By Adam Kaufman
Still only in her 40s, Harvard University’s Katey Stone already is the winningest women’s hockey coach in Division 1 history with more than 350 career victories.
She’s earned numerous Coach of the Year awards from a variety of outlets and organizations, guided her squad to the 1999 AWCHA national championship and three NCAA finals appearances, and won 10 Beanpot titles, five ECAC tournament championships, six ECAC regular-season titles and five Ivy League crowns. This magazine even rated her No. 33 on our list of the “Top 50 Most Influential People in New England Hockey” three years ago.
Equally, if not more impressive, than all of those accolades, she also has presided over the U.S. Women’s National Team since 2010 and has a drawer full of medals, most recently leading her team to the gold medal last month at the 2011 Four Nations Cup in Sweden, culminated by a shootout victory over rival Canada.
And yet …
“I always thought I’d be a college lacrosse coach, honestly,” Stone said with a laugh. “I loved playing, and I think it’s an unbelievable game.”
Stone (Watertown, Conn.) did more than play lacrosse. She starred at it. During her four collegiate seasons at the University of New Hampshire, Stone captained the hockey and lacrosse teams, twice being named a lacrosse All-American selection on the way to an NCAA title in 1985, and she also was All-ECAC on the ice, winning a pair of ECAC championships in 1986 and 1987.
Chance, at least in a matter of speaking, is what brought Stone to hockey, however. She’s now in her 18th season watching over the Crimson, getting the job at just 28 years of age after short stints as a coach and assistant athletic director at Tabor Academy, as well as coaching positions with Northfield Mount Hermon and Phillips Exeter Academy.
“Things happen for a reason,” Stone said. “This job (at Harvard) came open, and I was very fortunate to get it.”
But, whether it was lacrosse or hockey, there was no question as to whether she’d find her way into the coaching ranks.
“It’s our family business,” she said, first developing aspirations to coach in college.
Her father, Larry, coached and was the director of athletics at the Taft School for 34 years. Her oldest brother, Mike, currently serves as the head baseball coach at UMass-Amherst, where he’s been for the past 24 years. Her big sister, Kelly, coached lacrosse and was the assistant athletic director at the Hotchkiss School before moving on to coach field hockey at Sacred Heart, where she is today. And, her other older brother, Jim, works as the director of athletics and coaches baseball and football at Blair Academy in New Jersey.
When it’s in your blood, there’s no alternative — not even a fleeting urge to be a lawyer instead — and it easily could be argued that the baby of the family has been the most successful of the bunch.
But the price of success also can be suffocating. Never mind all that’s involved when you’re running the bench of a top national program, the responsibilities at the university level are immense. Recruiting. Fundraising. Then there’s trying to evolve at the same rate as her ever-pestering technological counterpart. Sure, all of these things are meaningful, substantial and necessary. Still, they take a toll.
“The last thing you get to do is coach, really,” Stone said. “You have to deal with all the garbage, and it’s not quite as light-hearted in some ways. That’s why those two hours at practice are the best time of the day for me because no one can get a hold of you, the phone doesn’t ring, it’s just you and your players, and that’s really the best part.”
That said, it’s a balancing act, and she’ll be the first to credit assistant coaches Jeff Pellegrini (Lynn, Mass.) and Maura Crowell (Masnfield, Mass.)for the job they do to ease her stresses and keep the ship running flawlessly when she’s otherwise engulfed by her national responsibilities.
The solution to the balance, she says, is simply living in the moment.
“It’s a challenge, and I’m getting better at it. Last year (her first wearing the two hats) exhausted me a little bit more than I imagined. The key for me is to be where I am and to go through whatever it is, and then my mind can be clear. When I’m with USA Hockey, I’m there, and when I’m back at Harvard, I’m here, so it works. It’s just a matter of grabbing some downtime whenever possible and getting plenty of rest.”
Admittedly, that time off is hard to come by. When Stone can, she’ll hang out with friends and family, vacation and play golf, get some sleep and, ideally, relax in front of a Patriots game on a Sunday afternoon.
When she closes her eyes, though, she’s on the ice, not ready to take her foot off the gas by reflecting upon her many past successes, nor projecting what lies ahead. Simply, she’s just “trying to be where I am.”
Where she is, is exactly where she wants to be. Stone’s not married but jokes that she has lots of children, kids who wear either crimson and white, or red, white and blue, and she loves them all equally, though she calls her role in Cambridge the best job in college hockey, and one she has no desire to leave any time soon.
But, with all she’s accomplished, what’s left to achieve?
“Always looking to win another national championship at Harvard,” said Stone, whose team got off to a 5-1 start before dropping three consecutive games in late November. “That’s the ultimate goal, and there’s tons of opportunity to be successful underneath that goal for whatever year it is. And, certainly, we’re trying to win a gold medal (in the Olympics) for the United States. That would be an unbelievable opportunity to be involved in something like that.”
In the meantime, she’ll keep doing what she’s done for so long already: coaching, teaching and gaining satisfaction through the individual and collective growth of her players, amplified by each and every big win. The credit there goes to those who instructed her so well at UNH, Russ McCurdy in hockey and Marge Anderson in lacrosse.
“You can learn a lot from watching and listening,” she said. “I remember so much of what my college hockey coach taught me and my teammates about the fundamentals of the game, and I also remember my college lacrosse coach, who reminded me how much fun you can have playing sports. So, the discipline in the fundamentals and then the free-spiritedness of being really successful with some great people — mesh those two together, and that’s what we’re trying to do at Harvard.”
Mesh the two together, and it’s proven to be a thriving recipe, one that she hopes will lead to a fond remembrance after her time in the sport is done.
“I hope that I’ve made a positive impact on the game and fought for things that I felt were really important for women’s hockey and the athletes,” Stone said of her eventual legacy. “At Harvard, we’ve always tried to do the right thing, that the program had the best reputation in college hockey, not just for wins and losses, but for respect, the kind of athletes, the way they behave and how they conduct themselves. They play hard but have the ultimate sportsmanship. I think all of those things are top-down. I think that’s the best compliment anyone could give, that our players have always represented Harvard and the program with tremendous respect.”
That’s Katey Stone. She prefers not to talk about herself, but her message is clear. A team-oriented, winning philosophy with winning results for the woman with more wins than any other. And, in so many ways, it feels like she’s only just getting started.
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Adam Kaufman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.