Paige Harrington takes the ice in a game against the New York Riveters. Photo by Troy Parla
It has long been the cliché in sports that “defense wins championships” and anyone who watched the Buffalo Beauts’ recent Isobel Cup Championship win would likely agree. From the goaltenders forward, the Beauts’ playoff run was a strategic and defensively tactical mission, executed to near perfection and for Paige Harrington, the tall, lean blue-liner from Mansfield, Massachusetts – a professional championship so close to home was icing on the…Cup(cake).
Harrington’s journey to this point has been an admirable and inspiring progression through every level of her hockey life, where each experience has left her with a continually growing arsenal of skills that have proved her to be reliable on the ice and a role model off of it.
Her early hockey days began in the way so many from her generations did, playing boys hockey. And much like many of her fellow NWHL athletes, the experience taught a great deal of character and served as a pivotal stepping stone for greater things to come. Although the women’s style of the game maintains different parameters for physical play to that of the men’s game, Harrington’s physical presence defensively on the ice, might well be attributed to those earliest years. Even today, her game utilizes both her size and persistent presence in the face of anything in her defensive zone, making her a tough matchup against fellow competitors.
Following high school, Harrington began her college career at Penn State, but quickly recognized that the environment was not exactly the fit she was looking for. “Although I loved Penn State, UMass Amherst was the better fit for my hockey career,” Harrington recalled of the change. The decision brought Harrington to UMass Amherst where she spent the next three years of her hockey career building an impressive resume. “Moving closer to home was the best choice for me,” insisted Harrington.
Throughout her college career with UMass Amherst, Harrington accumulated over twenty goals, made multiple ACHA Division 1 National Tournament appearances, held a captain role, and garnered All-American honors, yet again adding to her growing list of accolades.
“I played with an amazing team at UMass and under a coach who believed in my talent,” said the defenseman. “Transferring and playing for a different coach allowed me to grow as a player and become more confident.”
Building that confidence certainly paid off. Throughout her college career, Harington had the distinct honor to pull on a Team USA sweater for the World University games in Grenada, Spain and Torino, Italy.
“It was an amazing experience representing my country alongside the top skilled players of the ACHA,” Harrington asserted. “The teams that we played were very skilled,” she continued, “what I took away from the FISU games was that I became hungry to compete at a higher level of hockey.”
And a higher level of hockey was exactly the next stop on Harrington’s journey. At the FISU games, Harrington met USA hockey great Shelley Looney, one of the coaches of the new National Women’s Hockey League’s Buffalo franchise. “She really liked me as a player,” Harrington remembered of her FISU coach. “She saw that I had untapped potential and wanted to give me a chance. I signed up to be a free agent and was given an invitation to try out.”
Looney and the Beauts brought the blue-liner on board and she has been a staple in baby blue ever since. In the league’s first season, Harrington was a reliable, physical defenseman, logging time in all 18 regular season games and appearing in all five playoff games of the Isobel Cup Playoffs for Buffalo. This past season, Harrington stepped up her game yet again, taking on an increased leadership role as a returning player to the runner-up squad from the year before. “Last year we were a very tight knit group, as we were this year. We had a couple players leave and some new players join,” noted Harrington of the constantly evolving team chemistry.
“We have always been a team that prides itself on being tough and never giving up,” she continued. “The challenge for some of us was balancing out the commitment to the team while also working two-three extra jobs on the side. It has all been worth it in the end. We really came together as a unit and finished out the season strong!”
“We believed in each other and knew we could win, even though the odds were against us. [There’s] nothing better than being the underdog.”
With an Isobel Cup Championship now in hand, Harrington’s place in professional women’s hockey has certainly been established and she is well-aware of the commitment and devotion it has taken to get to where she is today. Scanning the stands in Lowell last month, it was hard to miss her parents, an excited pair watching on eagerly (but excited) as the Harrington and the Beauts contended for hardware.
While she continues to make her mark on the ice, Harington is also making it a point to be an agent of change in growing the game for young girls, as she once was. Just in recent days, Harrington paid a visit to the Metheun High School girls’ hockey team, and offered them some words of wisdom as they pursue their own adventures on the ice.
“Playing professional hockey has always been a dream of mine,” admitted Harrington. “It has been an honor to be a part of the NWHL; the top-level players are in the NWHL, and it has been a step up from any hockey I have played.”
Every year has been one of exciting new growth in her game and fans will be waiting (im)patiently to see what lies ahead for the Buffalo defenseman.