Yale hockey has a long legacy of coaching on the national level as head and assistant coaches from both the men’s and women’s sides have lead U.S. teams over past decades. Now, as the women’s squad prepares to hit the ice for the 2006-’07 campaign, another Eli will join this long and storied tradition.
In late September, women’s hockey head coach Hilary Witt was named assistant coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. She was selected for the position after working with head coach Mike Johnson this summer, and is expected to begin her stint in November.
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Witt said she looks forward to enjoying this opportunity and another chance to work with Johnson.
“I just want to take it all in and enjoy myself,” Witt said. “It is an honor to work under Coach Johnson. He is an American legend in the sport of hockey.”
A 2001 graduate of Northeastern University, Witt began coaching at Yale immediately after Commencement. She became head coach in her second year, and after only four years at the helm, is already the winningest coach in Bulldog history.
“Hilary became a head coach at an unusually young age, but she has demonstrated a remarkably fast learning curve,” forward Kelsey Johnson ’07 said. “Under her direction, the Yale team has improved dramatically, and her selection is a well-deserved recognition of the progress she has helped our program make.”
Witt’s new position creates a unique situation for the Elis for the coming season. Witt will miss two games this winter, and she admits that it will be difficult to leave her girls. Despite Witt’s anticipated absence, the team believes her opportunity will have a positive effect on their team.
“It shows the women’s ice hockey community how far Yale has come,” Helen Resor ’09 said. “It will allow her to bring more to our practices and to our game, and to our team in general.”
Resor, a veteran of the national team herself, will be taking the ice as a defender under Witt in the Four Nations Cup, held Nov. 7 to 11 in Kitchener, Ontario.
Though they will be working together in an entirely different atmosphere, Witt does not expect her well-established dynamic with Resor to be altered.
“I think we have a mutual respect,” Witt said. “Our relationship is solid and I don’t expect that to change.”
Witt’s self-described coaching style of building “from the defensive zone to the offensive zone” — putting the emphasis on a strong defense first and foremost — will be put to the test on the most elite level at the upcoming Four Nations Cup. Though the tournament will be Witt’s first game coaching on the international level, it will not be her first game against international competition. The Canton, Mass., native was a member of the national team in the 2000-’01 season. She also had the opportunity to play for the U.S. select team in college, but turned down the offer. Instead she opted to finish the winter with the Huskies, acting on her belief that a captain should not desert her team mid-season.
But unlike the situation five years ago, Witt feels that her decision to briefly leave her team will produce positive results for both her and the Yale squad.
“This [situation] is different,” she said. “The Four Nations Cup is a major international tournament. This will not only further my career, it is good for our program here at Yale.”
With Witt’s passion and reverence for the game, it is little wonder she has received so many accolades at such a young age.
“Hockey is a game that I have a lot of respect for,” Witt said. “The integrity of the game is more important than any individual. You should treat the game with respect. That is where sportsmanship comes in.”
Although excited about the positive attention her national position will bring to the Yale program, Coach Witt still emphasizes that her primary commitment is still to her Bulldogs.
“She has made it clear to us that coaching our team is still her number one priority,” Johnson said. “We are planning on accomplishing great things this season.”