June 2, 2012

New coach Plumer has lofty goals for UVM women's team

By Shawn Hutcheon

Women’s ice hockey has been a recognized sport by the NCAA since 1993. Since then, girls began to grab their sticks and skates and head to the nearest rink with dreams of scholarships dancing in their heads. 

Jim Plumer was named head coach at UVM after a successful run at Amherst College where he guided the women's team to two national titles. (Photo: UVM Athletics)

Over the next five years, teams were added to schools’ athletic programs in record numbers.

The University of Vermont added women’s hockey as a varsity Division 3 sport in 1998. That initial squad competed in the Eastern College Athletic Conference and, as a new club in a strong league, managed to win eight out of twenty games. In 2001, the Catamounts moved up to Division 1 and became a member of Women’s Hockey East in 2005.

Unfortunately for the women of Burlington, Vt., wins have been hard to come by since that inaugural season. After enduring an abysmal 2011-2012 season where the club went 4-22-6, the school administration decided it was time to go in a new direction and hired Jim Plumer to take over the reigns as head coach.

Plumer comes to Burlington with a winning history. He spent the last nine seasons at the helm of the Amherst College women’s team, which he guided to an NCAA Division 3 national championship in 2009 and again in 2010. He was also named the American Hockey Coaches of America women’s coach of the year in 2009.

Overall, his teams went to five NCAA tournaments in his last six seasons in Amherst, Mass.

“I am really excited about the new challenge,” Plumer said about his move to Vermont. “I’ve spoken with the players. They’re really excited, too. If we work together, we can achieve more than they expect. Communication is vital. If you trust each other you’ll get through the tough times.”

The new coach’s philosophy is simple yet straightforward.

“Fun and success go hand in hand,” said Plumer. “The players need to buy in, learn, enjoy, accept the result and like the result, which should be the success we are striving for.”

Plumer believes players need to have competitive practices which will raise their intensity and levels of execution which should carry over to the games.

“We’ll use tactical awareness games to get them to think the game and compete with each other,” Plumer continued. “Everyone likes to compete; it's fun and it creates motivation.”

The Colby College grad will rely on his staff to identify and recruit players who will buy in, learn and have fun.

“We’ll look for smart players who play fast,” Plumer said. “Hockey is a game of speed. If a girl can skate, we can teach the rest. My staff will also be teachers of the game, focusing on player development.”

Associate head coach Grant Kimball (Harvard, Mass.), who has coached at UVM for four seasons, is also looking forward to working in the new environment Plumer will bring to the program.

“I wish we could get going today,” Kimball said, “Jim’s experience bodes well. He’s a great coach. We have a really young group with a total of 17 sophomores and juniors. They’ll grow together. We were a win away from making the Hockey East playoffs last season.”

Kimball feels this group of women will respond well to their new coach.

"We had some injuries last year,” he said. “Once we’re healthy, we feel it’s possible to make the playoffs and make some noise once we get there.”

As a freshman last season, Amanda Pelkey was the Catamounts' second leading scorer with 14 points. (Photo: UVM Athletics)

One player who shares Kimball’s enthusiasm is Amanda Pelkey (Montpelier, Vt). The forward will be a sophomore in 2012-2013 and has quite an impressive resume. After her freshman season, she was named to the Women’s Hockey East All Rookie Team.

She has represented the United States as a member of Team USA’s Under 18 team. More impressively, Pelkey first played for that USA club when she was just 15 years old. She is currently awaiting the call to join Team USA’s senior national team, which will put her in line for a spot on the squad that will participate in Sochi, Russia in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

In discussing UVM, Pelkey’s fervor is unparalleled.

“I was a die-hard UVM fan from eight years old on,” she said. “I was recruited by five Women’s Hockey East schools plus Harvard. I had a good gut feeling about the school while I was being recruited and that’s why I chose Vermont.”

She is eagerly anticipating the upcoming season.

“We’re all looking forward to better, more open communication with Coach Plumer,” Pelkey said. “We need to feel more comfortable so we can play better. Jim is perfect for us.”

Interestingly, the players took part in the interview process of the coaching applicants. “We interviewed the top five candidates during the course of one week,” said Pelkey. “We gave our athletic director, Dr. Robert Corcoran, our feedback. We’re very happy with his decision.”

Pelkey has spoken with players from around the league; they have offered their thoughts on the changes at Vermont.

“It’s a very competitive league. I know girls on the other teams and they were hoping we would get a coach who would be enthusiastic,” said Pelkey. “They want us to be competitive. Jim has coached at a lot of girls hockey camps and those same girls know him and they’re happy for UVM.”

The Vermont native echoed Plumer’s and Kimball’s sentiments on how the Catamounts could fare this season.

“I can’t wait to get going,” Pelkey said. “I’m curious to see our potential. I hope our true colors come out. I know Jim will do everything possible to get them to come out.”

With players such as Pelkey, former Canadian Under-18 team members Gina Repaci, Brittany Zuback and Roxanne Douville, as well as 2010 Swedish Olympian Klara Myren, an abundance of talent will constantly be on the ice for the University of Vermont.

“We look forward to making UVM a top ten women’s program in the United States,” Kimball said.

Kimball and the rest of the UVM squad have set high expectations for themselves next season, but from the sound of it, they have all the right ingredients to make that big leap forward.      

Shawn Hutcheon can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at@ShawnHutcheon.