PHOTO BY MICHELLE JAY
The Boston Pride find themselves atop the NWHL standings as we head into the holiday break with a 6-2-0 record, powered by a high scoring offense and great goaltending. Captain Jillian Dempsey and returning Olympic gold medalist Gigi Marvin are tied for the team and league lead in goals with six apiece, Olympic gold medalist Haley Skarupa leads the league in assists with seven, and Katie Burt, the first overall pick in the 2017 NWHL Draft, is tied for the league lead in wins with six and is the only netminder that played every minute for her team this season.
“This is exactly where we want to be,” said Paul Mara, who is in his first year coaching the Pride. “I think the first five games of the season we were really feeling the kind of team we want to be was off and on. Then we had that trip to Minnesota where we really turned things on and played the way we want to play. We played with speed in both games there. Tonight we got our road legs out of us and played with a lot of speed there in the second and third (periods) and got a big victory. That’s where we want to be right now and we want to keep moving forward, keep improving.”
Dempsey is an original NWHLer, and her stats speak for themselves. Just look all over the league’s record books and you’ll see her name near the top of all of the statistical categories. Playing for her hometown team in Boston, Dempsey was a member of the inaugural Isobel Cup championship team that won the first NWHL championship. That championship was won in New Jersey which is where we caught up with the 27-year-old following her team’s 5-2 win over the Metropolitan Riveters that moved the Pride into first place, outscoring their opponents 34-17 over eight games.
This is your fourth season in the NWHL, what is it that keeps you coming back for more?
The biggest thing is that I love playing the game. It’s hard to walk away from hockey. I get such a thrill. It’s so much fun, something to work for day in and day out; I just love that whole process and the grind. Obviously, the team aspect; being part of that, being part of something more than just me is always fun. We have an especially awesome group this year, we’re having a great time, and it’s gelling on the ice really well. It’s definitely enjoyable going to the rink.
Is playing here in New Jersey at this rink memorable, bringing back memories of winning the 2016 Isobel Cup? That was such a memorable experience for us, being able to win that best-of-3 series here. We always think back to that time because it was the first Cup. We want it again! It motivates us to go out there and have that fire to go out there and get it again, we would like to bring it back to Boston for sure. Whenever we come here there is a little memory of that. It’s a little different now because it’s the Riveters’ home. We know when we come here to this building it’s going to be a tough game and we have to put in the work.
How much of an honor is it to be this team’s captain for the last two seasons?
It’s one of the greatest honors I think. Because it’s my teammates who are making the call, for them to chose me to help lead them is really special to me and I take a lot of pride in that. I try to do my best with it and lead by example, support my teammates and be a leader for them. I’m always touched by that sort of thing, that they see me in that way.
Do you incorporate any part of other captains that you played with into your style of leadership?
I feel like every single year just having different interactions with players. I guess I’ve been playing now, jeez since I was five! So 22 years now, and I think along the way you see that you have a ton of different interactions with different players and you kind of take a little bit of something from each and every player. Sometimes it’s a lesson learned, sometimes it’s something that is really going to help you going forward. I’ve had some great captains to look up to in the past, and I’m part of an awesome leadership core on this team. I just try to show up and do the job every day.
I’ve watched you a lot during pregame warmups the past few seasons. You have a lot of last minute routines that you go through with pucks around the crease. What can you tell us about them?
I just feel like I want to have so many touches in and I know there are always those ones (in front of the crease). There was a couple today in the game that didn’t go as planned, where I was right there. I like to just get those extra touches. I know the puck will be sitting there in the crease, it’s always hard to get them up. I just try to get as many of those last minute (in warmups) and really get a good feel of the puck. It’s all about making sure it’s coming off nicely, so I like to build that confidence right at the end of warmups where I have the net to myself for a little bit. I check the edge work, make sure everything is functioning the way I like it. Then be the last one off. I don’t try to be the last one off, it just usually works out that way because I take forever and the buzzer eventually kicks me off.
So how long has this been a thing for you?
Oh jeez! I don’t know! I have a ton of little things, and I often get chirped by my teammates for it but I don’t really know when they started. It’s probably a very long time (grins). Probably pre-college.
After being the last one off for warmups you still had time to call a little girl over and give her a puck…giving her the memory of a lifetime.
I found out afterward that it was Toni’s cousin (Toni Ann Miano). She was down by the glass when we were out for warmups and she was waving and smiling the entire time. So tried to go over and give her a little pound on the glass because she was adorable. I was hoping to find her after warmups but she had moved and then I spotted the purple jacket (on the other side of the rink). I wanted to say hi because it’s like all those clips you see in the NHL where they throw pucks to kids, and the kids are just adorable. She was right up there on the glass and it made me smile so I wanted to recognize her for that.
How excited are you to be selected as one of the players headed to Nashville for the NWHL All-Star Game?
It’s such a competitive league with so many talented players, so to be in that mix is really humbling to be chosen. I’ve never been to Nashville, but I’ve heard only good things. The Predators, I know they have quite the atmosphere there so that’s going to be exciting to see. And I’m a big Taylor Swift fan, I’ve been a fan from the beginning! I know she’s probably not even Nashville anymore but it’ll be cool to see where a lot of country music starts, to be in that city. It’s going to be an incredible experience and I’m really looking forward to it.
Anyone who knows a little about you knows you’re a big Boston sports fan. Do you have any particular favorites?
Honestly I think we’re spoiled with all of our sports teams, we’re constantly contenders for championships. One season ends and then we’re onto the next. The Red Sox won (the World Series) and okay now it’s the Pats (turn to try to win the Super Bowl). Then it’s the Bruins and the Celtics turn. Right now it’s very much (Tom) Brady and (Bill) Belichick grind - every Sunday. We missed the game (because the Pride was also playing), I don’t know how they did today, but it was in Miami which is always a tough one. I love rooting for all of those Boston sports teams and we obviously have a great culture there.