The University of Rhode Island women’s ice hockey team (21-7-1) wanted to go down a new path for their 2014-15 campaign, but it included losing their star goaltender, a couple other teammates, fluctuation in morale and a chance at bringing home a National Championship with a virtually unchanged roster.
Rewinding back to last year, a major shift occurred in the 2014 offseason.
The squad voted not to return former head coach and program founder Beth McCann after 15 years at the helm and brought in Cranston Thunderbirds girls co-op ice hockey coach Ashley Pagliarini, to guide the team in a different direction. However, the decision was influenced in part by the usually abrasive attitude and erratic behavior of McCann’s husband, Tracy, and how he and Beth worked together as coaches.
“They would just have opposite viewpoints, where like Tracy would tell you one thing and Beth would you the opposite thing and then yell at you because you did one of them and you were like, “Well, I had to pick one, I can’t pick both,” Katelyn Shattuck, who voted against keeping McCann, said. “It was just like, I didn’t like the two of them together and Tracy was just an ass hole, Tracy was a jerk. He would yell at you for stupid things. He yelled at me at practice because I was smiling.”
The vote was close. When the team evaluated McCann at the end of last season, 11 players were in favor of not retaining her, while 10 wanted her back. Since Beth and Tracy were a package deal, simply voting against the latter coming back would not have been sufficient, according to multiple players and Club Sports Coordinator Chris Daigle.
Considering the appeal of the position, with multiple Eastern Collegiate Women’s Hockey League and Nationals appearances since the team’s 1999 inception, a nationwide search opened up. Several candidates applied to fill the void, and it was narrowed down to three. A panel was assembled to choose who would ultimately step into the job: Â Daigle, Bradford R. Boss Ice Arena Rink Manager John Hendricks, URI men’s ice hockey coach Joe Augustine, an unidentified alumnae of the program and four players on the team. These four members included captains Sydney Collins and Cassie Catlow as well as Kristen Levesque and Jackie Keable.
Collins, who did not respond to any of her interview questions, and Levesque were in favor of bringing aboard Pagliarini, while Keable and Catlow were more apprehensive, according to senior forward Kristy Kennedy and former fifth-year goaltender Kayla DiLorenzo. After more than an hour of discussion in August, the panel decided to bring on Rhode Island alum Pagliarini, who won the ECWHL five times while with the Rams.
She wanted to continue that success as a coach. Her goal, according to Daigle, was to make the program her own and, despite playing under McCann herself, wanted to bring change to a team with a strong roster to boot.
“Essentially when it all came down to it, we felt Ashley being an alum would have the passion of URI hockey,” Daigle said. “We felt that her experience of being a high school coach, and taking a program that basically, when she took it over, was not a very successful program to bringing it up to a pretty successful program.”
It seemed like a perfect match, as Pagliarini had the tools and the ability to take a Rhode Island team on the cusp of Nationals and deliver the gold. However, not everyone was on board.
Catlow had exhibited hesitation during the deliberations and came to Daigle after the decision had been made, and fellow teammates Kennedy and DiLorenzo, integral parts of the team’s past success, expressed concerns, too. Their primary fear was that she played for Coach McCann and would simply bring the same coaching style.
Daigle did not share that apprehension. He and most of the panel were confident after contacting all of her references and receiving glowing recommendations that she could take the reins of the team and implement her system.
“It was after the decision was already made and she had already been notified and we had notified the other candidate that he didn’t get the job,” he said. “And at that point we can’t go backwards now. Just because a member who was on the committee [Catlow] didn’t speak up, we can’t go backwards now.”
Prior to the season, DiLorenzo and Kennedy had a late-evening meeting with Daigle and Director of Campus Recreation Jodi Hawkins that went for at least an hour to ensure the season was going to go smoothly. The players admitted that when they called the meeting there was a degree of anger, as they were not directly involved in the deliberations despite it being a team hire and did not like what little they had seen of Pagliarini from previous seasons. She had helped out at a couple of practices and tryouts prior to taking the job.
The two sides had different versions of what transpired at the meeting. Daigle said that the argument quickly devolved into DiLorenzo directing vulgar phrases at the two, claiming the only reason she wanted to return for a fifth year was to play for Team USA at the World University Games and accusing him of not going to their games. DiLorenzo said that going to Worlds was only part of her reason, though. She also alleged that Daigle tried to “discredit” her by talking down and saying her statistics would not be good enough to qualify for Worlds. DiLorenzo later said had she been selected for Worlds she more than likely would not have attended so that she would not “abandon” her team.
The meeting did not end harmoniously. DiLorenzo and Kennedy walked out without a clear resolution as Daigle and Hawkins said it was getting too late to continue the conversation. Once out of the building, DiLorenzo raised a middle finger in frustration toward the Mackal Field House, according to her, though Daigle believed it was directed toward Hawkins.
Before the season began and after the meeting, Daigle alerted Pagliarini to the fact she “could have [her] hands full, because there are some members of the team who aren’t happy with you being hired as the coach.” Daigle said he did not remember if he supplied her with those players’ names.
As the puck dropped on their 2015 title pursuit, DiLorenzo and Kennedy said the team decided to get behind one another and start the season fresh. The campaign started with a sweep of Northeastern and series splits with ECWHL powerhouse University of Massachusetts and Penn State. Ill feelings were resurrected, though, after a 4-1 loss to Liberty University on Nov. 15.
“With the coaches there were a lot of issues with people who were unhappy,” Kennedy said. “We played a really bad game the first game of the series. We had a team meeting without the coaches and we just sort of went over it all. We squashed it all. We said any time we do this we are going to have a team meeting with players only, and we went out that day [Nov. 16, a 4-3 win], had the best game we’ve probably ever played. It was all so good and we saw all this progress and then right after that, *boom*”
The *boom* Kennedy alluded to occurred at practice on Nov. 18. Pagliarini did not comment on what happened, but Kennedy and DiLorenzo gave their accounts. The team entered into a common drill where DiLorenzo, the only goaltender on the team, would take two shots and then a third from Coach Pagliarini on the side of the net.
Kennedy described that the coach kept saying “One more shot,” and fatigue began to set in for DiLorenzo. She said she glanced at Pagliarini and it was obvious she was becoming tired.
“They went again, and they kept going, so I looked at her again and she said, ‘Okay, last one,’” DiLorenzo said. “Then I heard one of the players say, “I thought you said last one x-amount of times ago?” Eventually she wrapped it up, and I was mad at that point obviously, so we went to a new drill that the [defense] don’t like at all. So I kind of took the role of being the voice for others, which gets me in trouble obviously.”
By voicing the opinions of the defense by telling Pagliarini it was not “benefitting” them, miscommunication set in. The goalie misheard the coach saying “just stop the puck,” which she heard as “Learn how to stop the puck.” She responded saying “F— you” to Pagliarini and was promptly told to remove herself from the ice.
According to Daigle, DiLorenzo was Pagliarini’s “biggest opponent” and had exhibited a pattern of inappropriate behavior throughout the season in addition to her preseason outburst in his office. In one instance, she refused to get off the ice when directed to do so, and in some cases was caught swearing at her. DiLorenzo even admitted she did not like Pagliarini.
Both players said the mutterings during practice were common, though, amongst the team. No one else had been disciplined yet or since for statements made during drills, whether they were supposed to be heard or not.
“We had little scrums throughout the season, and it’s been just sort of ignore me and let me go my way,” DiLorenzo said. “After our first occurrence, if they had a conversation with me and said this is what we expect and follow this, I would have been fine. But they just kind of let me do my own thing, let everyone do their own thing and then one day decided to put their fist down.”
DiLorenzo said she apologized on multiple occasions, including after the practice, in an email and in a separate meeting with Pagliarini. The third apology happened before their Thursday practice, during which DiLorenzo walked into the coach’s office and expressed that “no matter how frustrated [she] was, [she] was out of line 100 percent.” She was directed to never let it happen again and that she was going to have a meeting with the captains and DiLorenzo.
Soon after, Assistant Coach Rick Torres and the captains relayed to DiLorenzo that she had been removed from the team.
“He just said that ‘We decided you’re a poison to the team,’” DiLorenzo said.
She appealed on two different occasions, the entire team wrote letters in support of her and had three members of the team represent her at an appeal to the Club Sports and Intramural Council. Despite her efforts and presentation of her side of the story, she was told the team would “thrive” without her even if they were devoid of a goalie. Though she was disappointed to be kicked off, DiLorenzo had intentions of coming to The Good 5 Cent Cigar before the incident ever occurred.
A meeting was held after her dismissal, according to Daigle, in which the parents of the players were notified of the events that had occurred and they showed overwhelming support for Pagliarini. Kennedy, who had a different view of that gathering, alleged the team went without a defined set of rules for most of the season before the coach drafted them explicitly for that meeting.
The situation began to spiral out of control as DiLorenzo said that at least five players considered leaving the team after the incident, though none of them did for that reason. Shattuck, who registered three assists through 21 games but left the team during the winter, said that some members of the team became complacent after DiLorenzo had left.
“They kind of accepted the fact that [incident] got DiLo[renzo] kicked off the team and that was what we were dealt Â and we couldn’t do anything about it,” Shattuck said. “I pretty much think that’s what the coaches said so they were like ‘Well, we can’t go against the coaches,’ and it was like that’s what’s going to happen and we can’t do anything about it…They didn’t try to fight anything at all.”
Shattuck had her own reasons for removing herself. She, like a majority of her teammates according to Kennedy and DiLorenzo, had reservations about Pagliarini entering the season. Upon their first meeting, she had trouble reading Pagliarini and could not communicate well with her. This miscommunication leaked into the season.
She was placed on a line with inexperienced players early in the campaign and went to Pagliarini for help on how to improve. Shattuck said she did not think she should have been on the line, but accepted it. She worked to make her line able to compete against the others on the team for playing time, but she was not receiving any.
“[She] didn’t give me suggestions what to do to help,” she said. “If she did give me suggestions she didn’t follow through with those suggestions, or she would give me stuff to do, like she would tell me she would give me off-ice stuff to do and then wouldn’t give me anything to help me out, and wouldn’t follow up with anything.”
Shattuck said conversations with Pagliarini were becoming futile, so she decided to quit the team after receiving no help.
Despite losing their primary goaltender and another player, Rhode Island managed to earn a No. 2 seed in the ECWHL Tournament, which they hosted in late February. Sarah Ross, a backup goalie from two years ago, took over the netminding duties and led the Rams to the Finals against UMass. However, this was not before another player ended up quitting.
Bethany Saunders, who had eight goals and 13 assists in 21 games this season, filled in admirably for Catlow and Levesque when they played for Team USA in Spain this year. Kennedy said she had played “some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen her play.”
Upon the return of those star players, though, Saunders, who was sixth on the team in points, was relegated to a lesser role. After the team’s victory against Penn State in the ECWHL Semifinals, according to DiLorenzo, Saunders would told she would never see the ice again this season barring injury. She did not return for the Finals the next day. Pagliarini did not offer comment on the situation.
Rhode Island was dealt a 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Minutewomen in the Finals, and as a result failed to capture an automatic berth into Nationals. When the final rankings came out after the tournament, the Rams seemed to capture the eighth and final berth into Nationals when they were ranked at No. 8 in the country. However, since lower-ranked Minnesota won their league tournament, URI just missed the eight-team field as the No. 9 seed. The championship rings that Pagliarini discussed during the first meeting of the season would have to be put on hold until next season.
That is, if there is a next season.
The team has conducted their yearly evaluations, as the position is a one-year contract, on whether or not they will bring her back for a second try at Nationals. The outlook is bleak according to Kennedy and DiLorenzo, who said that there is a good chance the team will not vote in favor of returning her. DiLorenzo said that, in terms of players who truly like the coaching style, there may be one or two.
Daigle disagreed, saying that she deserves a second chance after having to adjust to a team that knew nothing but Beth McCann for years, had to replace their star goalie and then bring a new one into the fold. He believed the players did not give her a fair shot at implementing her style of play. Now that she knows the athletes she is coaching better, she can get a grasp on each player’s skills.
“I just think it was too many adjustments to overcome over the course of the season,” he said. “Too many obstacles to overcome over the season that led to [missing Nationals], and Ashley has said she’s looking forward to next season. She feels it’s going to be a lot better season next year because people are going to know who she is, and there’s not going to be this whole adjustment stage. And some of the vocal, outspoken people against her are graduating. So she’s just looking forward to a positive year next year, and I hope she’s back, I really do.”
Kennedy said the “vocal, outspoken” part of the team will not be fading away. She said there will be more people who have seen the miscommunication play out that have formed their own opinions.
Pagliarini, despite the adversity from this season and the obstacles she had to overcome, remains positive about next year.
“Our team is focused on next season,” Pagliarini said in an email interview. “This year has been very successful recruiting and we look forward to the impact our freshmen will make on already a strong returning group. We will set our team goals at the start of the season and work hard all year to achieve them.”
The results of the evaluations will be revealed in the coming weeks, but all three players interviewed gave a resounding “No” when asked if Pagliarini had control over the team this season and did not think much had changed since relieving McCann of her duties.
DiLorenzo said it was evident that Pagliarini and Torres were trying to institute changes from the McCann era, like rolling out more lines and Torres not yelling like Tracy McCann would. After that point in the beginning of the season, though, lines did not vary often and drills and practices became repetitive, a major complaint about Beth McCann’s style.
Not many players reviewed McCann, who could not be reached for comment as a great coach in their evaluations last season, according to Daigle. Whether or not the same sentiment applies to Pagliarini remains to be seen.
“I don’t know,” Daigle said when asked if Pagliarini is a great coach. “I haven’t seen her coach enough to realize, to notice. I have noticed a difference in the team as far as, and I said this early in the season, that they were skating a lot harder, they were doing different things during games, because I’ve seen plenty of the games…From what I’ve seen, she’s a good coach, but I don’t see her practice every day and things of that nature.”