The calendar year of 2017 has already proven to be one filled with numerous and meaningful milestones for Paige Harrington. Such an exciting time has involved the chance to reach unprecedented heights on and off the ice, making significant contributions for women’s hockey in the United States.
From the outset, Harrington attained hockey immortality on the ice. Etching her name on the fabled Isobel Cup, it was part of a solid season that saw the dependable blueliner skate for the Buffalo Beauts. Seeing action in 17 regular season games, Harrington was highly effective in the postseason, as the Beauts went undefeated when she was in the lineup.
Bringing the Queen City its first hockey championship since the 1970 Calder Cup, it proved to be the denouement to a memorable run in Buffalo. Having recently signed as a free agent with the Boston Pride, it allows Harrington the chance to bring her career full circle.
In spite of having started her collegiate career with Penn State, Harrington would transfer to UMass Amherst, where she became one of the greatest blueliners in Minutewomen lore. With a stellar senior season that saw her serve as co-captain, she was a key contributor towards the ECWHL Conference title.
Such an assiduous effort throughout the season also culminated in a pair of treasured honors. In addition to being named a First Team All-American, she also gained the chance to participate in the 2015 edition of the Winter World University Games for Team USA. Of note, it was actually the second time in her career that she donned the stars and stripes, winning a bronze medal at the 2013 edition of the Games.
Dual achievements in 2015 repeated itself two years later. In the aftermath of the Isobel Cup victory, Harrington gained the opportunity for another unique hockey milestone. Enjoying the privilege of representing the American Street Hockey Institute on the game’s biggest stage, it marked the continuation of her legacy of international play.
While Harrington was one of numerous players on the US roster whose athletic background extended to ice hockey, she remained very humble about her role. In awe of the veteran players who worked tirelessly to help advance the sport and transform the program into a medal contender, the feeling of respect for the game and its players was reciprocated,
“Everyone has their own inspiring stories. I really looked up to the women who have pushed this sport to the forefront for so many years.”
Competing at the 2017 ISBHF World Championships in Pardubice, Czech Republic, signifying her debut with the US national women’s ball hockey team, the milestone of donning the US jersey was only surpassed by the sense of friendship and encouragement that constituted the team’s culture.
“It is always such an honor to have the opportunity to represent the USA. This experience was a little different because it was ball hockey and very new to me as a sport. It was incredible to see the support in Pardubice, and how popular the sport is out there.
I feel very thankful that the team took me in with open arms and really showed me how amazing ball hockey is. The girls have so much passion for the game and it was a very intense tournament.”
Such a proud privilege was complemented by the chance to play for the gold medal, a first in US program history, adding profound meaning to her hockey odyssey. Building on the momentum of the Isobel Cup triumph, there was no shortage of familiar faces from the NWHL’s ranks in Pardubice.
The US roster included two other members that have graced the ice during the launch of the NWHL. Cherie Stewart, the first African-American player in the history of the New York Riveters, along with Amber Moore, also a member of the inaugural Riveters roster, went from on-ice rivals to teammates on the ball hockey court.
Donning the jersey for archrival Canada was Beauts’ teammate Devon Skeats. After the emotions of capturing the Isobel Cup together, the two faced off in the semi-finals, finding each other as rivals in ISBHF play, another unique twist to the experience of competing in the tournament.
While such an intense match saw the US prevail, defeating Canada for the first time in program history, there was a consolation for her fellow Beauts teammate. Of note, both players enjoyed a podium finish as Skeats’ Canadian contingent vanquished Slovakia in a 5-0 blanking to gain the bronze medal.
Although the US provided a very valiant effort in a 4-3 overtime loss to host country Czech Republic, the gallant performance was a statement that the US has now become part of the conversation among the world’s ball hockey powers. For both Beauts, the euphoria of an Isobel Cup win was enhanced by the luster of the achievement of a hard-earned medal hanging around their glorious necks, one that Harrington reflects on with a proud sense of fulfillment,
“It has been pretty amazing to be a part of both! They are achievements that I will always cherish and look back on. They are so different, but both have taken dedication, hardwork, and heart.
The women that have played alongside me are some of the most passionate, hardworking, competitive people I have ever met.I feel very proud to say I play with some of the best women in the world in both sports.
I think as an athlete what really drives you is the hunger to always get better, learn from past experiences, and to keep pushing toward the gold medal finish. I love playing with women who have that same mindset.”
In looking back at Pardubice, the historic podium finish was only part of a much more profound narrative. While the chance to play for Team USA resulted in a proud personal milestone, there was also an opportunity for growth. Although relatively new to the sport, Harrington’s proficiency on the ice resulted in a smooth transition. As the camaraderie with her new teammates resulted in the formation of new friendships, it was part of a captivating collaboration that brought with it a historic finish that shall provide a shared milestone for the remainder of their proud careers,
“What I enjoyed most was meeting my new teammates and creating lifelong friendships. They are a remarkable group of women, who really want to win. I love that. I really grew to love the sport, and it was amazing to see the years of hard work and dedication behind the scenes to get women’s ball hockey to this point.
Wearing USA across your jersey really brings everyone together, because you are all playing for the same goal and purpose. We all wanted to represent our country with the utmost respect and pride and bring home a medal!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Beauts action shot by Troy Parla, Team USA image obtained from: https://twitter.com/ASHI_WNT
Follow Paige Harrington on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ona_ramPAIGE