There are times when Jillian Dempsey still finds it hard to believe she’s playing hockey for Harvard.
“I really kind of joke and say, ‘Oh, living the dream,’ but it’s true,” says the senior captain. “I’ve wanted to come here since the sixth grade, and to get to represent Harvard and to put on that sweater, there’s nothing else like it.
“I love what I’m doing and I love the people that I’m doing it with, and that makes it easy to show up every day with a smile and put in all the work and the effort.”
For the little girl who grew up in nearby Winthrop, Mass., going to Harvard hockey games was a treat. She soaked in the atmosphere, fell in love with Harvard’s style of play and determined that one day she would play for the Crimson.
“Sometimes you have to pinch yourself, because it’s weird to think that I’m actually here and doing it,” she says now.
These days, there are plenty of other reasons for Dempsey and her teammates to smile aside from simply putting on the crimson and white uniform.
First, Harvard is ranked No. 4 in the nation at 17-2-2, and it has been as high as No. 2, the program’s highest ranking since March 2008.
And second, Dempsey is having yet another terrific season. The forward ranks No. 7 in the nation in goals with 23 in 21 games and ranks tied for 11th in points (40). She leads the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) in both goals and plus-minus (plus-39).
Dempsey has had a marvelous career at Harvard, since the 2009-10 season when she was selected to the ECAC All-Rookie team and ranked second on the team with 27 points (11 goals) for a team that reached the NCAA quarterfinals.
As a junior in 2011-12 she was a nominee for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the nation’s top female player, and was a first-team All-ECAC and Ivy League selection. And, as a sophomore, Dempsey led the team in scoring with 28 points (14 goals) and was selected to the All-ECAC and Ivy League second team.
Playing for a program that has produced such stars at Jennifer Botterill, Julie Chu, Angela Ruggiero and Tammy Shewchuk, Dempsey will finish her Harvard career among the school’s top 10 scorers.
What has her excited this season is the chance to finish her college career on a high note. She’d like to not only reach the Frozen Four, but bring home something extra, too.
“I just think to even be on this journey and have a chance at playoffs and all of that is just an incredible experience,” she said of her senior season. “To get the chance to go to the NCAA Frozen Four, that would be my first time. We lost in the quarters my freshman year, and we’ve never made it that far since. So the goal is to get there and the championship game and to win. But to get even close to that would still be an incredible run.”
She can feel the games sliding away, one by one, with the finish line to her college career getting closer.
“I’m trying to soak up every moment, even more than I have before, because I know that it’s limited,” she said of her time at Harvard. “That sheer love for the game and this team, I always say the only thing I can absolutely control is how hard I work. … Everything I do I’m going to give it my best effort.”
As a captain and team leader, she went into the season with the hope of setting an example as a consistent contributor, and that she has done. In fact, she had a nation-leading streak of 30 consecutive games (dating to last season) with at least one point that finally came to an end on Jan. 18. In her very next game, Dempsey scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Union.
Recently, Harvard had its 14-game streak without a loss snapped by Clarkson, 3-1, which dropped the Crimson two notches in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine national poll.
Though that was disappointing, Dempsey is hopeful the bad leads to some good.
“Every once in a while you need a game like that to get you prepared for further down the line when you might be losing in the third period,” she said. “You need to know that you’ve been there before and you can respond, and not be, ‘Oh my God, what do we do in this moment?’”
Following this season, Dempsey wants to continue to play hockey. She’s hoping to get a chance to play for the U.S. in the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships in Canada this spring, and then to get a chance to make the U.S. Olympic Team for Sochi in 2014.
The Classics major also would love to teach and coach some day. For now, though, her focus is on helping Harvard go as far as it can.
This team, she says, has the talent to go a long way.
“My freshman year, I loved it so much and I didn’t think it could get any better,” she said. “And every year it kind of has. This year by far is my favorite. … With the on-ice record so far and also how the season has gone — the team chemistry and the way things are meshing and everybody all being on the same page — we have a true belief that this is something we can accomplish.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.