It was February 6, 2015 and, after making 47 saves - several of them in spectacular fashion - Lynsey Wallace stared at the scoreboard in awe. An intense 53 minutes of hockey had ended in a scoreless tie with two teams combining for 76 shots on goal. Her Padua Franciscan teammates surrounded her, celebrating her performance. Lynsey had shut out 11-time state champion St. Edward on the Eagles’ senior night.
After the game, it may have been St. Edward Head Coach Troy Gray who was the most impressed. He joked with Lynsey, saying he wished she was a boy so she could play for his team (St. Edward is an all-male school).
“Lynsey has always been the hardest worker on any team she’s played on,” said Gray. “She leads from the front and is never afraid to be counted on. She has incredible athletic talent, but her hard work and dedication are what impress me the most.”
Lynsey’s journey to a starting role for the Bruins boys team was long and hard, requiring patience, perseverance, and an unwavering belief in herself. It also highlights the fact that, despite the lack of girls hockey as a varsity sport in Ohio, girls can compete in the sport and create additional opportunities for themselves to play after high school.
Five years ago, during Lynsey’s freshman year of high school, eight private schools broke away from the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League to form the Great Lakes Hockey League. The GLHL is arguably the top high school circuit in the state of Ohio, stacked with state title contenders and perennial powerhouses.
St. Edward, University School and, at the time, Saint Ignatius were fixtures on the schedule that ensured members would face elite opponents – and scorers – night-in and night-out during league play. Competition like that would scare away some goaltenders, but not Lynsey. Even though no female had ever made Padua’s varsity roster, her desire to prove her doubters wrong made her the first.
She benefitted from a strong support system at home and on the team. Perry Cohagan, an assistant at the time and the current head coach of the Bruins, believed in her from the start.
“I really didn’t have any doubts at all that she could compete at the high school level from day one,” said Cohagan. “She was smart, competitive, coachable, and the players respected her ability.”
Lynsey’s parents, Kevin and Jodi, always expressed confidence in their daughter’s abilities. Despite their concerns about the physical size difference, they knew she had the talent to compete with the boys.
Some of Lynsey’s Padua teammates were aware of her talent and potential before she joined the team. Will McGoughran, a former Bruin and current member of Framingham State University’s (NCAA D-III) hockey team, was looking forward to having Lynsey as a teammate because of her abilities as a netminder.
“Initially, I was pretty excited,” said McGoughran. “I had heard she was a pretty good goalie, and that was an area that we were struggling with, so knowing we might be getting someone to help the team improve was something I looked forward to.”
After her freshman season, Lynsey’s development took off. Her sophomore year saw her improve across the board, both statistically and technically.
“Our goalie coach worked with her and she was always incorporating that coaching into her game,” said Cohagan. “She is also such a hard worker that, as she got bigger and stronger, her game grew with her. At no point did the level of play outgrow her.”
Off the ice, Lynsey’s teammates made the transition easy. The team during her sophomore year with Padua remains her favorite group she’s ever played with. The camaraderie was always growing between her and most of her new “big brothers.” From blasting Taylor Swift songs together in the car on the way to practice to going out of their way to make Lynsey know she was an integral part of the team, several of the Bruins made it clear they had no problems with the girl protecting their net.
It took time for some of her teammates to fully embrace her but, in a game against Gilmour Academy, she skated out of the crease to play the puck and was knocked down by a hard, cheap shot from one of the Lancers’ forwards.
The Bruins’ bench was livid. Furious with the unnecessary hit their goaltender had absorbed, the players on the ice tried to fight the assailant – an effort that was quickly halted by the officials. For the remainder of the game, Lynsey’s teammates targeted the Gilmour player with hard, clean hits. By the end of the contest, he was glued to the bench. At that point, Lynsey knew that her team had fully accepted her.
“To this day, I see my Padua teammates and it’s like no time has passed,” she said. “They were truly like older brothers to me.”
The Bruins treated her as they would any other teammate, according to former Padua forward Alec Demsey.
“We held her accountable just as much as she held us accountable,” Demsey said. “On the ice, we protected her just as much as a goalie would expect to be protected, and we took it to an even higher level because we recognized her talent and couldn’t afford to lose, not only the goalie she was, but also the leader she was.”
As can be expected, opposing players and parents were a little more hesitant. They questioned how a female goalie could possibly compete in the GLHL, but things changed when they saw her play.
“My freshman and sophomore year it was clear that I wasn’t respected the same way any male goalie would be,” Lynsey continued. “I would hear parents from the other teams talking about me being a girl like it was a bad thing.
“I would laugh to myself, go out and play, and end up making 40 saves, sometimes stealing or ensuring wins. After the game, those same parents would come up to me and tell me how amazing I played and say things like ‘It’s great that you play!’ and ‘Way to show those boys!’”
On the ice, other teams would sometimes hurl sexist remarks towards Lynsey. When that happened, it stuck with her. To her, it was a wake-up call that not everyone was as supportive as her teammates. Initially, she struggled to cope with some of the hurtful comments, but she adapted and learned to use them as motivation.
Lynsey’s final two seasons with Padua were full of milestones and accomplishments. Her desire to be the best she could be led to growth each season.
“She showed steady improvement each year,” said Cohagan. “When we watched tape of Lynsey, we could see improvement in her movement, strength, and reading of the game from week to week. She got more and more consistent, and then she became a real force as it all came together for her during her junior and senior year.”
Cohagan, who supported Lynsey throughout her high school years and made her believe in her ability to play at higher levels of hockey, had a big impact on Lynsey’s life. She credits him for his frequent encouragement and reassurance.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Perry constantly believing in me and telling me I could play college hockey, I would not be where I am today,” she said.
Tom Liegl, one of Padua’s varsity assistant coaches, also put in an abundance of time to help Lynsey’s development. Even though Liegl was a skater back in his playing days, he learned goalie drills and worked every day in practice to help her improve.
Lynsey’s junior season was perhaps her best. She played in all 10 league games for Padua, putting together a 3.50 goals-against average and .880 save percentage. She finished the season with a 4-5-1 record.
Her performance that year earned her the title of All-GLHL goalie, making her the first Bruin ever to win a GLHL league award.
“It was one of the highest honors I’ve ever received,” she said. “I was honored to be chosen out of all of the other guy goalies in the league, especially as a junior.”
Some of her competition that year included Dylan McKeon (Saint Ignatius), Warren Hill (St. Edward), and Alec Silver (University School), all of them seniors on state title contenders.
Her last high school season saw her post the highest save percentage of her career at .904. She also set a personal best in saves (339) while facing more shots than she ever had. She was again recognized by the league with the GLHL Sportsmanship Award.
After her final game with Padua, Lynsey held the GLHL record with 788 career saves (league games only) and had logged the second-most minutes of any goaltender the league had seen with 1,295 (Jakhari Desphy, a four-year starter at Walsh Jesuit, now holds both records).
Hockey is in Lynsey’s blood. Her father, Kevin, played in high school, and two of her siblings were hockey players. Lynsey first picked up a stick around the age of three and fell in love with the sport. Although her father was initially the one who convinced her to lace up her skates, it was her sister who ultimately pushed her to become a goaltender.
Lynsey’s youth hockey career saw her spend time with several programs, including the Parma Flyers and the Cleveland Jr. Barons, two co-ed programs where she was first exposed to playing with and against boys. As time went on, she began playing for female teams. She spent some time with the now-defunct Ohio Flames before moving on to Pittsburgh Penguins Elite.
During her last year with Penguins Elite, Lynsey grew tired of the long commutes and wasn’t enjoying the travel program. High school hockey did not appear to be an option, but her sister was familiar with a few of the Padua players, and, at her urging, Lynsey joined the Bruins during her freshman year of high school.
As was expected, some of her new teammates’ initial reactions were anything but confident. Even though Lynsey had played on Padua’s eighth-grade spring team with a few of the boys, players expressed doubt. It would take time for her to change their minds.
“I remember the first time I stepped on the ice, the skeptical looks I got,” said Lynsey. “I could tell I was being judged and that some of the guys didn’t know if they should pretend I don’t exist or mumble a ‘hi.’”
A few of her teammates took her under their wing, easing the transition, but being the only girl and one of the youngest players at every practice wore on her. After all, she was just 14 years old and playing with 17- and 18-year-old boys.
Furthermore, Lynsey wasn’t technically on the team for most of her freshman season. She was placed on the roster for about a month, and felt each time she suited up for a game she was being watched, judged, and criticized more than anyone else on the ice.
Lynsey completed her first season with Padua playing in just two league games. It was a quiet beginning to her career, but she was a freshman who saw limited playing time. It was a far cry from what was to come.
After completing her high school career, it was clear that Lynsey had the talent to play collegiate hockey. She had garnered attention from countless Division III women’s programs but held out for a D-I offer.
“The only pitfall of playing boys high school hockey was the lack of exposure to women’s college hockey scouts and coaches,” said Kevin Wallace. “Women’s coaches and scouts went to girls’ tournaments and games, so most colleges did not know of Lynsey’s talents.”
That makes it more impressive that some prominent NCAA schools became aware of what Lynsey was doing at Padua. She was scouted by Boston University, Cornell, Yale, and Wisconsin during the recruiting process. Despite the fact that she was outside the traditional women’s hockey scouting pipeline, Lynsey’s play forced them to consider her for their respective programs.
While waiting on a potential offer from Wisconsin, Lynsey learned that she had qualified for an Army ROTC scholarship at The Ohio State University. She wanted to join the Buckeyes’ women’s hockey program, but there was no clear path to making the roster.
The Buckeyes historically do their recruiting outside Ohio, since world-class women’s hockey talent is concentrated in Ontario and Europe, in addition to the Chicago area and Minnesota here in the States.
There are two other girls from Ohio on the Buckeyes’ roster: junior forward Erin Langermeier of Westlake and sophomore defenseman Elise Riemenschneider of Rocky River. Both were discovered playing out of state in an all-girls program in Connecticut.
“We are looking for players that are being considered to represent their country at the Under-18 world championships or the Olympics,” said Ohio State University women’s head coach Nadine Muzerall. “We need to get those players because that’s where Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Wisconsin are getting their players, and if we don’t do that we’ll be 0-12 against them every year.”
Several things needed to fall into place before Lynsey could officially join the team, and fate is somewhat responsible for her ending up with OSU. Someone familiar with the GLHL was talking to the Buckeyes’ equipment manager and learned that they were dealing with injuries within their goaltending corps.
Lynsey’s name was brought up. This led the OSU equipment manager to mention her to Muzerall, who promptly contacted Lynsey’s high school coaches. She also brought Lynsey in for a brief chat, giving Lynsey the opportunity to meet the full OSU coaching staff.
After a two- or three-week process that felt like forever, Lynsey finally heard back from Coach Muzerall.
“I had almost given up hope,” she admitted. “Then, I kid you not, the exact day I was about to send my equipment home with a friend, I got a call from Coach telling me I was cleared by compliance and I could skate after I signed some papers.”
After years of hard work and dedication, Lynsey was finally able to play for a Division I program. She was officially a Buckeye.
The Ohio State women’s hockey team has undergone an unbelievable turnaround in just one year under Muzerall, a two-time All-American and national champion with the University of Minnesota. After winning just 14 games in her first season, the second-year head coach has the Buckeyes on pace for the most successful season in the 19-year history of the program.
As of this writing, OSU is ranked sixth in the nation by uscho.com, and was as high as third earlier in the year. It has been a massive change for Lynsey, who is suddenly playing with one of the best teams at the highest level of women’s amateur hockey in the United States.
While high school sports require a certain level of effort and commitment, college is a different animal. Lynsey spends as many as five hours a day with her team in addition to classes and her ROTC requirements. Between weightlifting, film sessions, on-ice practice, goalie practice, team meals, and events, her schedule can be hectic.
“I spend more time with the team than I spend anywhere else,” she said when asked about her new lifestyle with the Buckeyes. “My coaches are committed to providing us with every tool needed to win. We are held to higher expectations than any team I have ever been on. I honestly don’t know how to fully describe it. It’s an attitude of success that is rarely seen.”
Lynsey is one of four goalies on the Buckeyes’ roster, including two other freshmen. They all sit behind redshirt junior Kassidy Sauve on the depth chart. Sauve was one of the top female goaltending recruits in Canada when she came to Columbus from Whitby, Ontario, in 2014 after leading Canada to a gold medal at the Under-18 World Championships.
Sauve was a Second Team All-American last year and set school records for saves (1,135) and save percentage (.942) in a season.
Lynsey has not taken for granted the opportunity to learn from a backstop like Suave.
“She’s an exceptionally talented goalie and a leader,” she said. “On and off the ice, she pushes the other goalies and myself to be better. I love competing with her in practices and find it helps me improve.”
The drawback of being on the same roster as Suave is that there is only one net and the All-American started 36 of 37 games last season. Lynsey has not seen any game action yet and, barring injury, that is not likely to change until Suave graduates in 2019.
“I try to be a positive and a good teammate on the bench,” Lynsey said. “Readjusting to this role is hard, but it pushes me to work even harder to earn my spot.
Even though she has spent most of her time on the sidelines, Lynsey’s game-day routine remains the same.
“I still prepare the same way. You never know what will happen in a game, so if my team needs me, I want to be ready.”
Muzerall plays her trump card Sauve on a regular basis, but Wallace has been dressing as a backup.
“Lynsey is aware of the situation,” Muzerall said of the OSU depth chart. “But I can see the improvement already in the time she has been here.”
Although it will be difficult for Lynsey to crack the Buckeyes’ lineup any time soon, there is plenty she can accomplish during her freshman year as far as development, and Coach Muzerall thinks there are still valuable contributions Wallace can make to the team as a practice player.
“We want her to challenge our players and make it harder to score in practice so it’s easier in the games.”
Lynsey’s path to NCAA Division I women’s hockey was uncommon, and it brings up a tough question: Is it better for a high school girl to develop playing with her female peers or competing against boys?
Because the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) has yet to establish girl’s hockey as a varsity sport, there are other girls in the state who, like Lynsey, choose to play with boys to try to maximize their potential against tough competition.
On January 7, 2017, Padua faced off with its rival, the Holy Name Green Wave. When Lynsey looked down the ice she saw Anna Cvitkovich staring back at her from the opposing net. Cvitkovich was a year behind Lynsey and had also previously played for the Ohio Flames before following Lynsey into the GLHL.
“Seeing another girl brought an exciting twist to the game,” Cvitkovich said. “But I still had to remember to play my game.”
It was Cvitkovich who posted the shutout that night, making 16 saves in a 4-0 win for the Namers, but Wallace faced twice as many shots manning the Padua crease.
“She held her team together and was extremely competitive,” said Cvitkovich. “She fought for every puck.”
It was certainly a landmark event for girls hockey in the Cleveland area and showed that there were at least some girls who could compete with the boys – even against top-level programs in the state.
“Lynsey had the best of both worlds,” said Kevin Wallace. “The speed and strength of playing on a high school boys hockey team as well as the finesse and shot accuracy playing on a girls travel team, which both helped her development.”
As far as Lynsey is concerned, playing with Padua was one of the best decisions she has made. Although she also played for the pre/post team at Gilmour Academy for her last three years of high school, the Bruins expedited her development. She was tasked with harder shots and a quicker game that sharpened her skills. She felt it helped her build greater mental resilience than she might have in girls hockey.
“The main benefit is the increase in speed,” she explained. “The boys skate faster than girls, pass faster, and shoot faster. Whenever I would transition to playing with boys, I would be awful the first week or so until I could readjust to the speed.
“Also, guys at that level shoot high, while girls would usually keep the puck on the ice or at knee level. This taught me to stay on my feet more, which makes you a better goalie at the college level.”
Despite the numerous advantages, there were also a few drawbacks. In general, she has found that boys at the high school level tend to be more reckless with the puck than girls. Girls, on the other hand, trend more towards formulating a play and having a clear, concise plan before making their next move.
Additionally, the physicality is more intense with boys, even as a goaltender. Bumps and bruises appear much more frequently.
“I got a lot more bruises playing with the boys,” Lynsey said. “I think my collarbone or shoulder always had a bruise on it.”
Although the OHSAA and USA Hockey were unable to provide official numbers, there are a handful of other girls playing varsity hockey in Ohio this season and, at the end of the day, Lynsey would never change the path she took. She has an exciting future ahead, and with Coach Muzerall at the helm, the sky is the limit for the new-look Buckeyes.
Lynsey proved that girls can do more than just compete against boys. Although it may seem like an uphill battle at times, her journey shows that girls can excel in boys’ high school hockey.
She offered a few words of advice for other girls who may be hesitant about joining a boy’s team.
“Play for yourself and your team. Everyone else doesn’t matter,” she said. “People will try and throw you off your game any way possible, but laugh it off. Don’t ever let them see you shake at their comments, and never retaliate. Lastly, believe in yourself. It might not seem like it sometimes, but you’re a role model to so many little girls who want to be a hockey player just like you. We all believe in you, too.”
Muzerall says she would welcome the opportunity to build more relationships and recruit closer to home if the talent is there, and the Buckeyes were recently paid a visit by the Gilmour Academy girls prep team.
It remains to be seen if there will be enough demand for girls hockey as a varsity sport any time soon, but for now, Padua’s Cohagan and other Ohio high school coaches will welcome any girl who can contribute.
“Area high school leagues, including ours, already have several girls playing on teams and making significant contributions,” Cohagan said. “We were lucky to have a talent like Lynsey on our team and, should we find similarly talented players, we will be happy to have them regardless of gender.”
Note: On January 22, Anna Cvitkovich announced her commitment to Trine University, a D-III women’s program in Angola, IN, about 100 miles west of Toledo.