Brittany Smith, one way or another, was determined to be a hockey coach. “I just wasn’t sure how that was going to formulate,” she said.
Where the 25-year-old Smith landed is close to home, at the helm of a Marblehead girls’ co-op for which she starred for three seasons before graduating in 2014 and playing Division 1 college hockey at Sacred Heart.
Smith, a 100-point career scorer at Marblehead, is the program’s fifth head coach in five seasons, and one who hopes to offer stability.
“I did reach out to coach the Marblehead team a couple of years ago after graduation, and it just didn’t go through,” she said. “This year was my opportunity to go through with it.”
Marblehead, which also draws players from Swampscott, Hamilton-Wenham and Manchester-Essex — Smith’s alma mater — is one of several co-op programs in the NortheastHockey League. The list has grown to include two more this winter. Newburyport, which includes girls from Georgetown and Amesbury, ended its previous co-op with Masconomet; and Gloucester, which has formed partnership with Rockport, is playing a varsity schedule after competing as a sub-varsity club the last several seasons.
Like Marblehead, Newburyport has a former D1 college standout behind the bench in Melissa Pacific, a 1999 grad of St. Mark’s in Southborough who went on to become a three-time All-American goalie at Ohio State. Cait Bernick, who played briefly at Nichols College in Dudley before a knee injury ended her playing career, is in charge at Gloucester.
All three programs are weathering the challenges wrought on by the pandemic, which has forced many teams across the state to relocate from their regular rinks due to temporary closures. Marblehead, for example, is splitting its home games between Connery Rink in Lynn and Cronin Rink in Revere with Rockett Arena in Salem closed off to the public.
“It took me two weeks to learn the names of all 21 players,” said Pacific, who previously spent 12 years as coach at Phillips Exeter Academy. “Showing up mostly dressed, with a mask and then staying 6 feet apart made it difficult to learn names and to ‘see’ personalities.”
Smith was already familiar with several players on the Marblehead team, many of whom played with her younger sister, Annika, a 2020 graduate. A few others, such as co-captains Mackenzie Walles and Abby Kalinowski, were teammates with former Headers captain Sydney Cresta, a 2019 graduate of the program who played with coach Smith as an eighth-grader.
“It’s really great having her back,” Walles said of Smith. “When she played, she was awesome, so it’s great having someone who’s experienced.”
Walles, a senior at Hamilton-Wenham, said that Smith can relate to the challenges of attending a school that’s a guest in the co-op.
“She knows what it’s like to have to commute every day,” Walles said. “It’s a big commitment so she’s understanding with us.”
Smith earned her first win on Monday, 2-1, over Beverly/Danvers/Ipswich, bringing the Headers’ record to 1-1-1.
When she is not on the ice, Smith is a fulltime grad student at the Mass. College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, where she is pursuing her masters’ in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. With so many of her classes online, it made it easier to commit to coachin.
But even when life gets back to normal, Smith intends to keep her commitment.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job for just one year thinking that’s all I want to do, because that’s not fair to the girls,” Smith said. “They should have a coach for longer than one year. But it’s definitely made it easier.”
Bernick, a six-year assistant coach at her alma mater, Daniel Hand High in Madison, Conn., has coached youth hockey in the Cape Ann region.
“I wanted to coach in the town I lived in,” Bernick said of Daniel Hand, where she graduated in 2007. “I thought that was really good in keeping the town commitment and being a part of the team and the town – it’s all one team, basically. The town is part of the team.”
Gloucester (0-2-1) is seeking its first win. But Newburyport skated to a 3-2 win over many of its former teammates at Masconomet in its season-opener Monday.
“Not having a scrimmage or two was nerve-wracking for me as a coach,” Pacific said. “Our statement from the first meeting was to have patience. With everything going on in the world, we knew we’d have to take it one day at a time.”
▪ St. Mary’s sophomore Jenna Chaplain recorded her 100th career point in Monday’s 9-0 win over Archbishop Williams. Chaplain became the ninth player in program history to reach the century mark when she assisted on the first career goal for freshman defenseman Kasey Litwin nine seconds into the game.
“It’s pretty exciting. It’s a good achievement, a great thing to accomplish,” said Chaplain.
Her father, Scott, a first-year St. Mary’s assistant, witnessed the moment from the bench. Chaplain, a varsity player since seventh grade, has a shot to be the fourth Spartan to hit 200.
“She’s a very talented hockey player, offensively skilled. She has a dynamic shot release and I think that’s what sets her apart,” said St. Mary’s coach Frank Pagliuca.
▪ Pagliuca said the Catholic Central League hopes to hold its winter version of the CCL Cup. League leader Matignon (5-0) is on pause until Jan. 24 and isn’t scheduled to play again until Feb. 3 against Arlington Catholic.
“We’re lucky to play five games to begin with. We were on a tear for a while so for something like this to happen, it’s just the world we live in . . . no matter how good you are, something like this happens,” Matignon coach Tommy Scarpa said.
▪ Boston Latin’s game against Lincoln-Sudbury Wednesday night marked the first time the Wolfpack had taken the ice competitively since losing to Woburn in the Division 1 state semifinals on March 9, 2020 — a total of 317 days. Boston Public Schools delayed the start of the winter season to Jan. 11 because of the amount of COVID-19 cases in the city. The Wolfpack returned to the ice for five days of tryouts, held two practices, and scrimmaged Latin Academy last Saturday.
“I just think the girls are so happy because they’ve been going to school remotely and now they’re seeing each other on the ice,” Boston Latin coach Tom McGrath said.
Correspondent Brandon Chase also contributed to this story.