Having assembled quite possibly the greatest career in the history of NCAA Division III women’s ice hockey, Camille Leonard experienced the pinnacle of a fourth straight Frozen Four national championship, solidifying her goaltending legacy. Possessing a seemingly endless list of accomplishments which allowed the SUNY Plattsburgh Cardinals the luxury of being perpetual champions, the humility and team-first approach of this sensational superstar resulted in a down-to-earth demeanor that translated into admiration.
One of the most accomplished goaltenders of her generation, Camille Leonard deserves to be in the conversation among the greatest to have competed collegiately. With hockey roots that can be traced back to outstanding performances as a member of the PWHL’s Oakville Jr. Hornets, under the tutelage of Bradi Cochrane, to her record setting career with the Cardinals, Leonard has always represented goaltending excellence.
Finishing with a sensational win-loss mark of 72-4-0, the numbers speak for themselves. With a career goals against average of less than 1.00, a win percentage of over .960, she is the all-time wins leader in Division III, while ranking second all-time in shutouts. Fittingly, Leonard actually recorded a shutout in her collegiate debut. A November 17, 2013 affair against Buffalo State required only 11 saves as the Cardinals prevailed handily.
While the 2015-16 seasons saw Leonard pace all Division III backstops with 15 shutouts (allowing only 19 total goals), her recognition as the USCHO.com Division III Women’s Player of the Year complemented another honor that reflects a strong point of pride. Majoring in social work, with a minor in psychology, Leonard’s proficiency also extends to the classroom, where she was recognized as a 2016 ECAC West All-Academic Team member, one of an impressive 10 Cardinals women’s ice hockey players recognized in this fashion.
Gaining shutouts against four nationally ranked opponents in 2016-17, her most impressive statistic may be the fact that she lost only 1 game in each of her final two seasons. In such an incredible career, only once did Leonard lose back to back games, taking place both against Elmira on January 31 and February 1, 2015.
The owner of 16 conference and national awards, including a pair of nods to the All-America team, Leonard remains graciously humble, quick to credit that any personal accolades were attributed to a solid all-around team effort,
“I am very proud of all my records, and could not have imagined having such a successful career. However, my team deserves just as much recognition for the all-time wins mark, because, how would I have been able to achieve such a milestone without them? All the records and awards aside, I am most proud of my teammates and everything we have achieved together.”
Although her first season was spent in the role of understudy to Laura Hurd Award winner Sydney Aveson, it would not take long for Leonard to build on such a strong legacy, assembling her own superlative body of work, while maintaining a standard of brilliance that has mirrored her own rise to greatness.
That first season (2014-15) as a starter was absolutely impeccable, beginning her Cardinals career with a peerless 9-0-0 mark, accentuated by a superlative five shutouts. After suffering the first loss of her career, Leonard would bounce back in tremendous fashion, assembling an amazing 11 straight wins, including a shutout on February 7 against Cortland. By season’s end, she amassed eight shutouts.
During her senior season, Leonard’s brilliance continued, allowing the hardcore Cardinals fans one final run to appreciate her exceptional talents. Starting the campaign with a 6-0-0 mark, her only blemish would prove to be a November 20, 2016 loss to Oswego. Afterwards, Leonard did not look back, logging an incredible 19 wins in a row, amassing 7 shutouts, and allowing only 19 goals in a season that may have been her greatest.
Fittingly, Leonard’s last shutout took place on the biggest stage of NCAA Division III women’s hockey, as she blanked Norwich by a 4-0 tally in the Frozen Four. With the shutout, it allowed the Cardinals to advance to the national championship game.
While Leonard has achieved the unique distinction of being labeled a champion in every season of NCAA Division III hockey, her fourth and final championship may have been the most treasured. With fellow senior Erin Brand recording the tournament clinching goal, defeating tournament host Adrian College in a dramatic 4-3 overtime final (only the second time that the national championship game went to overtime), it was the footnote to a revered time between the pipes for such a legendary contributor to the powerhouse program.
“It is a surreal feeling to finish with a fourth consecutive national championship…especially (to) finish my senior year with a perfect record in the NCAA tournament. The team felt great heading into overtime, we knew we had the momentum on our side. We felt the most confident we had all game.”
Defeating host team Adrian College for the championship actually marked the third win this season against them. Coincidentally, the other victories also included tournament wins. The first win took place at the Panther/Cardinal Classic in Middlebury, Vermont, where they shut them out in a convincing 5-0 final. At the time, Adrian College was ranked third in the nation. The Cardinals would go on to defeat Middlebury for the tournament crown.
Taking to the ice against Adrian once again in the Norwich East-West Hockey Classic, the January 7, 2017 outcome foreshadowed the national championship, as overtime was needed to decide the winner. In an identical score, the Cardinals defeated Adrian by a 4-3 tally. The day afterwards, the Cardinals disposed of Norwich in a 3-1 final to emerge as champions.
Including their ECAC West Tournament title, in which the road to glory included defeats of Utica and Elmira, Leonard actually backstopped the Cardinals to four different tournament championships in one season.
For her efforts in propelling the Cardinals to its final defeat against Adrian for the Frozen Four title, Leonard gained a level of celebrity status. Featured in Sports Illustrated’s popular “Faces in the Crowd” segment, a staple of the weekly publication since 1956, highlighting the accomplishments of six amateur athletes. Of note, the write-up on Leonard can be found in the issue bearing the cover date of April 14, 2017, with Sergio Garcia on the cover.
Leonard’s well-deserved recognition emphasized a sterling season for women’s ice hockey exposure in the highly popular periodical. Multiple women’s ice hockey talents were recognized throughout said season as Leonard joined the ranks of Ann-Renee Desbiens and Sarah Potomak in such a distinguished and celebrated group, among others.
Adding a tinge of irony is the fact that a member of the Adrian College women’s ice hockey team also gained such recognition earlier in the season. Senior forward Kristin Lewicki was featured in the January 12, 2017 cover date issue, becoming the first athlete at Adrian College since women’s soccer competitor Sam barker was featured back in January 9, 2012.
Leonard becomes the second women’s ice hockey player in Cardinals lore to gain the Faces in the Crowd treatment. In 2014, former teammate Sydney Aveson, coincidentally a senior at the time as well, found her name in print. As a side note, the first Cardinals ice hockey player to be recognized was men’s forward Matt Wescott, gaining the historic feat in 1979.
“To be honest, my reaction to Sports Illustrated was probably not what people thought it would be (laughs). I did not realize how big of a deal it was, until everyone around me was saying that it is a big deal. It is an honour to be featured in Sports Illustrated; my teammates deserve that feature as well as I would not have been as successful without them by my side.”
With ambitions to continue her hockey odyssey across the Atlantic, ready to make the transition to the professional ranks in Europe, with goals to eventually build a career either with foster children or in a social work capacity in Canada’s military, Leonard is poised to continue her astounding success, regardless of where she sets her sights. Leaving the Cardinals program with more than just a legacy that shall be treasured and admired for generations to come; she embodied what made such a collection of elite talent so special.
Leonard’s departure involves a sincere appreciation for the chance to be part of such a special time in program history. Such an appreciation took on substantial relevance on Cardinals Senior Night. Hosting the No. 4-ranked Elmira Soaring Eagles, the 4-0 win at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena clinched a regular season division title, as seniors Erin Brand and Jordan Lipson scored, adding to the sense of celebration. Among this distinguished senior class also included the likes of Melissa Ames, Julia Duquette and fellow PWHL alum Katelyn Turk.
The win also brought with it plenty of emotion, bringing Leonard’s career full circle. Gaining her 69th career win and 28th career shutout on senior night, she tied Aveson for the program mark in wins (which she would eventually surpass).
Taking into account that Leonard was also team captain in her senior season, a rarity for a goaltender, definitely a remarkable sign of respect, senior night was an event where the meaning of standing between the pipes was part of a much richer narrative. Defining an unforgettable era that has seen a group of enthusiastic competitors share in their love of the game, while raising the standard of what greatness can encompass, Leonard truly established herself as a once-in-a-lifetime type of player, whose prodigious skills are only matched by a profound gratitude for teammates and program alike,
“I had very mixed emotions about senior night. It was bittersweet, on the one hand, I am extremely excited for what is next, but I am going to miss coming to the rink everyday and lacing up my skates to practice and play in the Ronnie B.
Being a captain at PSUC has been the greatest honour for me and an accomplishment I take the most pride in. Senior night will be something I, and none of the other seniors will forget, as we beat our biggest rival and we got the shutout. Our whole team played so well that game and with so much heart that it could not have gone any better.
What I am going to miss the most about playing for the Cardinals is seeing my second family every single day and preparing for those big games where you have a pit in your stomach beforehand.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Tim Brule, Gabe Dickens, Mike Dickie, other images obtained from Twitter (@leonardcam61)