The Montclair State University women’s hockey team has struggled through their first six matches of the 2021-2022 season. In the face of so many challenges, the Red Hawks remain as motivated as ever to turn their season around.
The cancellation of the 2020-2021 ice hockey season had a ripple effect on many aspects of the program. The team’s general manager, Robert Martinez, said the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is still impacting the Red Hawks.
“Last season, we were unable to schedule any games and we lost two incoming players who opted to stay more local due to the uncertainty of this fall,” Martinez said. “This season, league play has returned to normal, but the scheduling of non-league games has been a bit more difficult because of teams’ ice availability.”
Despite having established returning players such as junior goaltender Amber Astalos and senior forward Emily Struble, much of the roster is filled by newcomers. Players have come from all different athletic backgrounds, including sophomore defenseman Carlie Van Tassel, who also is a standout on the field hockey team.
Unfortunately, the Red Hawks have not found success on the ice as of yet. In their first six matches, Montclair State has been outscored 61-5. The Red Hawks play in the highly competitive Division II Delaware Valley College Hockey Conference (DVCHC) against clubs such as The University of Delaware and the United States Naval Academy.
One major issue that can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic is the relatively thin numbers the team has been able to put together. According to the team’s website, the Red Hawks are fielding 15 players. This means that in most cases, some players stay out on the ice for almost an entire game.
Despite a less than optimal start to the season, it’s not necessarily time to panic. Some of Montclair State’s defining moments on the ice have come in the face of adversity.
Struble isn’t concerned with the numbers as their 2018 Red Hawks team, which was even smaller, found success in the DVCHC championship.
“This team is always small [in numbers],” Struble said “[In 2018] they won the championship with only seven or eight girls, so they had two subs”
The young season has still produced memorable moments for a team that in many ways is still developing. Struble said one of the highlights of the season was when forward Sabrina Robinson scored her first goal of the season.
“Everybody is so excited to have the opportunity to be on the ice,” Struble said. “When [Robinson] scored her first goal of the season, she went nuts. It was incredible.”
Astalos said the key to getting back on track is getting back to the basics.
“We really got to focus on the fundamentals,” Astalos said. “[We] need to focus on good skating and putting pucks in the net.”
A defining characteristic of the Red Hawks has been their tenacity. When a team struggles early, it is common to see teammates not sticking together and not giving maximum effort on the ice. However, it’s clear that this unit is only growing closer together as the season goes on.
The team is gradually improving as well. Struble said the team is making progress with their play on the ice every game.
“You can’t tell from the score,” Struble said. “But if you come to the games, you see that we are finally learning our formations and [working on] the simple stuff [like] getting the puck up the boards and containing the puck. You can see that we are getting better slowly and slowly.”
Martinez said finding hockey players across the area, as well as on campus, is a critical step towards future success.
“Our coach Alexandra Tepper attends several travel tournaments and showcases throughout the year to visit with and speak to youth players aged 14 to 17,” Martinez said. “We also send out campus notifications to current students to let them know we do in fact have a team, and [that] players of all levels are welcome.”
For many of the players on this team, their connection to hockey goes much deeper than just wins and losses. Astalos said she found a home within the program.
“This team quickly became my family,” Astalos said. “I always look forward to seeing [my teammates] every single week, having fun and sometimes goofing off.”
For the players who grew up playing hockey, the game is a part of their DNA. Astalos has been playing roller hockey since she was six years old. Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to see why players such as Struble are unfazed by the losing streak.
“It doesn’t affect us at all,” Struble said. “It’s all about our team rallying together, [so] It doesn’t matter if we win. We could go the whole season like this and it would not matter. Everyone is just so happy to be here.”