Articulate and graceful, Jessica Koizumi was a perpetual superstar whose solid contributions established her as a constant for any team that she skated for. Entering the 2016-17 with the decision to hang up her skates, such a distinguished career represented more than an amazing body of work, it demonstrated an athlete’s exceptional devotion to one’s sport.
Having played for the Connecticut Whale during their inaugural season in 2015-16, Koizumi became the first player in franchise history to have skated in the NWHL, the former Western Women’s Hockey League (WWHL) and the current Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL).
The rink was an oasis for Koizumi’s brilliance, an affirmation of the game’s growing number of talented players, while blending an appreciation of the game and its competitive spirit, all representing an illuminated innocence that defined the possibilities.
Such qualities shall define her legacy in the game, as she has made the decision to retire from active competition.
“The decision to retire came so unexpectedly. I quit my coaching job at Yale in the spring to focus on playing full time with the Connecticut Whale in the NWHL. I trained the entire summer and was fortunate to spend almost 2 months with family in California. While in California during the second week of August I started to feel a lack of motivation for season approaching. I cannot explain where it came from because this was the first time in 24 hockey seasons that I felt this way.”
Named as the Whale’s team captain during their inaugural season, it was the full realization of a remarkable yet wonderfully varied journey, one that has taken her to a myriad of teams, from Minnesota to Montreal, Boston to the United States national team (capturing a world title in 2008). Realizing championship glory in the form of the Clarkson Cup in both 2013 and 2015, Koizumi built towards a staggering pinnacle, which few have experienced at such a level.
Koizumi’s legacy would be solidified with the Whale, becoming a significant part of its lore, scoring the first goal in NWHL history. Undoubtedly, the presence of Koizumi at centre ice for the Whale’s inaugural faceoff, was among the iconic imagery of the nascent NWHL’s first season.
“Playing in the first paid league in the US is something I never thought would happen in my lifetime. We dreamed about playing in the NHL as little girls, and now it’s a reality for us to have a league of our own. Scoring the first goal in the NWHL is something I will always treasure, but my greatest memory is stepping on the ice for our first game.
There was a sold-out crowd at Chelsea Piers with fans screaming so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves speak. Commissioner Dani Rylan even forgot to look up for a picture before dropping the puck during the ceremonial puck drop. The national anthem was a pretty emotional couple minutes for me as I closed my eyes thanking God for such an incredible gift. That game was one for the record books and I will never forget that day, October 11, 2015.
Prior to suiting up for the Whale, her career had become increasingly ambitious, bestowed the honor of the Boston Blades captaincy towards her in 2014 (she would become the first player to be a captain in both the CWHL and the NWHL), it was a constant process manifesting a practically flawless game. To realize such goals simultaneously resulted in a gradual rise towards the strong leadership that she would become known for.
A significant aspect of that leadership was evident as Koizumi spent several seasons balancing her exceptional playing career with coaching duties for the Yale Bulldogs. Koizumi shall still remain part of the game, becoming a full-time associate coach this season with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Of note, she joins first-year head coach Nadine Muzerall, whose coaching background included four national championships on Brad Frost’s coaching staff with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Among the notable names on the Buckeyes roster includes goaltender Kassidy Sauve and blueliner Jincy Dunne, who have played for their respective nations at the IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds.
“I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason and when this job opportunity at The Ohio State ensued I felt like this was the next step for me. I told myself early on that no one, no job could force me to retire and that it had to be my sole decision. I consider myself extremely blessed for such a long successful playing career that ultimately led to my dream career coaching college hockey. I am very appreciative for the overwhelming support from family, coaches, former players, and friends. I am also grateful that I was able to assistant coach college hockey at Yale for 6 seasons while playing professional hockey.
Moving to Ohio to be an associate head coach would mean hanging up my skates at the professional level and taking the next step in my coaching career. I also learned through this spring and summer time with family is precious.
My priorities prior to this year were solely on my career and now with this next chapter I realize that I want to dedicate more time to family. I needed to go through this whole process in order to confidently make my decision even if it took an entire spring and summer of grueling workouts to get me there. No more fitness testing for me!”
Ohio State, a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) brings Koizumi’s career full-circle. Having played at the NCAA level with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the program would also provide her with her first coaching experience, serving as a graduate assistant.
The first weekend of Koizumi’s career with the Buckeyes started on a winning note, as the program swept the RPI Engineers by a cumulative score of 6-1, highlighted by freshman Samantha Bouley scoring the Buckeyes’ first goal of the season and Kassidy Sauve logging a shutout in the second game.
Aiming for the absolute peak at her profession, all of her achievements add up to a genuine portrait. While the development of professional women’s hockey has also seen a degree of dysfunction, Koizumi represented the middle, a substance which makes the game so fundamentally inspirational.
“I was never the most talented player, so I can’t say that people will remember me for anything tangible like my shot, hands, or goal scoring abilities. However, I made sure that I did everything in my power to be the most prepared I could be and to give as much as I could to my teammates.
People will hopefully remember my work ethic and passion for growing the game. Sometimes it was hard being a leader and giving others more energy than I had for myself, but that’s part of the responsibility and I took pride in it. When you play a team sport it’s your teammates that come first. My role in the game is still emerging and I like to think I am one of the lucky ones who gets to do what they love for a living.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Jessica Koizumi