University Magazine Article
Feature article on women's ice hockey program at Providence College,
written by Richard Stewart for university magazine.
Ladies, Take the Ice!
PC Women's Ice Hockey Program Sets
the Standard for Excellence in Athletics
Not everybody knows that women play ice hockey. They do.
It's more of a finesse game than men's hockey — no checking
— but the skating is fast and the excitement contagious. The
faithful who flock to Schneider Arena to catch the Lady Friars
in action can attest to that. The championship banners that hang
there, more than any other team has won in the history of U.S.
women's hockey, affirm the winning tradition.
Domination is not too strong a word, fans agree. Statistics
back them up. So does the selection in August of the U.S.
National Team, currently on a pre-Olympics tour leading to the
1998 Winter Games this February in Nagano, Japan. Women's
ice hockey debuts as an Olympic medal sport this winter, and
PC will be well represented. A third of the women on the team,
9 of 25 are from Providence College — seven alumni and two
current Lady Friars. Arch rival University of New Hampshire
was next closest with five players.
The National Team was chosen from a field of 54 of the
country's best female hockey players after six days of intensely
competitive tryouts at the Olympic training facility in Lake Placid,
N.Y. Only three players have been named to the National Team
every year since its inception in 1990, and they are all PC alumni:
Lisa Brown-Miller '88, on leave from her position of head coach
of the women's hockey team at Princeton University; Kelly
O'Leary '90, playing in Europe for the last four years to hone her
skills; and Cammi Granato '93, who recently completed a master's
degree at Concordia University in Montreal.
Cammi, one of the most highly rated women's hockey players
in the world, holds the all-time scoring record at Providence College.
She was chosen PC Female Athlete of the Year for 1993 and USA
Hockey Women's Player of the Year for 1996. A social studies
graduate, she completed her advanced degree in sports
administration while continuing to play hockey at Concordia. Her
whole family, including brother Tony, in his ninth year with the
NHL's San Jose Sharks, plans to be rinkside in Nagano.
Recalls Providence Fondly
After high school, Cammi considered each of the "big three"
women's hockey schools — Providence, UNH and Northeastern
— but it was the PC campus that sold her. "I liked the atmosphere
on campus, the closeness. PC has a beautiful campus and I felt very
much at home there," remembers the 26-year-old from Downers
Grove, Ill. Coming from a Catholic background, the Dominican
traditions were important to her, she says.
"It was nice to go to a Catholic school. I know it made my parents
proud. I lived on campus for four years and they were the best years
of my life," recalls Cammi. "Everybody around you was going through
this great learning experience. It was our own little world. I loved it."
Lisa Brown-Miller, the oldest player on the National Team at 30,
decided to take leave from coaching to devote more time to prepare
for the Olympics. Petite at 5'1", 128 pounds, she looks larger on the
ice, owing to the 25 pounds of equipment she wears. An outstanding
forward, the Union Lake, Mich., native provides leadership and
experience to her team mates.
Lisa and other former Friars have packed the women's hockey
coaching ranks, holding top positions at UNH, Northeastern,
Providence, Princeton and Middlebury. Jackie (Gladu) Barto '84 is
in her fourth season as head coach of the PC women's ice hockey
program. Prior to that she served as an assistant coach of the Lady
Currently Sue Mussey '87, another former PC hockey star and
1985 Female Athlete of the Year, is an assistant on Coach Barto's
staff. Alana Blahoski '96 and Chris Baily '94, both playing on the
National Team, also served as assistant coaches at PC. Alana was
1996 PC Female Athlete of the Year and became the eighth Lady
Friar to earn all-league Player of the Year honors. Chris was Rookie
of the Year in 1991.
Chris, who also left coaching to prepare for the Olympics,
observes that the people in PC's program make the hockey
experience fun. "Providence instills something that other schools do
not. We were committed to winning, but we were still having fun.
That's the most important part to continuing in the game," she says.
"I'm 25 years old and I'm still having fun playing hockey. I think
that's why a lot of the women with the national program are from
Providence. The fun never died out for them and they still want to
learn and play the game.
Deciding on Providence
The decision to attend Providence was an easy one for Chris.
"When I went to PC on my recruiting visit, I felt like I belonged
there right from the beginning. Everything felt good — the program,
the school and the people," she notes. "I didn't get that feeling from
any other school I had visited."
The business management graduate hopes to get back into
coaching some day. She is interested in marketing, too, she says,
and may decide to study for an MBA, possibly at Concordia, so she
can continue playing. For now, she only wants to think about one
thing — winning the gold in Japan this winter. That will set the stage
for women's hockey to really take off when the games are back in
the U.S. in 2002, she feels. Chris, Kelly and a third PC alumna, two-
time all-league selection Vicki Movsessian '94, are defensemen on
the National Team.
Chris credits Coach Barto for much of the success of the
Providence program. "Jackie is more than an exceptional coach to
the athletes; she is an excellent role model. And while she is a serious
competitor, academics and the importance of getting a good education
always come first with her," Chris relates. "With Jackie, if you don't
take part in the academics, you aren't going to play on her team."
As a student-athlete, Jackie was twice named PC Female Athlete
of the Year. More recently, she was inducted into the PC Athletic
Hall of Fame. She ranks third on the all-time goals list behind Cammi
and Stephanie O'Sullivan '95, 1996 Rookie of the Year, who is also
playing on the National Team. Coach Barto understands the
commitment her student-athletes have to make to play hockey at this
level. Training takes 20 hours a week, because winning is important.
But studies come first.
Stickler for Studies
All freshmen players and any other team members who fall below
2.5 grade point average are required to attend a monitored study hall
for a certain number of hours each week. In addition, everyone on
the team has to turn in a weekly progress report, listing test scores
and other grades. The same policies hold true for PC's highly
successful women's field hockey team, which Jackie also coaches.
"The athletes on my teams understand that their academics are
number one. That's why they are here," says the coach. "Some of
them have aspirations to go on in the sport, to the national program
and now the Olympics, but their studies are their main priority. And
it's not easy," she acknowledges. The team has 34 games on its
schedule, many of them on the road. For students who need
additional help, academic support services and tutors are available.
A dozen of the Lady Friars were on the Dean's List last semester,
the coach reports.
The College places emphasis on academics in all sports,
according to PC Athletic Director John Marinato. And it has paid
off with a high graduation rate for student-athletes. "Over the past
10 or 15 years, before it was fashionable to have high graduation
rates, Providence was always at the top of the list of schools," he
"Our charge as an athletic department is to fulfill the mission of the
College through athletics. Winning is part of it, but not the ultimate.
We try to create a balance by providing the resources to make our
teams competitive and the resources to help them achieve in the
classroom," he adds. "We want our athletes to leave with a degree
and a good feeling about their four-year experience here."
John attributes the success of the women's hockey program to
the College's early decision to establish a team, even before other
schools started thinking about the sport, he notes. "Women's
hockey was a natural fit for Providence because of our geographic
region, our tradition on the men's side and our excellent facility.
As time went on, our program grew and reached the point during
the 90s where we won four straight championships.
Since the first championship was held in 1984, the Lady Friars
have won it six times and appeared in 10 of the 14 title games.
During the 1995-96 season, the team lost to UNH in five overtime
periods — the longest college hockey game in the history of the
NCAA. "That was brutal," John recalls.
Preparing for Face-off
Since September, Coach Barto has been getting her squad ready
for the "big game" on Nov. 12, when the National Team comes to
town for an exhibition match at Schneider. Two current Friars on
the National Team, Laurie Baker '99 and Sara DeCosta '00, will
face their PC team mates for the first time.
"It's always hard to play against your friends, but I think it will
be fun," says Laurie, rated one of the best forwards in the nation.
She was named PC's Female Athlete of the Year and USA Hockey
Women's Player of the Year for 1997." In the Providence program,
I think we have more of a focus than some of the other schools,"
she says. "Jackie's rules — the curfew, the no-alcohol policy during
the whole year — little things like that help us stay focused and
make the difference."
Sara DeCosta, who finished her freshman year last year, is
considered one of the sport's best goaltenders. The Warwick, R.I.
native started playing hockey with her brothers and father at age five.
Her skillful play convinced the National Team coaches to keep a
third goalie on the roster instead of just two, as they had intended.
She, like all the others on the team, hopes to make the final cut to
20 players before the Olympics. She misses her own team, the PC
campus, even study hall.
"The study hall policy is great. Jackie sets the hours based on
how well we're doing in our classes. She is very into academics and
I think that is important," Sara notes. Widely recruited out of high
school, she chose PC because of the coaching staff and the
College's academic reputation, she says. "Providence has a great
tradition of winning. When you put on that jersey, it's very meaningful."
The Lady Friars will miss Laurie and Sara this season as the pair
continues training for the Olympics. But team captain Catherine
Hansen '98 is looking forward to a good season. "I think the freshmen
will step up and the team will come together. Hopefully, we'll be able
to make up for their absence. We're a close-knit team and we have a
great coach. She knows the game and knows how to get the most out
of the players," says Catherine. "We work hard and still have fun. I
love playing for her." A psychology major, the team captain hopes to
coach after graduation.
Coach Barto hopes the women get a lot of television coverage
during the Olympics. That would be good for the sport. "I think people
are going to be surprised when they see them play. Women's ice
hockey combines a lot of things," says Jackie. "There is finesse, but
you still see the roughness — so it's still a hockey game. I think people
will be pleasantly surprised. I know the team will make Providence
College and the whole country proud."