After shutting out Quinnipiac in a 0–0 tie Nov. 9, goaltender Jaimie Leonoff’s ’15 coaches told her that she was playing like the “best goalie in the country.” With a stellar 33.5 saves per game average and 402 total saves this season, it is clear that Leonoff has established herself a rising star in net for the women’s ice hockey team.
“Her strength is that she is a competitive kid and has done a tremendous job over her three years here at Yale,” said head coach Joakim Flygh. “She [finds] ways to get better every day, every year, and every season.”
Before tearing up the ice at Ingalls Rink, Leonoff was honing her skills internationally. Born in Montreal, Canada, Leonoff said she has been playing hockey since she was four. She lived in Canada until seventh grade, then played one year of European hockey for a team in Switzerland before returning to North America as a sophomore at the Pomfret School, a prep school in Connecticut.
Leonoff said that although she played men’s hockey up until high school, switching to women’s hockey not only helped improve her game, but also helped her prepare for college hockey.
“I thought that going to prep school and playing women’s hockey would get me better exposure to where I wanted to go, to those types of schools,” Leonoff said.
In addition to playing high school hockey with her Pomfret team, Leonoff also won the 2010 Connecticut state tournament with the Connecticut Polar Bears, an all-female hockey program.
Leonoff said that no matter what success she may have in the net, she owes her performance to the teammates that stand before her on the ice, saying that she would be powerless to stop opposing teams without their defense.
Yale was her first choice in schools due to its combination of strong facilities, talented coaches and academic rigor, Leonoff said. She made up her mind early in the college process because Yale was one of the first schools she had been seriously in touch with during the recruiting process.
The program and its values have certainly lived up to her expectations, Leonoff said. She explained that her fellow players have a strong respect for one another and that there is a great team dynamic. She added that the team does everything together, from eating meals to watching movies, when they are not on the ice.
“She dedicates a lot of time to hockey and getting better,” said defenseman and Leonoff’s roommate Madison Murray ’15. “She’s a big part of the team and helps others be motivated.”
Murray noted that Leonoff often shares inspiring words with her teammates between periods, in which she stresses the importance of simplifying their game, staying united as a single unit and putting defense first. Still, Murray noted that Leonoff can also be one of the goofier girls on the team and is a good sport when it comes to getting playfully teased.
Despite her success, Leonoff said that there are areas in which she hopes to improve her game. Flygh noted that Leonoff struggled a little as a freshman, but returned the following year with greater mental resiliency, improved conditioning and bolstered confidence.
“There are always ways to get better,” Leonoff said. “The two areas that I like to continuously work on are speed and positioning, and those are things you chip away at.”
Away from the rink, Leonoff said it was difficult to find time for hobbies and other activities due to her demanding athletic and academic schedule. Mondays, which Leonoff said are her busiest days this semester, often include waking up at 7:30 a.m., running from classes to practices and ultimately ending with a class section at 8:00 p.m. Still, Leonoff said she enjoys being around friends and seeing movies when time permits.
As for life after Yale, Leonoff is still undecided whether she will pursue hockey as a career. She explained that there are a lot of teams she would be interested in playing for, but her biggest goal would be to play for the Canadian national team in the 2018 Olympics.
“She has the ability to go wherever she wants with hockey as far as she wants with hockey,” Murray said. “I think [The Olympics are] completely attainable for her.”
Flygh added that although the road to the Olympics is difficult for any athlete, he believes that Leonoff has the ability to take her career in hockey beyond her time at Yale.
For now, Leonoff said her biggest hardship is recognizing that there are many things that are out of her control and being prepared to deal with any outcome.
Leonoff and the Yale women’s hockey team will next compete at Providence on Friday, Dec. 6.