For standout women’s hockey player Melissa Samoskevich, playing for Team USA carries the same weight as representing her hometown of Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
“I grew up [in Sandy Hook]. It’s where I’m from. It’s my home roots,” Samoskevich said. “The USA Hockey jersey, when I’m wearing it, you have to represent where you’re from, always.”
Samoskevich attended Shattuck St. Mary’s School, the Minnesota-based prep power that has produced countless hockey stars, including Zach Parise and Amanda Kessel. Samoskevich was on a bus in 2012, en route to Chicago for a tournament, when she first heard of the tragedy that affected her Connecticut hometown. Her main worry at the time was the whereabouts of younger twin siblings, a brother and sister named Mackie and Madison, who were at a nearby middle school when the elementary school shooting took place.
“The whole incident definitely brought the town closer,” Samoskevich said. “It was hard not being there. I didn’t know what school it was; I didn’t know where my siblings were. It’s crazy how it happened, and it shows you that anything can happen at any time of day.”
It also affected her future.
The 18-year-old Samoskevich scored 56 goals in 50 games as a senior at Shattuck St. Mary’s. She was named USA Today girls’ hockey national player of the year and could’ve attended just about any college after receiving offers from all the top hockey programs in the country.
“I looked everywhere,” Samoskevich said. “I knew I didn’t want to go to the Midwest. I liked it a lot, but that would be a lot on me and my family.”
She chose Quinnipiac University, an emerging program that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time last season. It’s also 45 minutes from her hometown of Sandy Hook.
“It has been great,” said Samoskevich, now a freshman at the Connecticut school. “I love being close to home. It’s really nice. I get to see my family a lot. I get to see my brother and sister play; they’re 13 now, and I never got to see them play except for when they were real little. It’s nice to have a good home-cooked meal every once in awhile too.”
Quinnipiac felt like home from the start for Samoskevich.
“Other athletes would say, ‘You’re going to know the right school,’” Samoskevich said. “I looked everywhere, but right when I stepped on campus [at Quinnipiac], I knew it was the place. It just felt right.”
It has also helped her hockey career, too. Samoskevich spends three to four hours daily at the rink training with her teammates on the ice and in the gym. Her time at Shattuck helped with the adjustment to college, but nothing could fully prepare her for the speed of the college game and the top athletes she competes against every day.
“That’s a big difference,” Samoskevich said. “It’s a totally different ballpark. I love it, and it reminds me of USA Hockey tournaments because every game meant something and it was so intense, and that’s how it is [at Quinnipiac].”
Samoskevich scored six goals, helping the U.S. National Women’s Under-18 Team win the gold medal during the 2015 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championships. She was also part of the silver medal-winning team in 2014 and has participated in one Under-22 Series against Canada and with three Under-18 teams.
“It’s indescribable to wear the USA Hockey jersey,” Samoskevich said. “It’s surreal just to think that I have the chance to do this. Anytime you get the chance, you have to take advantage of it.”
Samoskevich has taken full advantage of the opportunity not just to represent her country but also her hometown.
“They’re both an honor,” Samoskevich said. “It’s an honor to represent both.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.