Kenzie Lancaster, #22 for the Connecticut Whale Photo by Matt Dewkett

MacKenzie Lancaster: North Carolina Gold

When we think of Gold, the gold rushes of the 19th century come to mind, most notably the California Gold Rush and the Klondike Gold Rush. But gold was first discovered in the US near Waxhaw, North Carolina in the century before those events occurred. And Waxhaw just happens to be where our our Season Six rookie center #22 MacKenzie Lancaster hails from. Although technically, Kenzie also qualifies as one of the Whale’s “Jersey Girls” When we asked her about that she replied “Yeah, born in New Jersey and moved to North Carolina when I was one, so I don’t remember too much of it” she laughed. “But I was born in Morristown, New Jersey.” Kenzie then had to take a somewhat less traditional journey through the world of hockey to arrive in Connecticut, where she wore the bright gold hockey sweater for Quinnipiac. But we started things off by asking how it came to be that Kenzie was skating for the Pod this season. She explained

"So obviously, I played at Quinnipiac so Connecticut has been home for awhile. I am currently the Assistant Coach at Connecticut College as well. And because of Covid this year, from Thanksgiving until February, right now, our players have been at home and not on campus. So I had the opportunity to lace up the skates again, and I am very fortunate to be able to do that, I didn’t think I’d be able to play again. Basically I had known Laura, she’s a Quinnipiac alumni as well, and I’m close with Abbie Ives. And so talking with them, they were preparing for what the season would look like. And when they found out it was going to be a condensed season up at Lake Placid, they said: We could always use your talent. So that’s kind of how it came about. It was just good timing with my career, and they were looking for players. So I started practicing with them in November, so a short time to prepare. But I did the best I could and was able to help the team in the three games I played in up at Lake Placid, so it was great. The hard part was, they could only bring so many players up there, and with Covid, we ended up bringing up three more players who had been practicing with the team. But it was a tough situation, balancing how many players you could bring,with how many players you actually need to fill the teams.” It’s been great, it’s a great team, Colten and Laura, all the players, have been super welcoming.So, very fortunate”

Waxhaw is located near Charlotte, North Carolina, and sits near the border with South Carolina. That area is hardly a hockey hot bed, especially when Kenzie was growing up. So dialing it back a bit, Cetacean Nation wondered how Kenzie got started in hockey in the first place. She  told us “My older brother, he really got me started. So he’s like seven years older than me and was always looking for someone to go play roller hockey with. So then playing roller hockey and street hockey at first. And then when I got my first pair of skates, I fell in love with the game, and never looked back really. But he was the one who introduced me to it. Neither of my parents played, so it’s just one of those things. I think he (my brother) maybe saw a New Jersey Devils game when he was younger and wanted to try to play. And my parents said:Sure! It was a huge passion for both of us and still us to this day.”

We wondered if Kenzie had played any other sports growing and she informed us  “Yes, I played lacrosse. My mom was actually a Division I lacrosse player at James Madison University. And so I played lacrosse all throughout high school, and at Berkshire School as well. I love the game, but it doesn’t compare to hockey, though there is a decent amount of crossover between the two sports.“

Although hockey may not be the first sport that comes to mind when you think of North Carolina, we have had a couple of recent Whale who hailed from there. Both Tiberi and Colleen Murphy are from the Raleigh area, and we asked if Kenzie had run across them down there.

 “A little bit. I never played with them, but obviously there’s not a lot of female hockey players out of North Carolina, so I always knew them, both great hockey players. I would say Raleigh has had more female hockey players, but Charlotte has been growing. We have Kyra McDonald, she played at Elmira College. She never played in the league but she was somebody I grew up playing with in North Carolina. We’ve had in the past four or five years, a couple of girls go on to play Division III level. It’s growing, but it’s still pretty new. I played on an all boys team, but now I think they have an all girls team. But it’s tough to play the top tier teams in the country when you don’t have as much talent to pull from. So if a girl is really talented, she’ll probably play with the boys for a couple of years, and then look for a more skilled girls team. It was definitely a different path for me growing up and playing there. Like I said, I played boys for awhile, and when I was about fourteen I switched over to girls and started playing for a team out of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Penguins Elites. My parents coming from North Carolina, spent their weekends traveling with me to Detroit or whatnot. And then I went to Berkshire School for my last years of high school. Just to settle everything down, so I wasn’t traveling so much” she laughed. “ So I had all my life in one spot.”

We asked if coming to New England to play at Berkshire was how Kenzie got noticed by Quinnipiac. But she revealed

“i actually started talking to the Quinnipiac coaches before I came to Berkshire. They had seen me play with Pittsburgh Elite, different tournaments and stuff, I think it was my junior year I decided to go to there, and it really just came down to the people and the feeling I got when I was on campus. I loved the size of the school, and all the classes are in a central campus location. But it is not too small, to the point where you’re seeing everybody everyday. I got that at prep school” she laughed “ so I wanted a little bit bigger when I got to college. And I knew that it was going to challenge me and allow me to become the best hockey player that I could in the four years I was there. The coaching staff, our strength and conditioning coach, and just all of the athletic support thar we received as student athletes there was just top notch. We’re treated like professionals, and it was an amazing experience. I loved my four years there, and wouldn’t change a thing. Very glad I made the right decision.”

Young Kenzie playing boy's hockey with the Charlotte Checkers in North Carolina

It did not did not appear to Cetacean Nation that Kenzie started as center with Quinnipiac, and she confirmed this saying

"Yeah, they had me at wing to start because center is obviously a role you have to grow into, there is a lot of responsibility in the defensive zone. I was still learning the systems and catching up to the speed of play, so the coaching staff thought it best that Inwas at wing to start. And then it really just came down to we had an injury or something where they needed me at center, and saw that I could do a good job. And my last two seasons I was playing with Melissa Samoskevich and that pairing ended up working very well. So it comes down to: Are you capable of doing that? But then also, who they had me paired with in the line-up as well. I love both, there are different aspects to both. As I said, there is a greater defensive responsibility as a center in the D zone. And at wing, you obviously get to push out of the zone and get a lot of opportunities to create things on zone entry too. So, that’s kind of how that came about.”

We then asked if Kenzie’s career prior to Quinnipiac was primarily at center or wings during she explained  “Well actually, when I was playing boys I played defense. And when I switched over to girls, my coach at the time was like: I want you ar forward” she chuckled, and so I said Sure! Then I realized how much more fun it was, to be able to be in the offensive zone and score the goals. That’s how I got started, and similar to college, the wing and center, positions, you move around. I definitely played center throughout high school, but at times played wing as well, so I had that experience"  Kenzie showed some of her offensive skills in Lake Placid with crisp passing and ten shots on goal. We mentioned that in the albeit small sample in the bubble, she also showed great hustle in getting back in the D zone, and readily engaged along the boards and in the corners. “Yeah, that was definitely something I learned, I wasn’t that kind of player before I got to Quinnipiac, so that was definitely something I learned in college, and learned to value" she replied.

Kenzie had a stellar career at Quinnipiac, as the program thrived during her four years. The Bobcats won their first league championship and got as far as the NCAA quarterfinals. She served as Assistant Captain as a senior and led the Bobcats in scoring. She also was honored as the recipient of the Sarah Devens Award from ECAC Hockey/Hockey East for leadership and commitment, as well as the Mandi Schwartz Award for her achievements in academics, athletics, and leadership, as well as community service. So with that collegiate resume, which part of her Quinnipiac was her most memorable we wondered? Kenzie considered that for a moment and answered

“It’s obviously hard to nail down a specific piece. I mean , I guess there’s two parts. There’s the actual hockey, and then everything I said before. The reasons that I went there, to become the best hockey player that I could, and all the support I would get. I think I did just that. When I graduated, I was really on the brink of the best hockey I was ever playing. So that was really exciting. And why I play the game, is the process of getting better. I love all the different things, the different challenges hockey affords, and different skills you can always work on. That was just so much fun. Of course you have your challenges, and the days it’s hard to go to the rink because you’re tired. But most of the time I was so excited to go to the rink and so happy after practice. And I loved the competition that we got to play in the ECAC. Every game was so exciting, and such a fun competion. The hockey piece is definitely up there on my college experience.”

She continued  “And the second piece, which is equal if not greater is the people that I got to spend my time with. My classmates, Melissa Samoskevich being one of them, Randi Marcon and Kate MacKenzie, Anna Kilponen, they are friends for life.They are my best friends. We just had a very strong connection from day one freshman year. So that really made my journey that much more special, to be able to share it with them as well.”

In the classroom Kenzie was a Dean’s List scholar, majoring in Psychology. We asked her ro tell us a little about that. She said

“I’ve always been fascinated by human motivation, and why we do what we do. How our brains work. It was what I enjoyed studying , and I was like, why not do something I enjoy for four years. And then, a passion of mine is mental health and mental well-being, and being able to help people that way. So it was always a field that I wanted to explore and see what opportunities it afforded from a health standpoint. But then also a performance standpoint as well. I’ll actually be starting a graduate program next year for sports psychology, so more of the performance aspect. And it obviously helps with coaching. As a player I did a lot of sports psychology tactics for my own game. But noe as a coach I’m looking to learn even more to help my athletes for that side of the game, beyond the X’s and O’s.”

Kenzie in action for Quinnipiac against Clarkson. Photo by Rob Rassmussen

We mentioned that some of Kenzie’s awards in volved leadership and community service, and we asked if that had to do with her work with the Headway Foundation?

 “Yes, Headway, and we had an annual Do It For Daron (DIFD) game, for mental health awareness that I kind of spearheaded. My junior year I took over as our volunteer coordinator. So kind of set up different volunteer events our team could do, partner with different organizations like Headway or groups on campus. It was always something I loved and enjoyed doing. So yes, Headway was one of them, and it is awesome to see that organization grow over the years, it’s a great organization.”  

Earlier Kenzie mentioned that she coaches at Connecticut College, and we asked her about her choice to pursue that. She explained

"I think it comes down to all of my passions combined. Obviously the sport aspect, the psychology aspect of things, with team building and performance. And then Judy pt kind of the mentorship and helping young women grow as people too. They are all things that are very attractive to me in a career. My Mom coached me in lacrosse growing up, she’s a dietician now, so she coaches people how to ear” she laughed. And my brother also did some hockey coaching as well, my older brother who I look up to a lot. I think you kind of emulate what you see a lot of times, and I saw that they both loved coaching and did well in it. And so I thought, why not give it a try. And so it’s an incredible opportunity to work at Connecticut College under Kristen Steele’s leadership. She’s been there for twenty years, and she’s been in college coaching for over thirty years, and she is a just top notch person to learn from. I got really blessed to have that opportunity as my first job in coaching. It definitely raised the bar and the standards in many ways, so I hope to continue that as well.”

She continued “Sports obviously have been a part of my life, my entire life, from before I can remember."They teach you so many valuable lessons. And I know everyone says that clique, but it’s a clique because it’s true. And it has helped so many people, and given so many people a passion, and something to go after. Those are really important things in life, to have something that you really care about. To go all in, regardless of the outcome, putting yourself on the line and doing it with teammates is even better.That’s me, coming from a team sport perspective", she chuckled “some people wouldn’t agree. I think team sports are the best. I couldn’t agree more with everything sport does for people. And that’s why I think they’ll be a part of my life forever, whether at the college coaching level, or youth sports, whatever it is. I just want to see as many people get involved as they can. And confidence building is a huge one for young women.”

"We’ve been on campus practicing in the fall, looking to hone in our skills and do everything we can. The NESCAC, our league cancelled the championship seaso, But there is still is the opportunity to schedule independent games. So we won’t have a normal season like we usually would, or any kind of league championship. But there is still the possibility we could play som games with teams in Connecticut or in the nearby area, if Covid cases stay low.throughout our community and the teams we are playing and the surrounding area. It’s tough to say if it will happen or not, but we’re hopeful we can at least get a couple of games in, to kind of put a stamp on this season. And to have our seniors compete one last time. It’s definitely not going to look like a normal season. And we are also preparing our younger student-athletes for the years to come.“

Our Season Five forward Elena Gualtieri is a Connecticut College alum, and we asked Kenzie if she knew her.

"Yes, Elena’s awesome! I didn’t coach her at Connecticut College, she graduated before I was there. But Danielle Marmer, who is also a Quinnipiac alumni, coached her. Danielle is now in Quinnipiac Hockey Operations, and so I heard a lot about Elena from her. She’s a great person, great competitor and really showcases what DIII talent can look like."

That brought up the topic of when women players reach their peak, which is often not in college. Kenzie observed “I think the opportunity for women to be able to still compete athletically beyond college is a challenge. There are tons of great athletes that have to chose a career, because just Hockey is not financially feasible at this moment. But I think the athletes that can work it out like a lot of players on the Whale that have supplemental income with their salary from the Whale. Or are working other full time jobs and are able to continue to train. Exactly like you said, you see just how great women can be into twenties and their peak athletic years. Hopefully we continue to grow and that can be a road that more female athletes can take after college, because it’s special.”

Kenzie receiving the Mandi Schwartz Award Photo by Rob Rassmussen

Focusing back on the Whale, we asked Kenzie to relate to us about her experience in Bubble Season that was Season Six on the NWHL. She stated

"It was great! When we pulled up to the rink, the Herb Brooks Arena, there was the big banner, we had all of our team, flags throughout the city, so it was really special to see women’s hockey be pu on that stage. And to have that awesome rink to compete in, the ice was beautiful the boards and everything. They shrunk it down to NHL size, which I was very grateful for, not to be playing on the Olympic size rink she laughed, it's huge! In terms of daily schedule, we had a skate that night we got in, a skate the next morning, and then we were off playing our first games. So it was a pretty quick turnaround from travel to games, to fit everything into that two week period. But there was the pregame skate, go to the hotel, take a nap. We had a lot of hotel time. We had all of our meals brought up to our rooms in the hotel. So it was all Hockey, all the time. But it was good. Obviously until things got not good” she laughed. Because there was so much just going to the rink and preparing, coming back to the hotel, taking a nap, sleeping, it wasn’t boring. I wasn’t just sitting around a lot of the time. But a lot of time to focus on Hockey, which was good. It was high level hockey for sure. It challenged me and rose my compete level, so very fun”

She  continued  “The viewership on Twitch was awesome, and if we had got to those NBC games, viewership would have been great, and showcased women’s of the things that actually surprised me the most playing professional hockey is, I talked about the mental aspect of the game, the hockey IQ or intelligence of players, that’s something that’s a lot different professionally than in college. In college you players who have just come from high school, and they are adjusting to the speed of college play. And there’s a huge difference between freshmen in college and seniors in college. So when you take a professional team, and they’ve had that experience of college, it’s so noticeable. The decisions that they make and the smart plays they make. You don’t see as many of those “freshman mistakes”, so that was fun.”

As we wrapped things up with Kenzie, we asked about her choice of jersey number, and if there was any history to it. She responded

"Number 22? Yes. I talked a lot about my Mom and my brother, who were both role models for me and great athletes themselves. They both wore #11, so my Mom wore #11 and my brother wore #11. And so I added those two together to get #22. So I wore that number all growing up, but at Quinnipiac that number was already taken by an upperclassman, so I wore #13 which I also loved, And when I got to the Whale #13 was taken, so I got to go back to #22.” Cetacean Nation loved that story and it reminded us again to always ask that question. The answers never disappoint!  We thank our Amazing #22 Kenzie Lancaster for her thoughtful and engaging content, and look forward to her continuing career in hockey, whether on the ice or behind the bench. Fins Up!

Kenzie celebrates a goal with her Bobcat teammates! Photo by Rob Rassmussen