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It is afternoon in Bright Center. The red-orange seats, filled on weekends with rabid hockey fans, are empty. The Harvard men's team has finished its practice, and now it is time for the women.
Harvard Coach John Dooley sends the players through skating drills. Everybody takes a puck including a masked figure wearing very heavy goalie equipment. She lumbers along, keeping up with the others, and handles the puck almost as well with her goalie stick as the other players do with their sticks.
One does not often see a goal-tender who skates as well as a forward. But junior Jennifer White, the three-year starter for the Harvard women's hockey team, has always worked hard on her game and on herself.
An active youngster, White had an interest in tennis until she saw a professional hockey game.
"I Just asked [my parents] if I could skate and they said, 'Sure,'" the West Hartford, Conn. native says. "They thought I'd never last and lose interest quickly. But I didn't."
White spent the next two years learning how to skate. "I played defense and then played goal from then on," White says. "I wanted to play goal [right away] but they wouldn't let me."
Why goal, of all places? "I think I probably liked their equipment; I thought it was cool-looking," White says with a chuckle.
White remained active in other sports, but her main focus was on hockey-several times a week. She played for the girls' team in her school, Kingswood-Oxford, and on weekends she played on the West Hartford community boys' league. And sometimes she played on West Hartford's traveling team.
"In the winter it was kind of hard," White says of the many games she played in. "I don't think I every thought it wasn't normal."
Juggling several sports (and several hockey teams) was not easy for White. But neither was weighing the decision about which college to atend. Before settling on Harvard, she looked at several Ivy League schools.
"I just went [to Harvard] on a gut feeling," White says. "I didn't choose a college because of its hockey program. I chose the college that was best for me."
White started for the Crimson from day one, and posted great numbers despite going through rehabilitation for a knee injury. And last year, as a 5-ft. 8-in. sophomore, she backstopped Harvard to the pinnacle of the Ivy League world-a 10-0 record and a berth in the ECAC tournament.
But behind the sparkling new championship banner in Bright Center and the icewomen's championship rings lurked the cost of the Kirkland House resident's hard work.
"Statistically, it doesn't show, and in our record you can't tell, but I thought I slumped last year," White says. "I'd been playing since I was seven, and I usually play in the summer or do something. Last January I burned out, almost. I was just really tired."
So White spent last summer traveling in Europe, away from sports.
"I did my own thing, and I came back more focused," White says.
And now White is better than ever. Once again, she was a main force in Harvard's successful defense of the Ivy League championship, sporting a 2.48 goals-against average and two shutouts.
But she is still working hard on her overall game.
"I don't like to go out there in practice and not try because I get bad habits," White says. "And in my position, that's pretty dangerous."
White's work ethic translated into confidence. And her confidence is contagious.
"If you go out there and are timid, you're going to let everything go in," White says. "You've got to have an air of confidence about you."
"She's just an amazing goal-tender," says junior left-winger Brita Lind. "In the [first] Princeton game, she gave us a great life by making amazing saves."
Indeed, without that save which White made on a two-on-none situation late in overtime, Lind would not have made the rush which led to that goal by Co-Captain Julie Sasner.
And in the second Princeton game-in which Harvard nabbed the Ivy League title-White made several diving stops, one of which was a glove save on a rolling puck while on the ice.
"Without a doubt she's the backbone of the team," said Harvard Co-Captain Johanna Neilson. "She makes me feel very confident, especially in overtime, which we've had too much of lately."
And that confidence makes White a complete player to the point that her playing level doesn't change if the puck gets behind her.
"Even if I say, 'Gee, Jen, sorry about that goal. That was my man,' she'll say, 'Brita, don't worry about it,'" Lind says. "She's not willing to blame the team. If someone scores, she just forgets about it and the game goes on. You just really feel good when she's in net."
White credits her teammates with her success.
"It's not just me, but it is the fact that we have four or five defensemen that I've played with before," White says. "I know what to expect from them, and they know what to expect from me."
She and the Crimson nave now won the Ivy League title twice. But in a little more than a year, White will be leaving Harvard. And as for life out of Cambridge, the American history major knows what she will not be pursuing as a career.
"[I'm] not playing hockey," White says. "It's a tossup. I'll probably have to get serious soon."
And if Jen White gets as serious about her future as she has about hockey, she can reach as many goals in life as she has prevented.
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