The Quinnipiac University women’s hockey program is still relatively young. Having made the jump to Division-I status in 2001-02, the Bobcats did not even have a winning record until 2009-10.
After years of sustained success and programmatic growth under former coach Rick Seeley (Quinnipiac won 19 or more games six straight years and made the NCAA tournament in 2014-15), the Bobcats finally made the big leap last season under first-year coach Cassandra Turner, winning 30 games and claiming the ECAC championship for the first time.
Former defender Turner, a longtime Quinnipiac assistant and recruiting coordinator, credits a tough, defensive-minded attitude for the Bobcats. “We absolutely want to be a team that’s hard to play against.”
Through January 22, 2017, Quinnipiac (16-6-5 overall, 9-4-2 ECAC) is tied for second in the country in team defense, allowing only 1.44 goals per game. Defense, shot-blocking, sixty minutes of tough play. That’s what Quinnipiac wants to do on the ice. And it is embodied by their captain.
As Turner puts it, “nobody shows more pride (than) Emma Woods.”
Emma Woods grew up on a farm just outside of Burford, Ontario (pop. 1,952). “My dad was always a dairy farmer so we were always kind of on a farm.” Woods says. “I was actually working with him this summer and over Christmas break. I was up at like 3:30am milking cows.”
She laughs. “I didn’t do it as much growing up just because we were in school and sports all the time but I kind of learned from my dad. I think that’s kind of what helped with hockey; my mom was actually a farmer too growing up so those habits that they built and ingrained in us kids, it really helped with our work ethic I think and our expectations of ourselves.”
That work ethic has served her well. As captain of the SB Nation No. 7 Bobcats, Woods has her team poised for another postseason run. Tied for third in conference, just five points behind league leaders Clarkson, Quinnipiac and their stifling defense have the sort of composition that succeeds in March. But first, the Bobcats must survive a deep ECAC.
“I think it’s the best league to play in,” Woods says. “It’s so fun, knowing that teams are going to bring their best, and knowing that every single team in our conference fights that way, at the end of the year when you’ve won or you’ve reached your goals, it makes it that much more special.”
Woods has nineteen points in 26 games in 2015-16, and 102 points in 139 games in her Bobcats career, including 45 goals. In true Quinnipiac fashion, she makes her presence felt in the defensive zone as well. Woods led all forwards on the team with 21 blocked shots in 2015-16 and has already added 20 this year.
“She wears her heart on her sleeve and 100% this program comes first before anything else in her life. “ Turner says. “And that’s the reason why she’s wearing the ‘C’, you know, her teammates really respect that.
“So blocking a shot is just part of the game for her and it’s nothing extraordinary. Last year, I think she got scored on even strength I think maybe one time all season. Maybe one time. That’s insane to imagine. She just cares so much about those little details.”
Hamden, CT (pop. 60,960) sits about two hours from both Boston and New York, just a stone’s throw from next-door New Haven. The small city feel and sense of community is something that drew Woods to Quinnipiac.
“It’s better than I imagined, honestly,” she says. “Even just walking around campus, people say hi to you...our class sizes are small and they get to know you and they build a relationship with you, which helps. It makes coming here more special – it makes you want to win more because you know all these people are behind you and supporting you. I think that’s honestly what makes this program what it is.”
As a still relatively young program, Turner thought it important that the current players understand where the Bobcats came from. “I call it our ‘Who We Are’ project,” she says.
It has resonated with Woods. “I think it’s great that we’re doing that because I think a lot of times it’s easy, especially with what we have and everything we’re given to take things for granted” she says.
“You know it’s not just for you or for the team, but it’s for everyone who was part of it and everyone that’s to come and that’s kind of what makes it special and it’s something that coach – Cass – does a great job of kind of displaying that and helping us realize how special we have it here and how much the other girls and alumni have put into the program and helped get it to where it is.”
Woods feels a responsibility for continuing that blossoming tradition and leaving the program better than she found it. That, too, was something she grew up with.
“I don’t know, my mom always wants to do something new, wants to make an impact on the small town. And we lived in Burford and we didn’t have an ice cream store so she was like ‘I want to start an ice cream store’ so seven years ago, maybe eight years ago now – we just sold it last summer – we started an ice cream store. I was like thirteen, my younger brother was like eleven, and we all worked there.
“But it was awesome. It was kind of important, for me, and I think I learned a lot from it, honestly. The relationships you build with the people. People came in there all seven years and you kind of like get to know these people and your community and that’s kind of how it is at Quinnipiac.”
Growing up outside of Burford, Woods, who is a twin, spent much of the time playing sports with her brothers and sisters. Small town athletes usually end up playing multiple sports. Woods played eight. “I played badminton, too” she laughs.
After her junior year, Woods was a fourth-round selection (14th overall) by Buffalo in the June 2016 NWHL draft. It was an honor that some may not have anticipated for Woods a few years ago.
When asked what initially attracted Quinnipiac to recruit their future captain, Turner says, “(h)er personality, truthfully. You know you watch her play and she had one heck of a shot and she can skate and she’s intense and she battles, but it was really her personality that we knew was just right for this program. We want people that want to get better right up until their final practice their senior year and those are the people who thrive in college.
“Last year she was on the All-ECAC (Third) team.” Turner continued. “That might be something that other people might not have thought Emma would accomplish by the time she was a junior and she’s done it because she’s gotten better every single day and has outperformed people who maybe had bigger accolades when they were younger than Emma did. And that’s a testament to that personality.”
When asked about a favorite moment of her captain’s career at Quinnipiac, Turner says, “(l)ast year, against Harvard – every time we play Harvard, it’s always a battle – and this just says so much about her personality, she scored one of the better goals that’s been scored in our program’s history. Just a great move, scores on her back hand, top shelf, and there wasn’t a celebration. It was all business. It was ‘next play.’ Her teammates came over to her and on the video zoomed in on her and you can tell there’s a bit of a smile, but it was all business ‘I’ll celebrate this when the game is done.’ And you know, that’s what she’s all about.”
Woods, who starts a health care administration MBA program in the fall, is still deciding what she’ll do professionally. In the meantime, she and the rest of the Bobcats have their sights set on March.
“(W)e want to win a championship. Last year we won our first conference championship in program history and that’s something we want to do again. It’s something this program is going to continue to want for years to come.
“And I think our next step is an NCAA tournament win. We’ve been there my last two years and I think that’s something every single person in our team wants – freshmen, coaches, everyone – and I think the next step is winning that game.”