NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University women's hockey team enters the 2019-20 season with a new face leading the program for the first time in its 13-year history.
With previous head coach Mark Bolding's departure to Yale this past spring, the Cadets welcome a familiar face as the new bench boss with Sophie Leclerc '10 returning to take the reins at her alma mater after spending four years as an assistant coach at Colgate.
Leclerc was officially named the second head coach in program history on May 17, 2019. She has hit the ground running in her first collegiate head coaching stint and will be joined once again by top assistant coach Mollie Fitzpatrick '12 and Jon Guiffre to round out the staff this season.
"It's exciting because every day is a new experience," Leclerc said. "I thought everything was going to feel close to the same since I played here and grew up in the area, but it's really been a unique perspective and lens sitting behind the coach's desk as opposed to in front of it."
Norwich is coming off another strong season, winning its ninth New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) Tournament title and making its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 seasons.
The Cadets return 20 players from last year's team that finished with a 21-6-2 record and ultimately fell to Williams College in the NCAA Tournament First Round.
Leading the way is returning two-time American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-American Amanda Conway (Methuen, Mass.), who had 30 goals and 12 assists last year for 42 points. Conway has 84 career goals and 45 assists for 129 points in 82 games played and has won back-to-back NEHC Player of the Year awards.
Conway enters the year nine goals away from tying the Norwich career goals record, held by Julie Fortier '12 with 93. She also is within striking distance of the program career points record of 175, also held by Fortier.
Fellow senior Sophie McGovern (Hermantown, Minn.) also returns after posting 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points last season. She is also over 100 career points with 101 entering her final season in the Maroon & Gold.
On defense, the Cadets return junior Samantha Benoit (Bow, N.H.), who had five goals and 22 assists for 27 points en route to earning All-American honors for the first time in her career.
"The leadership from the upperclassmen has been incredible so far," Leclerc said. "They have a sense of feeling that things weren't fulfilled last year and they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They want this to be their best year and it's trickling down to the freshmen. There is a focus and common purpose throughout the team right now and it makes it really easy to come to the rink every day."
Norwich welcomes seven newcomers to the fold this year, including six freshmen and one junior transfer that are all looking to compete for time.
"The new players are doing more than stepping up," Leclerc said. "The whole group is coming together as a team and they are all important members of the group that have the ultimate goal of playing in the last game of the year."
Norwich played two exhibition games as tune ups to the start of the regular season. The Cadets beat Saint Anselm 5-0 on Oct. 22 and Bishop's University (Quebec) 7-0 on Oct. 27.
"We were happy with the exhibition game results," Leclerc said. "Any game is an opportunity for us to be able to see everything we've been working on in practice against some competition that is trying to break it down."
The Cadets received a lot of production on the scoresheet from new faces in the exhibition games with freshmen or sophomores accounting for 10 of the 12 goals scored.
"We've been building an identity of leading from any seat as far as producing on the scoresheet," Leclerc said. "Carley Sedlar (Howell, Mich.), Ann-Frederique Guay (St. Lambert-de-Lauzon, Quebec), and Ingrid Holstad-Berge (Stavanger, Norway) have been our best line in the exhibition games. They love playing with each other and have had instant chemistry."
After posting a 15-0-1 record and winning their eighth NEHC regular season title last season, the Cadets were the unanimous No. 1 pick in the preseason coaches' poll released last week. Norwich has posted a 141-5-5 record in conference play over the last nine seasons.
"It's great to be ranked No. 1 in the league, but we're going to be getting everyone's best game night in and night out," Leclerc said. "Every game is about playing our best no matter who we're playing and the outcome will take care of itself."
Norwich was off on the opening weekend of the regular season and will be starting its season the latest it ever has in the 13-year history program.
"It's been two weeks but I feel like we've already been through so much with the work we've done on and off the ice," Leclerc said. "I feel like we're all really connected and we're all ready to bring on the next day and the next challenge."
The Cadets will get a stern test right off the bat as Norwich will travel across Lake Champlain to face defending national champion Plattsburgh State on Wednesday, Nov. 6 in a rematch of the last two NCAA Division III women's hockey national champions. The Cardinals will raise their 2019 National Championship banner prior to the game and have now won five of the last six national championships.
"I'm looking forward to it as the first opponent as a head coach," Leclerc said. "The exhibition games were learning opportunities for everyone but now we get a chance to do it for real on Wednesday, which is exciting. The team is eagerly awaiting its chance to get out on the ice in a real game for the first time and see how much we've come together."