LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — It was 8 a.m. Monday, according to the alarm on her phone. Jillian Dempsey played a late game the night before, so she slept in an extra half-hour. But she does not snooze.
She ate breakfast — in the bubble it’s been eggs, home fries, oatmeal, and plenty of water — and logged on to greet her fifth-grade students at Arthur T. Cummings Elementary in Winthrop, Mass.
By 8:25, her virtual image was projected onto a whiteboard in Room 332. With help from an assistant, Ms. Dempsey was leading the class of 24 from her room at the High Peaks Resort, lesson plans and several more alarms at the ready. They would chime after 90 minutes of math and science, an early lunch, then to signal for reading and writing, a snack break, social studies, and her review and planning time while her students took their electives: music, gym, art, and the final bell at 3:10 p.m.
The pandemic has forced them into a hybrid rotation: half the group physically present for two days, in the classroom with the “Work Hard and Be Nice to People” sign on the wall, while the others Zoom. Wednesday is all virtual. They take regular 10-minute breaks to recapture attention.
“We always hit the ground running,” Dempsey said. “I have high expectations for my students. I’m actually very impressed by how they’ve adjusted to this crazy year. We focus on the situation not being ideal for learning, not being all together in the classroom, but we need to make growth, not excuses.”
Dempsey, the Boston Pride captain and NWHL career scoring leader, is in her eighth year as a professional hockey center and sixth year of teaching. She has one of the most densely packed schedules among her peers, spending long days in the classroom and nights at the rink, but she is not unique in working a day job.
NWHL rosters list 125 players. Nearly all of them played at North American colleges, and the two who didn’t — Buffalo’s Lenka Čurmová and Iveta Klimášová — went to secondary school in Slovakia. More than half of the league played at New England schools, nearly a quarter of them in Boston, like Dempsey, who was captain at Harvard while earning a classics degree. She later got her master’s in teaching at Boston University.
Full-time work is a necessity for a league where salaries range from $2,500 to $18,900 a season. In the future, the NWHL hopes to provide living wages.
“That’s the goal, 100 percent,” said Pride president Hayley Moore. “But when you look at where we are at right now, it speaks volumes of their character as to what they’re doing outside the rink. Even if financially they didn’t have to work another job, I guarantee you they would all be super active in coaching or the community or their studies. They’ve all balanced those things their entire lives. This is an extension of that.”
A few players have taken a two-week respite to focus on the Isobel Cup, but most everyone in Lake Placid, N.Y., is still on the clock before puck drop.
While Dempsey was helping her students — one of her most-avid bookworms, she proudly noted, has read more than 2 million words this school year — Pride defender Mallory Souliotis was virtually assisting coworkers at EMD Serono in Billerica, Mass. As a biomedical engineer, she researches cancer drugs, pushing them toward clinical trials.
“I can’t run experiments from here, so I’m just trying to be as helpful as I can,” said the Acton, Mass.-raised Somerville, Mass., resident. She decided her career path at 13, when her grandmother was stricken with the first of two bouts with cancer. Souliotis, a Yale grad, is also taking online classes for her master’s in bioengineering from Maryland.
Her hotel room neighbor, netminder Lovisa Selander, also wears a lab coat when she’s not in hockey gear. She works at the biotech startup Neurotech Pharmaceuticals in Cumberland, R.I. The Pride’s lineup has medical students, such as forward Sammy Davis, a BU grad who is pursuing her doctorate in occupational therapy at the MGH Institute of Health Professions, defender Briana Mastel, and forward Carlee Turner. There are special education teachers, such as forward Meaghan Rickard of Eleanor Briggs School in Warwick, R.I., and defenders Taylor Turnquist and Lauren Kelly. Others are in the finance world, such as goalie Victoria Hanson and forward Mary Parker.
As Monday moved toward stick and puck o’clock, Dempsey logged off and slipped on her post-work treat, a pair of Normatec recovery boots. Teammate Jenna Rheault was still chipping away. Rheault is an occupational therapist at Hillsboro-Deering (N.H.) Elementary. The defender broke her right wrist the night before. She was resting her slinged and soft-casted arm on her laptop as she pored over documents.
It was 4:15 p.m., and at Herb Brooks Arena, Toronto Six practice was off and flying. Defender Emma Greco and forward Amy Curlew carried their laptops to the ice and placed them on a table behind the bench. Greco, a business development consultant for the Canadian office supply company Ricoh, and Curlew, a marketing intern at Toronto-based Critical Mass, stayed on top of messages from coworkers and clients between breakout drills.
“I had 15 minutes left in the workday,” said Greco, whose teammates include accountants (goaltender Elaine Chuli), investment bankers (forward Natalie Marcuzzi), and aspiring broadcasters (defender Lindsay Eastwood). Greco’s coworkers, she said, “are very supportive.”
In addition, many of the players also coach on the side, including Pride defender Kaleigh Fratkin, who leads the Weymouth High girls’ team in addition to her marketing job at Under Armour, and forward Christina Putigna, a skills coach. The Minnesota Whitecaps have several coaches — including captain Winny Brodt-Brown, who owns Os Hockey Training and employs several of her teammates. Buffalo Beauts goaltender Kelsey Neumann is a third-grade teacher, with a Zoom diet similar to Dempsey.
Coach Paul Mara said the Pride, who normally practice at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Mass., had 100 percent attendance during their training camp, which ran three to four times a week from September to January. Dempsey arrives back home in Winthrop around 11:30 p.m. During a non-pandemic season, weekend road trips take them as far as St. Paul. Next season, they will add Toronto travel to the schedule.
“It’s extremely admirable,” Mara said. “You respect them immensely. They do their day jobs and they’re ready to work at night for our team. Our players lead by example, on and off the ice.”
On Tuesday, when they had an 8:30 p.m. game against Toronto, Dempsey had a pregame meal — chicken, plain pasta, and mixed vegetables — with her team at the hotel at 4:30. She arrived at the rink two hours later and followed her familiar routine: taping her sticks, rolling out, and performing a dynamic warm-up.
In the final minutes of the Pride’s 2-1 loss, Dempsey fell on her left shoulder, aggravating a longstanding injury. The postgame doctor’s visit made for a late night. Back at the hotel, she ate a recovery meal of chicken and pasta, and finally drifted off close to 1 a.m. She was a bit groggy when the alarm sounded Wednesday.
As always, she was on time for class.