There are worse ways to begin a school year than a week of undefeated competition in international hockey in Vierumaki, Finland. Competing for the U.S. national team at the 12 Nations Tournament in August was as good of a preparation for the upcoming season as juniors Josephine Pucci and Jillian Dempsey could have hoped to find on campus.
Now back in Bright Hockey Center, the duo are using their experience at the national level to raise the team’s performance on the ice.
“The level of play was much higher,” said Dempsey of the national team. “The game was definitely faster. You had to make quicker decisions with the puck and play faster and play bigger.”
While Dempsey felt that playing for the U.S. team helped her speed up her game, Pucci had a somewhat different takeaway.
“It’s not always best to go at full speed and not be aware of the right play,” she said. “Every situation calls for a different speed ... hopefully this coming season, I’ll be able to adjust accordingly,.”
Dempsey and Pucci have already had to adjust quickly. In the past two seasons, they were precocious underclassmen. Last year, the skaters were the only Crimson players on a senior-laden squad to earn first-team All-ECAC honors. Dempsey and Pucci were also the team’s first and third leading scorers, respectively.
As the team’s most highly decorated returning players, the duo will be responsible for leading the younger athletes on their respective ends of the ice. Pucci is an assistant captain, along with junior goaltender Laura Bellamy.
“She’s someone I look up to,” freshman defenseman Michelle Picard said. “She definitely is one of those players who makes everyone around her better.”
Dempsey, who was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player for the 2010-2011 season, will have heightened responsibilities with captain Alisa Baumgartner currently sidelined by a shoulder injury.
“I think it’s just a little more pressure, but ... if there wasn’t any pressure, it wouldn’t be as much fun,” Dempsey said. “I think the biggest thing is going out on the ice and working hard.”
Teammates and coaches say work ethic is one of Dempsey’s strengths.
“Jillian Dempsey is also one of those kids who just works hard—no matter what—and makes things happen on the ice,” Picard said.
“They are two pretty intense kids,” Stone added of Pucci and Dempsey. “Their work ethic is unbelievable, and it gives them a lot of confidence. That brings it back to us, and we hope it is contagious for all of our kids.”
Dempsey and Pucci have taken full advantage of the offseason both years to bolster their game. This past April, Pucci and Coach Stone helped the U.S. National team win gold at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s Championships, along with alumnae Angela Ruggiero ’02-’04, Julie Chu ’06-’07, and Caitlin Cahow ’07-’08.
Dempsey and sophomore defenseman Marissa Gedman later joined Pucci that summer to train for the Women’s National Festival, and Pucci and Dempsey were both selected to compete under Stone at the Four Nations Cup.
A drawback of Harvard’s success at the national team level is that Stone, Pucci, and Dempsey, along with freshman Michelle Picard, will miss away contests against league rivals Colgate and No. 3 Cornell on account of the Cup, which will take place this year in Nykoping, Sweden.
The trio and rookie will be especially missed in the Crimson’s game against the Big Red. Cornell, the two-time defending ECAC champion, lost in the NCAA championship game to University of Minnesota Duluth and made the Frozen Four last season.
“When they go to the Four Nations Cup, we’ll be without them for a weekend,” Bellamy said. “It’s an invaluable experience; they’ll come back playing good hockey … and be that much stronger and faster.”
—Staff writer Christina C. McClintock can be reached at email@example.com.