One of the toughest positions in ice hockey is that of the backup goalie. Never being sure of when starts will come, and having to be ready to come off the bench at any moment is not always the easiest task for a player.
If anyone knows the role of the backup goalie, it is junior Kristen DiCiocco of the Robert Morris University women’s hockey team, who made appearances in 27 games the past two seasons.
“I was pretty much told my role on this team was to be the backup goalie and to be there to support my teammates, which I had no problems doing,” DiCiocco recalled.
After a coaching change this offseason, current head coach, Paul Colontino stepped in and decided to give every player a shot to prove themselves.
“I really tried to not have any biases for anyone in the sense that I wanted these players to realize that this is the now, it’s not the past, and it’s not the future it’s like you’re only as good as your last shift,” he said. “So I tried not to have any predictions for who would fill where or who would fall into this spot.”
Battling for the starting goaltender position at the beginning of the season were DiCiocco, freshman Courtney Vinet, and Meeri Räisänen, who is no longer with the team.
Despite competition from Vinet, DiCiocco won the starting spot, and has been vital to her team’s success thus far.
“I’m glad she’s gotten to where she is and she has been taking the reigns but she’s earned it,” said Colontino. “Vinet’s been doing extremely well as well but at some point you kind of have to go with one.”
So far this season DiCiocco hasn’t showed signs of being a backup goalie, as she currently holds an 11-6-2 record with two shutouts.
“Kristen has really stepped up to the plate this year and has had a great season, and her confidence is really showing,” said junior forward, Cobina Delaney. “The team is thrilled with her play because we know we can count on her and she has bailed us out in many different situations, we’re all so proud of her and her accomplishments this year.”
Not only have her teammates and coaches noticed her play this season, so has everyone else. DiCiocco currently has a 1.93 goals against average, which is the 12th best in NCAA Division I women’s hockey, and she currently holds a .930 save percentage, which ranks her 11th.
She has also received the College Hockey America (CHA) goaltender of the week award four times and was nominated for the Dapper Dan Sportswoman of the Year award, which is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Most recently, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame has named DiCiocco the Athlete of the Year.
“The key to her success has been her hard work day in and day out through practice,” said Colontino. “When you combine hard work, focus, and consistency, which she’s been able to do, I think you get what she is getting. I can’t remember a practice where I’ve been like ‘man she’s been off.’ She comes to practice every day very focused and very ready to work”
While DiCiocco has been successful from the start of the season, she says that a large part of it has come not only from her teammates in front of her, but the confidence Coach Colontino gives her.
“I love that he [Colontino] shows confidence in all of his players and he’ll help you if you have to improve on something and he’ll tell you what you have to do,” DiCiocco said. “He’ll help you work hard, he gives you the opportunity to go out there, and he shows confidence in you when you’re playing.”
Colontino’s confidence in his goalie may keep DiCiocco going, but he believes that she has multiple assets that have gotten her to where she is.
“One of her big strengths is her mental focus, because she’s able to focus on what she needs to do every time she’s at the rink,” he said. “Physically, she understands the game very well so she’s able to square up to pucks extremely well and lastly she’s just a good goalie. She’s got great reflexes, and that you can’t teach.”
A strength that everyone seems to leave out is DiCiocco’s humbleness, but it is no surprise that her goals for this season aren’t related to her individually, but to her team.
“I just want to help my team stay in every game and give us a chance to win,” she said. “As a team we need to keep going and we need to be able to compete with the top teams if we want to get any national recognition, and I just hope we can win the CHA’s this year.”