Most hockey players can remember the first moment he or she stepped onto the ice for the first time. For many, it was at a young age, perhaps shortly after learning to walk. Madison Black, a sophomore forward for the Chatham University Cougars, has a much different story.
Black grew up with her early hockey memories coming from the stands as a fan, not on the ice as a player. Her first time lacing up the skates didn’t come until age 11, but she hasn’t looked back since.
“I was a gymnast for about nine years,” Black said. “My brother and my dad both grew up playing hockey. I would just constantly go to my brother’s games, and my dad was like ‘you should try skating.’ So I put on skates, and he started getting me into programs and I really liked it so I continued with that.”
Her dad has played a key role in her hockey career. After helping her get started with hockey, he continued to guide and help her along the way, and also served as her coach. He is admittedly the greatest hockey influence in her life.
“Growing up, I really reflected off my dad because he really taught me everything I need to know about hockey,” she remarked. “He was my coach for all of my travel teams.”
Her early years were spent playing in developmental and house leagues at the rink now known as the Baierl Ice Complex. It was just a short drive for the Wexford native, and offered a great opportunity to develop her game. Eventually she progressed to higher levels, and played for the Steel City Selects U-16 and U-19 travel teams.
After graduating from high school at North Allegheny, she decided to take an extra year to further her development before going to college. She spent that year with the Pens Elite program, which proved to be a valuable experience.
“We had a lot of opportunities to really develop our skills, and I felt a lot of the coaching staff was really determined to make us better athletes both on and off the ice,” Black said. “It was cool traveling and really getting out there to go see other places I might want to go for college. I felt it was a really developed league that we played in so we had a lot of opportunities to get scouted by different colleges.”
While playing with the Pens Elite, Black ended up being recruited to play for Salem State in Massachusetts. She spent her first year of college there, and while living away from home was a valuable experience for her, she decided she would be happiest closer to home. She wound up finding a perfect fit for what she was looking for in Chatham.
“I read more about Chatham and I found out that they have a really good occupational therapy program, so that’s what originally led me to come back home,” she explained. “I could study occupational therapy and still have a chance to play NCAA hockey.”
Now that she has nearly completed her first semester of her sophomore year on a new campus, she’s had time to reflect on her decision. Being familiar with so many people and the area in general has been especially enjoyable for her. Also the fact that she is closer to family, who all played a key role in her hockey upbringing has been especially satisfying.
“Honestly I felt that coming home I’ve just been much happier,” Black reflected. “I have a really strong connection with a lot of people in Pittsburgh through hockey and a lot of my friends are really supportive and can come to my games now. My brother and sister also play hockey around (here) so I can watch them and they can come watch me.”
Another nice aspect of going to college and playing hockey so close to home has been her ability to help her teammates adjust to the city and learn all that is has to offer. The team has just two players from Pittsburgh, and three others from elsewhere throughout Pennsylvania. Therefore, Black has been able to showcase her hometown to many different people.
“It’s cool how a lot of my teammates are from all over the country and just showing them around where I was born and raised,” she remarked. “I get to take them back to my house and really show them around Pittsburgh.”
The move to Chatham definitely has been a good one for Black. She’s fit in nicely with the team and has especially enjoyed being close to home and her family. On the ice, she has three points in 11 games played. The team sits at 3-7-1 overall, but is still looking for its first conference victory in UCHC play. After two games in Indiana to begin 2018, the team will have a chance to climb the standings with 10 straight conference games to close out the season.
They finished the first half of the season with a hard fought 1-1 tie this Saturday on the road against Aurora University in Illinois. They are now enduring the most difficult part of the year, balancing final exams with hockey commitments. Black and her teammates, thanks to guidance from their coach and their personal work ethics, know what they need to do in the second half to be successful.
“I think as a team we need to focus on obviously winning, but I think we need to skate together and stay focused,” she said. “It’s been a really tough week with finals and everything and waking up at 4:30 for practice every morning. But I think we are all pretty self-driven athletes, and we all want to succeed. I think our coach is making is pretty easy for us because she’s a really good coach and she’s really teaching us everything we need to know.”