OSWEGO — Coaching staff changes? Check.
A shift in culture? Check.
Brand new jerseys? Also check.
“You can thank coach (Mark Digby) for that one,” Oswego State women’s hockey senior Aislinn McAleer said.
The Oswego State women’s hockey team is ready to take on the 2021-22 season after last season was canceled, and it’s Mark Digby’s first year officially at the helm of the Lakers.
Digby was the team’s associate head coach in 2019-20, and the interim head coach during the missed season. Prior to that, he was the assistant coach for the Oswego State men’s hockey team for nine years.
“For me, personally, this is the first time I’ve really thought about (being head coach),” Digby said at the team’s media day press conference. “It’s more about these two (captains, Philomena Teggart and McAleer) and what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last year and keeping the team focused, trying to wrap up their college careers the right way.”
Teggart and McAleer, who are technically now fifth-year players, elected to take the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA following the lost campaign due to COVID-19.
However, both players, who are also part of the team’s leadership council, said they are going to “play this season” for other two members of their class, Emma Morisette and Amber Thomas, who graduated last year and chose not to return for the extra year.
“We say how much we miss Emma and Amber every single day and wish they were experiencing this with us,” Teggart said. “They didn’t get their Senior Day. They didn’t get to wear a Laker jersey (again). They didn’t know that was the last time they were stepping on the ice in Plattsburgh. We’re going to do it for them.”
That last game at Plattsburgh State was the Northeast Women’s Hockey League championships against the Cardinals on March 7, 2020, and the Lakers fell 6-1.
With 18 players that have never had a practice at Oswego State, Digby mentioned that 12 or 13 have no college hockey experience.
Digby said the “youthfulness” of the team helps in certain aspects.
“I don’t want to say there’s an ignorance of knowing what games you should win or should lose, you just go out there and play,” Digby said. “Being able to balance that youthful excitement that the two freshman classes really have, plus the wisdom of our older players, it could make for a pretty healthy group.”
Alongside the new players, Digby also brought in a new assistant coach, Megan Quinn, a former Division I defender with Syracuse University. Quinn also played two years of professional hockey In between, she was an assistant coach at SUNY Cortland.
Teggart mentioned that Quinn and her played for the same junior hockey program, the Durham West Jr. Lightning
“(Quinn’s) had a lot of huge experiences, obviously, playing Division I hockey, playing professional hockey,” Digby said. “As she started to get acclimated into the community here, her comment to me was pretty interesting. Every place that we’ve been to in town, people have talked to us about hockey.”
Teggart and McAleer said that ever since their freshman year, they have been “trying to change the culture” of the women’s hockey team. With the new coaching staff, plus improved communication, Teggart said the culture shift is “headed in the right direction.”
“At the end of the day, we’re college students, too. We have social media. We all talk on social media,” Teggart said. “I feel like when we stepped on campus for the first time, I (had) already met these girls in-person even thought we hadn’t, just from the Zoom calls and keeping up on social media with each other.”
The Lakers’ season kicks off with an exhibition game on Oct. 23 against Neumann University. With just a couple weeks of practice before that game, Digby’s focus isn’t on the team’s systems or structures, it’s more about the team’s identity.
“You don’t win hockey games on systems. You win on everybody buying in and playing to your identity,” Digby said. “Getting people to play to our identity will be more important than getting people to play within our system. That’ll be the main focus.”
More importantly, the Lakers will be focusing on themselves rather than opponents. Digby added, “I couldn’t even tell you who other teams brought in.”
“I think all of the answers to the questions are here. That’s the positive piece about where we’re at as a program. We have what we need to do well,” Digby said. “Now it’s just on us, players and the coaching staff, everybody, working together to get all the little wrinkles ironed out. Again, I think we have the right people to accomplish big things this year.”