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Donna Wright, women's ice hockey head coach, learned to play hockey on a pond.
 
Posted 11.02.05

The Puck Stops Here

Q: How many years have you been the women’s ice hockey head coach?

A: I began my coaching career at Wesleyan in September 1995. I was hired as the head women’s hockey coach and assistant lacrosse coach. Because the position was not an adjunct faculty position at that time, I also took a part-time position in the Physical Plant as a network desktop support person. It enabled me to be at Wesleyan full-time.

Q: When does the season begin and end?

A: Our season officially begins each year on November 1. Our regular season games end in late February and then the playoff season begins. The New England Small College Athletic Conference playoffs are usually the last weekend of February and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships are the third weekend of March. The goal is to play into March!

Q: How difficult is it to find talented women's ice hockey players among all the secondary schools?

A: Recruiting is a challenging task. Women’s ice hockey is a very regional sport with the majority of players coming from New England and Minnesota. More and more opportunities have been created in other Midwest states like Wisconsin and Illinois, as well as New York, New Jersey and Maryland. There are very few public high school varsity teams. Most of these are in Minnesota, Massachusetts and Connecticut, so many of the players still come from youth hockey programs and New England prep schools.

Q: How early are some of your players getting into their sport? Were they involved in other sports prior to hockey?

A: Many of my student-athletes currently play or have played other sports. Three of my current athletes are varsity field hockey players, one is a varsity soccer player and one is a rower. On average, the current student-athletes have been playing hockey more than 10 years.

Q: What are some of the skills and lessons that you stress year after year?

A: We will win as a team and lose as a team. I stress fundamentals, discipline and support. We will always work to continue to develop our individual skills, have the discipline to play as a team and always support each other on and off the ice.

Q: At what age did you take up the sport and why? What were some of the challenges of picking up what is thought of as a male-dominated sport?

A: I began hockey later than most of my players. I started when I was 14 years old. It began as an obsession on the pond with my male friends. Those were the days of playing on the pond from early morning until dark on Saturdays. I quickly developed a passion for the game and begged my parents to let me play. I grew up in Danbury, Conn. and the closest girls program was in West Haven, Conn. My parents were wonderfully supportive and not only allowed me to play but drove me several days a week to West Haven for practices and games. In the 80’s, there were limited opportunities for women to play in their own league. I always attended summer camps mainly for boys and played pickup games with boys. The biggest challenge was to get the boys to treat you as they treated the other boys.

Q: There's a perception that it takes a certain emotional edge to play ice hockey. Is the perception true?

A: Hockey is a fast paced game that is best played with decisive players. The best players play with passion and determination. Sometimes relentless determination can decide a game or season. The Wesleyan 1997-98 team was such a team. With only 12 players that season, they ended their season by playing for the ECAC Alliance title against Middlebury. They finished with the best record in Wesleyan Women’s Hockey history of 17-8-1.

Q: Could you tell me a bit about your new assistant coach?

A: We are happy to have Heather Hoffay join our program. Heather has a lot of NESCAC playing and coaching experience. She is a 2003 Hamilton College graduate and spent the last two seasons assisting in the Trinity College women’s hockey program. She is passionate about the game and about coaching. She is a great addition!

Q: Briefly, where have you played and coached?

A: I was fortunate to play at Providence College. I learned a lot about the game during my time there. Soon after graduation, I began coaching youth hockey in South Windsor, Conn. It was an outlet for me to cultivate my love of hockey while working full-time at Pratt and Whitney as a systems analyst. Before long, I realized that coaching was my real passion and aggressively began coaching with the goal of coaching full time some day. Before coming to Wesleyan, I was an assistant for Manchester, Conn. boys’ varsity hockey, Brown University’s women’s hockey and Yale University’s women’s hockey.

Q: How would you compare the nature of women's ice hockey at Wesleyan with your experience as a player at Providence and a coach in the Ivy League?

A: Women’s collegiate hockey has growth exponentially since my playing days and my Ivy coaching days. Since that time, Division III opportunities have been officially sanctioned and more than 50 collegiate teams, both Div I and Div III, have emerged. I find the student athletes here at Wesleyan are as committed and work just as hard as the Div I student athletes. We have a slightly shorter official season playing in the NESCAC conference, but these athletes train year round.

Q: How difficult is it to compete in the NESCAC with such national powers as Middlebury and Bowdoin to contend with every year?

A: It is a challenge to play in the NESCAC, but it is also great hockey! Our athletes are competitive and want to challenge themselves and the play best that Division III can offer. For most women, collegiate hockey is the most competitive hockey they will play in their careers.

Q: Do you root for any National Hockey League teams?

A: Coaching is not a career but a lifestyle. I watch a lot of hockey on all levels. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to catch NHL games with my responsibilities here and raising a family. However, I am still a die-hard Ranger fan!

Q: Do you use tapes as a tool for the women?

A: We tape all home games and have tapes of all NESCAC away games. We do use the footage as a teaching tool for both players and coaches.

Q: I've heard rumors your husband, Bill, attends a lot of games with your boys, Nicholas and Kyle. Does he enjoy the sport as much as you, and what about the boys?

A: I am blessed with a great husband! Bill and the boys do come to all home games and some on the road. They are our biggest fans. Bill was not a hockey aficionado before we dated but has come to love the sport. He doesn’t even mind getting up at 5:30 a.m. to get Nicholas to the rink for practice on Saturday mornings. As for Nicholas and Kyle, they love coming to Wesleyan. They enjoy watching the team play as well as get on the ice themselves. Game day is just part of the Wright family life.

Q: When you’re not in the rink, what are you doing? What are your hobbies?

A: Bill and I spend a lot of time working on our home in Colchester. It is our hobby I guess. We have done everything from remodeling to landscaping. Besides that, we love to be outdoors as a family. As the boys are getting older, it is fun to ride bikes and play lots of sports.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor