In a season that saw Colonials goaltending legend Brianne McLaughlin capture the Isobel Cup, there was no shortage of historic heroics on the part of current Colonials starting goaltender Jessica Dodds. Building on the legacy of McLaughlin, while solidifying her own, Dodds significantly contributed to program lore in her final season with the Colonials, culminating with a historic postseason.
Dodds was destined for greatness upon her arrival to the program. Having starred with the London Jr. Devilettes in the PWHL, she would lead the underdog Team Ontario Blue to its first-ever gold medal, defeating Team Manitoba in the championship game at the 2012 Canadian U18 nationals. Recognized as the Player of the Game, and the Tournament’s Top Goaltender, Dodds followed it up with a gold medal at the 2013 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds. As a side note, Devilettes teammate Paige Horton was not only a member of Team Ontario Blue, she would also play her NCAA hockey in the College Hockey America (CHA) conference, skating for the rival Mercyhurst Lakers, and serving as team captain in her senior season (2016-17).
Exceeding all expectation after a remarkable freshman season, Dodds would go unbeaten in her first 19 NCAA starts. Posting an astounding 21-5-3 mark by season’s end, complemented by a pair of single season records highlighted by a sparkling 1.66 goals against average (GAA) and a tremendous .932 save percentage. Recognized as the 2014 College Hockey America (CHA) Rookie of the Year, the third Colonials player in four seasons to gain such an honor, she would also garner All-CHA First Team and All-USCHO Rookie Team nods, respectively.
Among Dodds’ many milestones in Colonials colors, her greatest may be the fact that she is the first goaltender in program lore to win at least 60 games. Having also registered six assists in her career, including a career-high three during her junior campaign, which all took place in February 2016 (during two consecutive outings at Syracuse on Feb. 12-13 and a home contest against RIT on Feb. 19), she ranks second all-time in saves 2926, trailing McLaughlin, while holding the program record for most wins (21) in a season, and most shutouts (14) in a career.
Earning the title of the winningest goaltender in Colonials history with a 4-0 road victory versus RIT on Nov. 6, 2015, it was also part of another record effort for Dodds. Of note, the win not only signified her third shutout of the season, she would set the new program record for shutouts in a career. To have placed her name in the record books with so many significant achievements represents an amazing body of work, of which Dodds reflects on with appreciation for what it means to don the Colonials jersey,
“It means a lot and it truly is humbling, as I know the previous goaltenders who played at Robert Morris were very good and I respect them a lot. I believe that my team has a lot to do with the success I had throughout my 4 years, but I'm grateful that my team made games much easier on me by clearing out rebounds, enabling me to only stop one or two shots in a sequence. It honestly is a team effort and I wouldn't be able to be successful without all the other girls out on the ice.”
Fittingly, Dodds would log another shutout on her senior night, blanking Penn State in a 2-0 final. Simultaneously, Dodds efforts contributed towards the Colonials reaching the titanic 20-win plateau. The shutout would signify the launch of a five-game win streak, which saw her record three shutouts during this stretch, while propelling the Colonials towards the regular season title following a 3-0 blanking of Lindenwood, stopping 35 shots. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Dodds was recognized as the CHA Goalie of the Week for two consecutive weeks (the 14th and 15th overall CHA weekly honors in her career), adding luster to her fantastic achievements.
“I was extremely proud of this achievement, knowing what I had experienced throughout the season, struggling to get my first shutout of the season. I remember there were at least 3 games throughout the season where I had a shutout until the last 50 seconds of the game where the other team scored. Mentally, it was difficult to handle, and just prior to senior night, I spoke to one of my professor's, Dr. Samantha Monda, who is a sport psychologist in the Pittsburgh area.
I was able to learn a new tactic for how to handle a situation where the other team was scoreless with a minute or less left in the game. I was able to compartmentalize, which ultimately led me to be successful on senior night.
The team played a great game for me, and I am honestly grateful that everyone came together on such a special night for the 5 seniors. I think it was a great way to polish off an amazing 4 years with such a special group of people.”
Postseason hockey allowed for more heroics as Dodds shutout the Syracuse Orange by a 2-0 tally as the Colonials captured their second CHA tournament title. Showing great poise in the second period, as the Orange outshot the Colonials by a 12-6 count, Dodds emerged as the key factor in a third period that saw her nullify multiple scoring opportunities. The recipient of the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award, Dodds was also selected to the All-Tournament Team, signifying a pair of hallmarks that commemorated her heroics in a sensational senior year.
Following such an eventful triumph, Dodds and the Colonials built on such momentum, qualifying for the NCAA tournament, a program first. Seeded number 8 in the tournament, the Colonials challenged the top-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Despite a heartbreaking loss, as backup goaltender Lauren Bailey also shared in playing time, resulting in the Badgers advancing to the Frozen Four in a convincing shutout victory, there was still a strong sense of pride for Dodds in having helped the Colonials make history, gaining one step closer to reaching its national championship ambitions,
“It was phenomenal to play in the NCAA tournament. I think it was so special because it was the first time ever that the Women's Ice Hockey team at Robert Morris University had ever played in an NCAA tournament, and I doubt it will be the last. We had many goals this season and as a team we wanted to win our conference regular season, win the CHA tournament, make it to the NCAA tournament, and ultimately win the whole NCAA tournament.
While we might not have succeeded in our final goal, I think we learned more about leadership in the sense of failure and how to deal with difficult situations such as the one we faced in Wisconsin. Playing the role I did on the team, I'm very glad that I was able to help my team get to win the CHA tournament, and to play in the NCAA tournament was a huge step for our program here at Robert Morris.
I believe that this year, we were able to make a name for ourselves in the hockey community and prove to people what we are capable of. As a senior, it was extremely special to play in the NCAA tournament and it was a great experience for the whole team! It pushes the next group of players at Robert Morris to raise the bar even higher, so that next time RMU plays in an NCAA tournament game, there is a different story in regards to the score.”
Undoubtedly, a significant aspect of the future for the Colonials shall include Jaycee Gebhard and Brittany Howard. In addition to capturing CHA Rookie of the Year honors, which saw Gebhard lead all freshmen in both goals (13) and assists (10) in conference play, she also captured the first-ever National Rookie of the Year Award. Howard was also an offensive catalyst, capturing the CHA scoring championship with 48 points, she was also recognized as the CHA Player of the Year, while head coach Paul Colontino captured the CHA Coach of the Year honors.
As Dodds prepares to close the chapter on an unforgettable time with the Colonials, there is also another proud achievement which adds more profound meaning to such a memorable run. A well-deserved spot on the CHA First-Team All-Stars was testament to Dodds’ impact as a superstar, placing the Colonials in the national rankings while elevating the program towards unprecedented heights. Fellow Colonials players Stephanie Grossi, Brittany Howard and Kirsten Welsh joined her among this distinguished group.
The chance for Dodds to share the First Team honors with several of her teammates truly puts into perspective what being part of the Colonials meant to her. As proud as she is of her numerous feats in Colonials colors, the players that she shared those feats with carries just as much importance. In reflecting on what she will miss most about being part of the program, it is evident that it shall always hold a treasured place in her heart, having transformed her into a legendary player whose impact shall be revered and emulated for many, many seasons to come.
“There are so many things that I will miss about the Colonials, but I will try to limit it to a few. I will definitely miss the team, and being around the girls all the time. The team truly is my family here at Robert Morris and I will definitely miss my friendships, but I know that they are strong enough that they will continue regardless of location. I plan on moving back to Canada, so it will be difficult knowing that I am leaving a few of my best friends here at school, as I truly was able to connect with at least one person in each class level on the team.
I will miss the structure that I have been fortunate to have in regards to hockey practices, and working out with the team. I will miss playing hockey at such an elite level. I will miss the dedicated coaching staff who always were able to provide feedback and encouragement to allow me to perform at my best.
My coaches here at Robert Morris have constantly pushed me to get better each and every day that I was on the ice, and I truly think I have learned a lot about hard work and consistency with work ethic, skills that I will be able to transfer into my everyday life, especially in the work force after university. I truly am going to miss my teammates, but I will definitely stay in touch with all of them, and I plan on coming to visit and watch the team play. I will forever be a Colonial, and I think being part of such a great program has put me at the best possible version of myself leaving university.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Robert Morris Colonials athletics