After two years playing backup on the Plattsburgh State women’s ice hockey team, junior goalie Kassi Abbott hopes this is the season she will shine.
“I think she’s handled it as well as any of the backups we have had,” PSUC head coach Kevin Houle.
Part of what kept Abbott off the ice was teammate Camille Leonard, who set several NCAA records. For Abbott, this was a chance to learn.
“I definitely embraced my role as backup, and Camille was just a role model,” Abbott said. “I knew coming in that I was not going to play that much.”
Leonard credits Abbott with pushing her to better herself.
“She was an incredible teammate for me,” Leonard, who is currently playing professionally for Karlskrona HK in Sweden, said. “I would have never been able to have as much success without Kassi at my side.”
While Abbott is now playing college hockey, that was not always the goal.
“She got a late start at playing hockey,” Abbott’s father, Joe Abbott, said. “She was definitely not interested in this sport when she was young. She was a dancer, a singer, and a gymnast.”
At age 10, Abbott approached her father and asked to play hockey. Initially, her intention was not to play goaltender.
“She became a goalie completely by accident,” Joe said.
When Abbott arrived at her first game, she heard that the team needed a goaltender. Abbott and her father disagreed about which of them volunteered her, although Joe insisted that he was under specific instructions from Abbott’s mother not to allow Abbott to be a goalie.
As Abbott has grown comfortable in net, she still reflects on the decision.
“I always wish I could go back and be a forward, maybe snipe some goals,” Abbott said. “But making saves is pretty good too.”
Abbott said that she was contacted by Houle early in her senior year of high school about coming to Plattsburgh, although she was also in contact with several other schools, including Division I programs Union College, Brown University, and Minnesota State Mankato. Houle’s approach was different from the rest.
“Coach Houle was the first coach to tell her straight out ‘you are our goalie’,” Joe said.
Other schools had only discussed Abbott being a backup, and the Division I programs offered only two year scholarships.
The problem was Abbott’s size, standing at only 5 feet 3 inches. For Houle, this was an easy thing to look past.
“If you feel they can play for you and make a contribution, then size should not be a defining factor,” Houle said. “She was the best available player, we thought, in that position at that time.”
Abbott’s decision was helped by fatherly advice. Joe told Abbott to focus on academics less on going to Division I.
With Leonard’s graduation, this year is Abbott’s chance to earn the starting role. While splitting time with senior Brooke Wolejko, a recent DI transfer, Abbott has responded positively.
“I think we have a healthy competition,” Abbott said. “I definitely try to improve myself every practice, especially when I see [Wolejko] make a big save.”
Houle said that he has liked Abbott’s play so far.
“She certainly is deserving of more playing time,” Houle said. “And that is what she is going to get.”
Off the ice, Abbott is very creative, with PSUC assistant coach Danielle Blanchard citing the fact that Abbott designed her own goalie mask. Leonard pointed to Abbott’s talent with the guitar.
“She tried to teach me how to play,” Leonard said. “But I have no musical talents.”
Overall, Abbott’s father believes that hockey has been good for his daughter.
“When she was younger, she was a shy kid,” Joe said. “She has come out of her shell a lot, and I know that hockey has played a role in that.”
Email Nathanael LePage at email@example.com