After the conclusion of each season, the women’s ice hockey program bestows the Sarah Kennedy Award to a junior or senior who has demonstrated selflessness, perseverance, dedication to Dartmouth on and off the ice and sincere love of ice hockey. Mackenzie St. Onge ’17 was given this year’s award as a fitting end to the Stowe, Vermont native’s hockey career at Dartmouth.
Despite growing up 80 miles from Hanover, St. Onge never suspected that she would wear the Green and White. The daughter of two freestyle skiing enthusiasts, she found it ironic that of all the sports she grew up playing, it was hockey that won out. Not even the fresh powder and finely groomed trails of nearby Stowe Mountain Resort were enough to lure the senior forward away from the tin roof and chain-linked fences around Stowe’s town rink.
“When I began the recruiting process, I thought Dartmouth was too close to home,” St. Onge said. “After speaking with the coaches here and taking my first visit to campus, however, I realized that it was a great fit. I prioritized the people and the culture of the program during my recruiting process, and the more I spoke with coaches and girls on the team here, the more I realized that Dartmouth had the team environment that I wanted to be around.”
St. Onge began her Dartmouth hockey career as a fourth-line forward, scoring just two goals in the team’s 30 games in her freshman season. Though she saw action in all but one of her team’s games over the next two seasons, she registered just one assist and entered her senior season with three points to her name. It was hardly the way most would envision their collegiate hockey career. But to St. Onge, stats were irrelevant.
“I just tried to play my role in our system to support the other players on the ice with me,” St. Onge recalled. “When you don’t see points add up, it can be difficult for you to see your value on a team, but I think it’s a testament to the culture we had that allowed me to keep working and push myself every day. We always said that every player is valued in their role, and I wanted to do the best I could with the skill set I had.”
St. Onge’s effort, attitude and leadership capabilities caught the eyes of her teammates, who selected her to serve as team captain this past season. Some would bask in the glory of representing their team, but St. Onge knew that being captain would not be easy. She embraced the pressure of keeping a team in transition mode together. With longtime head coach Mark Hudak departing and Canadian national women’s team coach Laura Schuler coming in, it could only be a bumpy road ahead, even with expertise at the helm of the program. The transition was particularly difficult for St. Onge, who committed to Dartmouth largely out of enthusiasm for Hudak and the culture he maintained around the program.
“I knew there were variables that would arise this year, but I wanted to ensure that the transition was as smooth as possible for the girls on the team,” St. Onge said. “We found some new values and combined them with what worked for us in the past. We remained a cohesive group, and it was just about staying together during the transition.”
Nobody wants to end her college career with a 7-21 record, yet St. Onge remained unselfish and steadfast through the season and continued to dedicate her focus to her teammates and the future success of Dartmouth’s women’s ice hockey program. The team’s 4-1 victory over Yale University on Senior Day, during which each senior recorded a point in the game, made the trials of this season that much sweeter.
“I had to tell myself that my senior year was not going to look the way I envisioned it,” St. Onge said. “It was tough to lose the personal connection with our old coaches, but I knew that whatever we did this season would have to be for the benefit of the team long-term. I wanted to set the girls up to be successful going forward, to take any progress we made this year and run with it.”
Letting go of those expectations changed St. Onge’s mindset for her senior season.
“I just decided that I wanted to play to have fun and leave it all out on the ice, I really had nothing left to lose,” she said.
Putting others before yourself is a quality that is sometimes hard to find in the world of sports. To do so is second nature for St. Onge.
“I just enjoy learning, growing and working hard to get better, all characteristics that I think have defined the path of my hockey career,” St. Onge said. “I knew I wouldn’t be a starter when I committed to Dartmouth, but that was part of the appeal — having something to work toward and to earn.”
St. Onge’s career was defined by her leadership and dedication to improving Dartmouth women’s hockey, regardless of goal or assist totals. Though hockey season is long gone, St. Onge remains active and has recently expanded her arsenal of athletic talents to include rugby. She’s always on the grind.