and they get so close and they don’t achieve that ultimate goal.”

Stone’s top priority is the welfare and success of her players, and a conspicuously missing addition to Harvard’s trophy case does not undermine the group and individual achievements that Stone has led her athletes–an impressive collection of future Olympians, coaches, and even contestants on Donald Trump’s NBC reality show The Apprentice–to over the years.

“[Not winning the national championship] still doesn’t diminish all the great things that have happened and the program that [the Crimson players] are a part of,” Stone says. “Yes, that’s the ultimate goal, but we’re also trying to make sure that we hit all the others along the way.”

When Stone arrived at Harvard in 1994 after coaching at various prep schools, she quickly worked to convert what had been a mediocre program into a powerhouse. After finishing under .500 three seasons in a row, the Crimson executed a stunning turnaround in the 1998-99 campaign, cruising to a 31-1-0 record and the AWCHA championship. Since then, Harvard has consistently been among the top teams in the nation, appearing in seven NCAA tournaments and winning five ECAC titles.

The Crimson’s success has also been Stone’s, who entered largely uncharted territory last season when she became just the third Division I women’s hockey coach to reach 300 wins.

Stone’s accomplishments are the result of an intuitive knowledge of hockey and, more importantly, of hockey players. An All-ECAC skater in her college days at New Hampshire, Stone understands the challenges and rigors that her athletes face and has developed individual relationships with each of the Crimson players aimed at maximizing their growth on and off the ice.

“She knows individual players and how to talk to them, when to talk to them,” sophomore Liza Ryabkina says. “She’s not putting everyone on one scale. She’s approaching everyone with a different understanding.”

Stone also refrains from resting on her laurels and allowing experience to discourage innovation. She is willing to take risks and change course when certain strategies seem to leave Harvard stagnant. While the Crimson dominated nearly all of its competition last season, during those seven minutes against Wisconsin, Harvard seemed overwhelmed by the Badgers’ speed and was unable to adjust to the pace of the game until it was too late.

Stone indicates that this year’s Crimson will be a quicker group prepared to “take a few more chances” and play a more aggressive brand of hockey.

“She’s very committed to Harvard hockey, always looking for new ways to help us succeed,” tri-captain Jenny Brine says. “The developments that she’s making within the program are exciting to be a part of.”

Stone’s knack for exploiting her players’ best qualities and adapting to changing circumstances has not gone unnoticed. Along with being active and highly respected in the college coaching community, Stone is one of three coaches–the other two being Wisconsin’s Mark Johnson and Ohio State’s Jackie Barto–under consideration to head the U.S. National Team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In a demanding tryout process that began in 2006, Stone has coached the U.S. Women’s Under-22 team and won a gold medal with the U-18 team at the World Championships this past January. Her next and final test will be to lead Team USA at the Four Nations Cup starting next Tuesday in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“Anytime she represents USA Hockey she’s being evaluated,” says Michelle Amidon, the Director of Women’s Hockey for USA Hockey. “The thing that stands out with Katey is her leadership, how long she’s been in the women’s game.”

USA Hockey will announce the identity of its Olympic coach in January, but until then Stone’s focus is on preparing the Crimson for another run at that elusive national title. Stone does not ultimately decide whether or not her team wins the championship—that burden rests on the shoulders of the Harvard skaters.

However, it is Stone’s steady yet adaptive guiding hand has consistently placed the Crimson within reach of that final goal throughout her career, and there is little reason to believe that this season will be any different.

—Staff writer Loren Amor can be reached at lamor@fas.harvard.edu.

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