Sarah Lecavalier is one of eight newcomers on the Robert Morris women’s hockey team this season. Unlike the rest of the newcomers, she is not a rookie to the collegiate hockey ranks, as she is a sophomore for this year’s Colonials team.
Lecavalier spent the 2016-17 season with the University of North Dakota. This summer, after the school cut its women’s hockey team, she needed to find a new place to play. She chose the Colonials.
For any newcomer, there is a transition that has to take place on the new campus and in the new rink. It can be more difficult, however, for someone who already had to go through that process just a year ago, only to go through it again in a new place.
“In some aspects, it’s almost like being a freshman again,” she explained. “It’s a much smaller school. The facilities are a lot different, but I’m really liking what I’m seeing. Coming to the rink every day and competing with the girls is awesome. It’s definitely been difficult, but it’s getting easier, and I think getting into games is going to make it that much better.”
Along with transitioning to a new school, she also had to move to a completely different part of the country. Lecavalier is from Alberta, played junior hockey in British Columbia, and spent last year in North Dakota. Coming to Pittsburgh has proved to be a significant change for her.
“I’m from a small town in Alberta, so it’s quite a bit different for me coming to a place like this,” she remarked. “Moon is nice because it’s kind of farther away from the city, but I can drive however long to go to a Pirates game, so that is really cool for me. It’s different. It’s a little bit of a culture shock, but I like it.”
While the city was unfamiliar, coming to the Colonials, there were a few familiar faces in the locker room on Day 1. She had met freshman Emilie Harley, a former UND commit, during her official visit to campus last year. She had also played against some of her upperclassmen teammates like Kirsten Welsh and Sarah Quaranta in under-18 tournaments in previous years.
Aside from that, she had to start fresh and build new relationships with this new team. She also had to develop chemistry with new linemates. In the exhibition game against Ryerson, she got her first opportunity to build that chemistry is with Brittany Howard and Jaycee Gebhard. Howard and Gebhard played on the same line last season, tallying 50 and 46 points, respectively, tops in the CHA.
“It’s pretty awesome (playing with them),” she said. “Obviously they have a lot of chemistry playing together all of last year, so that was a little tough to step into. But I think the more we communicate, the better we are.
“Britt has an amazing shot. She actually hit me with her shot in the game and gave me a couple stitches (laughs). The way they both see the ice is incredible, and I think that we can have a lot of success together.”
Colonials fans already know what Howard and Gebhard bring to the table. Lecavalier’s style of play should complement their skillsets nicely on the top line.
“I think I’m a power forward,” she described. “Strong on the puck, strong in general. I shoot the puck, I really like the defensive side of the game. I really like to take care of my zone and move to the offensive zone. I like to set up some plays, make nice passes and obviously I like to put the puck in the net, too.”
Earning a chance to play on the top line shows that she has already made a positive impression with her level of play on the ice. She has also been able to stand out and prove her value off the ice. Her experience playing a season for North Dakota and in the WCHA is a valuable one that can be shared with her teammates.
“Sarah has been an excellent addition to our team,” assistant coach Chelsea Walkland said. “Coming in as a transfer, she brings a year of NCAA experience from a competitive program and league to the table. Her fun-loving personality, tough style of play and strong work ethic has been contagious amongst her teammates and it embodies what Colonial Hockey is all about.”
That experience in the WCHA is already proving to be advantageous heading into the first week of the season. The Colonials will open the regular season with two games on the road against Minnesota State Mankato. Lecavalier faced the Mavericks four times last season, including two games in Mankato. Her familiarity with the team is something that will help her and her team as they prepare for the matchup.
“I’m not sure if their style of play has changed from last year … I don’t think it has, but being able to go back to Minnesota and going to a place that I’m really familiar with is definitely going to help me,” she said. “I think being a sophomore, I can tell the freshmen a little bit about how they are going to play and their style.
“One of my former teammates is on that team, too, so she will be a big asset to them, and I know what she brings to the table. So it’s not really going to be a surprise to me, and I can communicate with my teammates so there’s not going to be a surprise for any of us.”
The Colonials enter the season with high external expectations. They are currently ranked ninth in the national polls and earned the first spot in the CHA coaches poll. They also have high internal expectations, having won a regular season and post season championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament last year.
While the external attention is noteworthy and something that is exciting to come across on social media, it only amounts to words. It is up to the team to perform and play to the best of their ability in order to meet these goals.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we are coming in ranked and that other teams voted us as number one in our coaches poll,” she reflected. “But I think what really matters is us sticking to the plan that coach gives us and not letting it get to our heads too much.”
As team captain Amanda Pantaleo told Pittsburgh Hockey Digest a few weeks ago, this year’s squad is looking to exceed what last year’s team accomplished. They will use last year’s experience to their benefit, but this year’s team is focused on doing more.
That idea was pushed from the upperclassmen leaders to the newcomers from the beginning, and it’s clear that the message has been received. The Colonials team culture is something that Lecavalier came to understand right away.
“Stepping on to a team that had just won a championship is pretty amazing, and that’s an awesome opportunity to have,” she said. “What’s even cooler is they’ve put the past in the past and they are ready to raise the bar this year. I’m ready to help them do that and push for back-to-back CHA championships.”
That push begins this weekend, as the team begins a long series of road games. Their two games against Minnesota State will be the first two tests for the RMU team this year as they look to achieve their goals. After a lengthy, hard-working preseason, Lecavalier is understandably ready to play in her first game as a Colonial.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “Preseason has been pretty long, and I’m just itching to get on the ice and show my teammates what I can do.”