Returning after a 14-day COVID-19 pause, the Weymouth girls’ hockey team was readying for Saturday’s return for their game against the Newton Crush co-op.
Game prep this winter often requires players to make final preparations outside. On this night, the Wildcats were in the parking lot at the Connell Memorial Arena. But before they entered the rink to lace up their skates, the players huddled around cell phones, watching the Boston Pride take on the the Minnesota Whitecaps in the first of their five-game National Women’s Hockey bubble series in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Roughly 300 miles away, their first-year coach, Kaleigh Fratkin, a highly-regarded defender and a six-year NWHL pro, took the ice with the Pride.
The Pride , who fell to 1-3 after a 4-1 loss to the Connecticut Whale Wednesday night in Lake Placid, and Weymouth were each dealt one-goal losses. But seeing their 28-year-old coach on the ice with a professional women’s hockey team served as an inspiration all season for a Wildcat squad that is coming off a 4-17 season. They have all bought in to the culture change that Fratkin is trying to implement.
“We’re lucky to have a coach that has such great experience and we’re actually finally able to learn from that,” said Weymouth senior captain Emily Bisbee. “The whole team environment has just been so positive, probably the best out of our high school career.”
In September, working his network of hockey contacts, Weymouth athletic director Rob O’Leary reached out to Pride captain Jillian Dempsey. He’s a hockey guy, too. A former player at Tabor Academy and New England College, he has coached the Melrose and Winthrop boys’ programs. Dempsey endorsed Fratkin and O’Leary came away impressed.
As a player at BU from 2010-14, the Burnaby, B.C. native won three Hockey East championships and won two international medals with the Canadian national team. She balances playing for the Pride and coaching with her fulltime job in marketing for Under Armour.
“I think the No. 1 thing that I liked about her is she talked about being a role model. She talked about how she was going to change the culture,” said O’Leary, who is coaching the Weymouth varsity in Fratkin’s absence.
“We really liked how she wanted to be somebody that the girls could connect with, and look up to and inspire to be, more off the ice than on the ice.”
In less than two months as coach, there has already been a notable shift in culture and attitude. Even though Fratkin was not present, Weymouth (1-3) posted its first win of the season in a 5-2 triumph at Milton Wednesday night. During the team’s pause, she facilitated virtual meetings with Pride teammate Mallory Siluoutis and NWHL Players Association director Anya Battaglino to give the Wildcats insight into playing at the professional level. The players responded with curiosity and the motivation to improve.
Before Fratkin left for Lake Placid, the team created a send-off video for their coach; she received it in a group chat with the captains.
“They had difficulty with kind of the group culture. I was really excited to get a young group of fresh faces . . . and we also had a senior group,” said Fratkin, who is the NWHL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. “From the minute before I even started practicing with these kids, you could see that there was so much passion with all these players. They want help and they want to succeed.”
Weymouth co-captain Grace Laubenstein was pleased with Weymouth’s play against Newton, but was extremely disappointed that the Wildcats were not able to convert the tying goal.
“Whether you’re one of the best players on the team or one of the new girls, she always encourages everyone and it’s made us all close, and we respect each other because of her,” Laubenstein said.
Fratkin wants to be that role model for girls because as a child, she never had one at the rink.
“The West Coast of Canada , for girls’ hockey, wasn’t strong, but the boys’ hockey scene was,” Fratkin said. “In Burnaby, where I grew up, there were a ton of resources, my brothers played hockey. It’s come a long, long way, and if I were a 10-year-old girl growing up in British Columbia, I would be playing girls’ hockey today.
“I know how important it is for these girls to have good role models, good resources.”
Back in Weymouth, the Wildcats remain fixated on Lake Placid. After the Pride’s 2-1 loss to the Toronto Six Tuesday, O’Leary and the players had a spirited discussion about whether or not Fratkin’s second-period tripping penalty that resulted in a penalty shot was legitimate.
Even if the Pride do not return to Massachusetts with the Isobel Cup in tow, the seeds of a growing hockey culture in Weymouth has been planted.
“Growing up, there’s not a lot of woman hockey players to look up to, and now having one that you know so personally I think is really cool,” Laubenstein said.
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▪ Orla O’Driscoll, a junior forward for the Quincy/North Quincy co-op, registered eight points last week (4 goals, 4 assists) to reach 100 career points, the fourth in program history. Her teammate, sophomore Maggie Lynch has racked up 86 points in 27 career games for QNQ..
O’Driscoll and Lynch are key cogs for the Presidents, who are off to a 5-1-1 start after finishing with a losing record each of the last three seasons.
“I’ve never been prouder of a team in my career – playing, coaching, anything – with what these kids have to deal with,” QNQ coach Jeff Craig said. “It’s not normal.”
The team has one senior on its roster, goalie Emma Ford, who did not start playing the game until her sophomore year at North Quincy. With no goalies in the program two weeks shy of the 2018-19 season, Craig asked his team to “find the best athlete you can find. We’ve got to train them, we’ve got about two weeks.”
Ford, who also stars on the volleyball court, was up to the challenge and stabilized the crease almost immediately.
“I know more about coaching goalies now than I have in my whole life,” said Craig, who played forward at Quincy High and later Plymouth State College in the ‘90s.
▪ Jessica Driscoll, a junior for the Methuen-Tewksbury co-op, was named MVP of the Ryan Driscoll Memorial Game on Jan. 16 between the Red Rangers and Central Catholic. It was the second annual game between the schools, played in honor of Jessica’s older brother, Ryan, who played for the boys’ hockey team at Central Catholic. He died in a car crash in June 2019 at age 16.
In her MVP effort, Jessica scored three goals in a 6-1 win for M/T.
Correspondent Jake Levin also contributed.