To Maura Crowell, it’s a little like “riding a bike.” Taking over one of the most acclaimed college women’s ice hockey programs in the nation may not have been entirely shocking, but it certainly carried a new set of expectations and pressures.
This past season, the Harvard women’s ice hockey team earned 23 wins, an Ivy League title, and an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. Nearly every day, the Crimson laced up at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center and trained as the team has done since its inaugural season in 1978.
Yet, while Katey Stone may remain the Landry Family Head Coach for Harvard Women’s Ice Hockey—the post she has held for the past 20 years—it was Crowell who manned the ship at the Bright, acting as interim coach this year and coaching a barebones Crimson lineup of just 18 skaters.
While Stone was announced as the coach of the USA Olympic women’s team in July 2012, Crowell, who came to Harvard in 2009 after coaching UMass Boston, was not named her temporary replacement until around nine months later.
“It wasn’t a huge surprise to us that [Stone] was going to be named the Olympic coach,” Crowell said. “We were really excited for her and for the program…. We had talked for years about my taking over the program and what that would look like.”
Few transitions are seamless, but Crowell took over after plenty of preparation and with sufficient leadership and the support of the players on the team.
As Stone left the Bright for the USA Hockey Selection camp, Crowell assumed control of the small but talented squad with plenty of faith from her predecessor.
Having already been in Cambridge for three years, Crowell was well adapted to the style of play, which Stone has used for decades at Harvard, that has brought the team consistent national acclaim.
“Maura’s attention to detail and hard-nosed approach to a game are similar [to mine]; it’s one of the reasons I think we get along so well,” said Stone at the start of the season. “She believes in the details of the game and that the little things matter.”
With the graduation of several key players—starting goaltender Laura Bellamy ’13 and leading scorer Jillian Dempsey ’13—and the Olympic departures of Lyndsey Fry, Michelle Picard, and Josephine Pucci, Crowell began the school year knowing it was back to square one.
Just a couple of weeks into September, the roster thinned even more as two players, including co-captain Kalley Armstrong, withdrew from the team because of season-ending injuries.
Without Armstrong, who was a top-scoring forward intended to share captain duties with junior defender Marissa Gedman, Crowell was left with a team consisting mainly of underclassmen that returned just one of the previous season’s top-five scoring players.
“When we had our opening meeting, what we talked about with the players was that we can’t focus on who’s not in the locker room,” Crowell said. “This is about who is in the locker room.”
And the locker room had plenty of talent. Crowell, who had watched much of the team since they were still high schoolers, was tasked with the job of turning rookies into starters who were ready to contend with formidable ECAC opponents.
“Whether they were experienced or not, we had a ton of freshmen, and a lot of them came from winning programs, and that’s really important in building a successful team,” Crowell said. “It’s having kids who really know how to win and what it takes to win and believe that they can win.”
And thus, Crowell’s transition was not just one of individual and personal change, but more reflective of an era of transformation on the team itself.
Despite all that Crowell had to contend with—a new position, a depleted roster—success came quickly to the Crimson as it opened its season with consecutive wins over preseason-favorite Quinnipiac and Ivy-rival Princeton.
“To beat [Quinnipiac] and to turn around and beat Princeton when giving up close to 90 shots over that weekend was kind of a statement,” Crowell said. “I was thinking, ‘Okay, we have something here.’”
The wins kept coming. The team lost just once between October and December, and beat eventual national champion Clarkson on the road in Potsdam, N.Y. Amidst the shifting lines, Crowell showed why she was the winningest coach in UMass Boston history. Players and coach alike were confident in the change occurring.
“It wasn’t an easy transition, obviously,” sophomore forward Miye D’Oench said. “She was cool and collected the whole time. She filled that role really well.”
Meanwhile, to Crowell, despite the shifts from being a Division III head coach to an assistant coach at Harvard to eventually running the Crimson program, certain concepts have remained consistent no matter what position she held or school she coached at.
“I still think a lot of it is just coaching, relationship building with players, [and] communication,” Crowell said. “A lot of those same themes carry over no matter where you’re coaching, but I’d say the expectations and the exposure are 10 times bigger here [at Harvard].”
—Staff writer Cordelia F. Mendez can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonCordelia.