Quite possibly the hallmarks of Taylor Thurston’s remarkable hockey career shall be best exemplified by the on-ice success experienced. Thurston was part of a magical time for both the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers, along with her prior team, the PWHL’s Nepean Wildcats, in her native Ottawa.
With the Wildcats, Thurston provided solid leadership and skilled performances that contributed towards the team being amongst the most competitive in the PWHL. As a side note, she also enjoyed the milestone of suiting up Team Ontario Blue, capturing the gold medal at the Canadian Under-18 National Women’s Hockey Championships.
Such efforts were duplicated at the NCAA level, as she helped the Tigers transition to the Division I level, while exceeding all expectations, reaching conference championship pinnacles that only added to proud program lore. Among the hallmarks of Thurston’s Tigers career involved reliability (appearing in all 38 games as a freshman) and leadership. Having also served as an assistant captain with the Wildcats, Thurston gained the assistant captaincy at the NCAA level in just her sophomore campaign, a season highlighted by winning the College Hockey America (CHA) Individual Sportsmanship Award.
Displaying great character in her junior season, fighting through injuries to appear in 33 games, it was a shining example of leadership through example, a performance worthy of her captaincy. Enhancing such an admirable junior season also included the first game-winning goal of her career, scored on home ice at Gene Polisseni Center in a 3-0 win on January 15, 2016 against Penn State. Complementing such a milestone was the American Women’s College Hockey Association National Scholar Athlete recognition, signifying her admirable dedication in the classroom.
During her senior season with the Tigers, Thurston enjoyed the privilege of having the team captaincy bestowed upon her for a second straight season. Adding luster to such a career milestone was the fact that she shared it with Mackenzie Stone, who was also teammates with the Wildcats. In addition, Stone finished her final season with the Tigers as the recipient of the CHA's Best Defensive Forward Award.
In describing the thrill of sharing the team captaincy with Mackenzie, a sincere admiration and respect rises to the surface. Having grown together as teammates and as leaders, the two have seen their careers run parallel while helping their respective teams achieve its goals.
“To be named team captain with Mackenzie was an absolute honor. Mackenzie is a born leader who has brought so much to our team over the last four years. Mackenzie has many qualities that make her a great leader. She has always put people before herself and would do anything for anyone on this team. She is definitely one of our hardest working players.
I think Mackenzie’s greatest quality is her resiliency. Mackenzie suffered a very bad concussion her junior year and was unable to play for the entire season. However she always had a smile on her face, and was there to cheer us on every step of the way.
Although Mackenzie was extremely missed on the ice, her positivity and her willingness to help shined through even when she wasn’t able to play. Mackenzie is a great leader but an even better person and it was an absolute honor to share a leadership role with her.”
Among the proud moments in Thurston’s career with the Tigers, including conference championships and an NCAA Tournament appearance, there was also the unique experience of having the chance to compete in an outdoor game on December 13, 2014. Contested at Frontier Field, home of the AAA baseball Rochester Red Wings, the theme on this day was Frozen Frontier.
Taking on the ECAC’s Clarkson Golden Knights, who are based in the community of Potsdam, it was an exceptional milestone for more than just the players and their respective schools. It was a proud moment for women’s ice hockey in New York State, who boast more Division I programs than any other state in the US. Despite a 6-2 final in Clarkson’s favor, the game time temperature of 14 could not put a damper on the reminiscent sense of fun.
There was also a serendipitous feeling for Thurston and Mackenzie in this game. Another pair of players that were raised in the Ottawa Valley competed on this magical day. Forward Jamie Lee Rattray and goaltender Erica Howe suited up for Clarkson, remaining rivals at the collegiate level. Of note, this duo opposed Thurston and Mackenzie at the PHWL level, both members of the Ottawa Lady Senators.
The chance to be part of such a historic match for the Tigers represented an event that shall provide Thurston with an eternity of treasured memories, while rekindling the youthful memories that defined her earliest sojourns in the game,
“Getting a chance to play in the outdoor game was amazing. It brought back so many memories of playing on the outdoor rinks growing up. It was so much fun. I remember the day like it was yesterday.
It was extremely cold and snowy that day, so snowy that during the game players from Clarkson and our team hopped on the ice to help shovel the snow. It felt like I was a kid again and it took me back to where I fell in love with the game as young child.”
As Thurston reflects on her cherished time with the Tigers, four fantastic seasons defined by a sense of progressive achievement, propelling the program into a nationally prominent one, this evolution encompassed many exciting moments.
From the balance of power shifting in the College Hockey America conference, as the once invincible Mercyhurst Lakers saw their grip on the championship wither away, as programs such as the RMU Colonials and Tigers staking their claims, Thurston is also proud of another program first.
Considering that the Tigers were one of the most dominant teams in Division III play, their transition to Division I is one that saw them retain their high standard of excellence. Along with back-to-back CHA postseason titles, such a peak was only outmatched by appearing in the NCAA Tournament. Being able to overcome the odds, simultaneously making believers out of skeptics, it was part of what defined Thurston’s hockey odyssey in Rochester, a culmination of hard work and belief in each other.
“It is extremely difficult to pinpoint one favorite moment, as there is so many. I think something that I will remember forever, is winning the CHAs back to back, and being able to move on to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
This was my favorite moment because so many people doubted us and expected us to not win, it was amazing to prove so many people wrong and to show them they we didn’t win on luck that we really did deserve it.”
Statistically, Thurston’s final goal with the Tigers occurred in the postseason. An assist against Mercyhurst on February 24, the last of her NCAA career, was followed by a power play goal against Penn State in a CHA Tournament first round match, hosted at Buffalo’s Harbor Center. Fittingly, Stone gained one of the assists on said goal. The March 2 playoff tilt with Penn State resulted in a hard-fought 2-1 final score, with the Tigers scoring both goals in the third period, allowing them to advance to the semifinals against the Syrcause Orange.
Coincidentally, a home-and-home series to close out the regular season against Syracuse also consisted of Senior Night for the graduating Tigers. Part of a senior class that included Mackenzie, Caitlin Wallace, Lindsay Stenason, co-captain Cassie Clayton and goaltender Brooke Stoddart, it was a night that brought with it a flood of emotion, it was also a chance to graciously appreciate the elements that made Tigers hockey such a spectacular chapter in her athletic endeavors,
“I enjoyed everything about senior night, but one major aspect I took away from senior night was the support and love that I have in my life. Senior night was very overwhelming, but it will be a night I will remember for the rest of my life and I am so grateful for everyone who made that night so special.”
In a career that saw Thurston evolve into one of the cornerstones for the Tigers, appearing in 144 games while showing solid discipline with only 32 penalty minutes over the course of four seasons, while amassing multiple CHA All-Academic Honors, she was the embodiment of Tigers hockey. In asking what she will miss most about playing for the program, it was summed up in one simple yet definitive word,
“Everything… I will miss just about everything about playing for RIT. I will miss the long bus rides, the bag skates, the wins, the losses, the girls that became sisters, and the moments that will last forever. It has been a privilege to wear the RIT jersey for the last four years. There is truly something special about being apart of the RIT family, one that is extremely difficult to describe.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: RIT Tigers Athletics