One-on-one with ice hockey forward Jennifer Costa '21

by Justin Kramer | 11/9/18 2:05am

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Jennifer Costa '21 scored the game-winning goal against Quinnipiac University.

Source: Courtesy of Jennifer Costa

Jennifer Costa ’21 left Connecticut a hero on Saturday night, netting the game-winning goal against Quinnipiac University with just over one minute remaining in overtime. The clinching goal was the first of the forward’s career and gave the Big Green an unlikely first win of the young season against a premier hockey school on the road. I sat down with Costa to discuss her clutch score at Quinnipiac and her 16-year hockey career leading up to that point.

What did it feel like to score your first official collegiate career goal in such an important moment?

JC: It was amazing. On my high school team and on my club team I was always a goal scorer, and then I came here, and my freshman year, I didn’t get any goals. But I worked so hard, and it was really frustrating to always hit the post, or it just didn’t go in, just didn’t get that bounce. In a way, it felt like all of my work from last year and all of my work so far and over the summer paid off with that goal. That was such an important game. When I scored, I actually started crying, which is so embarrassing, but I was just so happy that my work was paying off and also that we worked our butts off that game.

What was going through your mind in overtime before you netted the winning blow against Quinnipiac?

JC: “Keep the legs moving.” We had just played Princeton University the night before, so our legs were really dead, but I try to remind myself and my teammates that we have so much more in the tank left than what we actually think. At that point, it’s overtime, it’s the last game of the weekend, we don’t really have anything to save it for, so we use all that energy. I think that we were all really tired, but we were all so focused; I have never seen us like that before where we had this one goal in mind, and there was no way we were going to lose that game. It was already decided that we were not losing or even tying.

How do you see the momentum from Saturday’s game carrying the team forward?

JC: To have our first win against Quinnipiac, such a talented team that never loses, I think that’s huge motivation because then we say to ourselves, “Okay, if we can beat a team that’s top 10, we should be able to beat some of these teams in our division.” This isn’t to say that it’s going to be easy because we’re going to have to put in the work, but we know if we put in the work how great of a team we can be, so we know our potential. This is only after our fifth game, so it’s really early in the season. I think that win motivates us to believe we’re a good program, and we’re going to keep moving forward if we keep showing up.

Can you elaborate more on some of your favorite parts of playing hockey?

JC: I love it. I love how fast it is. I don’t consider myself to be a super skilled player — I’m fast, and I just love going into the corner, beating someone to the puck and trying to get it to one of my teammates, so that they can do something with it, and then I’ll get open. You have forward movement, backward, lateral, you need to be fast, you need to have endurance. There are all these different aspects of athleticism in hockey and I think that’s great. Something is different about hockey from other teams I played for. I did soccer and track and field in high school, so I was a tri-athlete. I don’t know if it’s because we spend so much time together or our season is so long, but the hockey team culture is just different. We’re really close which is nice.

How, if at all, did high school soccer and track help you improve as a hockey player?

JC: For track, I ran the 400 meter sprint, so that takes 61 seconds. In a hockey game, an ideal shift is about 35 to 45 seconds, so I think that was pretty good training. When you’re out on the ice, you’re sprinting as hard as you can, you get off, you reload and then you go back out. Soccer gave me the endurance I needed because I played defense in soccer, but I would play the entire 90 minutes of the game and just not come off. I think playing defense in soccer helps me figure out certain weaknesses in defense in hockey because in hockey I’m a forward, so I can use that knowledge. The biggest part has to be how to be a team player and what it means to rely on your teammate, to trust your teammate, and what it means to be a leader. Being captain of track or hockey, people look up to you, so you have to put on the right role.

Can you talk about your background in ice hockey through high school?

JC: I started playing when I was four. I used to figure skate because my mom made me, and I hated it. I don’t even think I did for a year. I saw a hockey practice on afterwards, and it was all boys. In the car, I remember I asked my dad if I could play hockey, and he said, “That’s for boys.” I said, “I want to do it, too bad,” and he laughed. When I was little, I was always tough, short and chubby. I played boys hockey growing up from when I was four until when I was 15. It was nice because I always had more or less the same group of guys because of the small town. They became my family which is awesome. I played boys club hockey all the way until 15 or so, and then I switched over to club hockey for girls. There isn’t really anything in Rhode Island, so I had to go to Foxborough, Massachusetts, and I played for the Massachusetts Spitfires, a girls’ club. I went to Smithfield High School, my public high school, for two years, and I did not want to go to prep school at all. I didn’t play for my high school my freshman year because they didn’t even have a team — it was like a club. My sophomore year, I played for the high school and it was horrible. I had a great time, but people couldn’t skate forward, so I realized I have really big dreams for myself and where I want my career to go. Then I went to Milton Academy. I repeated my sophomore year, and I got an all-league award out of all the teams, and I got it my junior and senior years. Coming in as a sophomore to that program had a big impact and made me realize I could go somewhere with this.

Last year you were named the team’s rookie of the year. What did that honor mean to you?

JC: That meant a lot, it really did. It means a lot to me because I care about what my team thinks. It’s nice to be recognized that you are working so hard, and last year for me, honestly I played a lot, but I struggled mentally because I wasn’t scoring. It really got to me at certain times and it was frustrating: “I’m working so hard, and I’m not getting any of these bounces.” I have to work so hard to actually get a goal, and for a long time, I was upset because I thought my value to the team depended on how many goals I scored, and I didn’t score any goals. I felt like, at times, I was hurting the team more than anything even though I was working really hard and trying to make stuff happen. It just wasn’t there. That honestly affected my confidence outside of hockey as well. To know that my team and my coaches cared more about my work ethic and resilience meant a lot to me, and that you could see it was important.

How has your experience so far at Dartmouth prepared you take up perhaps a bigger role this year?

JC: My first year I learned that if I base my value on how many goals I score and my confidence on that, I’m not going to be the player I want to be at all. I felt last year that in parts of the season, I was a completely different player than what I was in high school, and I was actually worse. I think that all came from my mental game from telling myself, “You’re not scoring. You probably can’t play at this level. Take shorter shifts, get off the ice so that other people can get on.” Coming into this year as a sophomore, having that confidence is really important, and I can’t seem weak, especially to the freshmen because I don’t want them to feel that way, and I want them to come in and help us be a winning program right away.

What was your training regimen like over this summer?

JC: I’m from Rhode Island, and there’s not a lot of good hockey in Rhode Island, but I have a personal trainer and have had the same one since I was 12. I work out with him four days per week. On the weekends, usually Saturday, I would go to the track and do some kind of running workout. For skating, Monday nights I would drive up to Boston University which is like an hour and a half, and it was really late from 8 to 10 at night. I would do a skills section with all girls. We have two boys sessions, one on Monday and one Wednesday, and there are not as many boys as girls. I started going to the men’s sessions on Wednesday nights at BU as well, and I would just play in summer leagues on Friday nights and those were in Duxbury, Massachusetts so that was another hour-long drive for me. I try to skate three or four nights a week, and work out four times.

What hopes do you have for the women’s ice hockey team in the coming year?

JC: Huge hopes. I’ve been smiling since the Quinnipiac game, and I’m so excited to go to practice today. I want us to believe in ourselves as a program because our program doesn’t have a great history of winning. We won three or four games last year, so I want to really believe that we can win and that we are a good program when we show up and when we put the work in. I want us to always put the work in if we’re on the ice, if we’re in the weight room, if we’re cooling down or if we’re stretching. That is a conceptual thing I want us to get at. It would be awesome if we can get a win streak from here on out because looking at our schedule we have the potential to win the next six games.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.