Jessica Koizumi is the embodiment of dedication. From being assistant coach to the Yale Bulldog’s women’s hockey team to captaining the Connecticut Whale, Koizumi is living and breathing hockey.
While her schedule varies day-to-day, it is always busy. For instance, on a typical Tuesday, she has a full workload, planning Yale’s weekend trips or watching tape before their practice from 6:15 p.m. to 7:40 p.m. From there, she removes her skates and packs up her bag to drive down to Chelsea Piers to catch the Whale’s one-hour team agility workout at 9 p.m. On-ice practice begins an hour later, and by the time her head hits the pillow, it’s 1 a.m. Seven hours later, she is already back on the ice with the Bulldogs, and it starts all over again.
This level of dedication to the sport she loves did not start recently. Prior to the Connecticut Whale, she played in the CWHL on both the Montreal Stars (now Les Canadiennes de Montreal) and Boston Blades and faced an even crazier schedule. With two games with Yale on Friday and Saturday, she would fly to places like Toronto for a 60-minute game on Sunday and either take a plane or 10-hour bus ride back. All from her own paycheck.
At times, her bed was the couch in her office, a warm welcome at 4 a.m.
“I’d just sleep a couple of hours, put my skates back on, shoot at the goaltenders, and start my day all over again…It certainly was demanding but extremely rewarding to play at that high level,” Koizumi said in an interview with Along the Boards. Even when she was not getting free equipment, insurance, and $400 Dunkin Donuts gift cards, it was all worth it to her.
“We don’t need to be making millions of dollars to play…We play because we love the sport.” She would not give up that experience or opportunity to coach or play the sport with great people.
From Coach to Teammate
When talking to Koizumi, it’s obvious to see that she cares about the people in the sport just as much as the sport itself. It helps to explain why two of the players she coached followed her to the Whale: Jaimie Leonoff was the starting goaltender last year at Yale, and Tara Tomimoto was a captain two years ago.
“They’re certainly two players that brought so much to our Yale program, and they’re doing the same for our Whale team,” said Koizumi.
Still, it goes beyond their skill and hockey ability. Koizumi knows about their dreams and aspirations – the journeys that they are currently embarking upon with hockey. She is quick to laud Tomimoto’s dedication. After working her full-time job at an investment firm in NYC, in Koizumi’s words, “she sprints to practice with a dress on.”
Yet, Koizumi does not label her own loyalty to hockey. This is not the only time she defers to talking about a teammate.
When talking about her captaining and how coaching provides her with a different perspective in talking to her linemates or to the team as a whole in the locker room, she soon shifts the conversation towards the excellent leadership that permeates throughout the locker room. Koizumi claims that she “can’t take any credit,” and she has nothing but praise for alternate captain Kaleigh Fratkin. “Fratkin has been tremendous in her role as a leader, and certainly someone I rely on in all situations,” said Koizumi.
For Koizumi, her professional hockey career is not just about her. It is as much about her as it is about her teammates as it is about the girls who are dreaming of playing hockey.
Koizumi’s Most Rewarding Penalty of All
In an inaugural season full of defining moments, Koizumi has played a large part in the history of the NWHL. She scored the first ever goal in the NWHL. She got to attend the Women’s Winter Classic as part of the Twitter takeover with teammate Anya Battaglino. She has made many great memories and experienced unforgettable moments.
Yet, there are also seemingly inconsequential moments that make Koizumi’s list of favorites. In the game against the Boston Pride last Sunday, Koizumi took a penalty late in the second and skated over to the box, what is normally “a lonely, frustrating place.” This time however, she had her own fan section of girls by the box, chanting her name and wanting selfies. Most of all, their dad took the opportunity to express his gratitude for the immeasurable impact that her and the rest of the NWHL are having on these girls.
“This season isn’t just about winning games; it’s about being role models to the younger generations. We are making history and are so blessed to be a part of it all!” For Koizumi, the NWHL represents the tangible for young girls. “Just knowing that there is a league, and it’s not just a far off dream.”
Her desire to grow the game is apparent and far-reaching. She wants a fourth Mighty Ducks movie – one that stars the original players as coaches for their daughters’ team. As her favorite movie, she has watched them so much that she can dissect the improper holding of sticks or other less-than-perfect hockey scenes. Perhaps one day she will get the chance to make sure the hockey is played well in D4: The Mighty Ducks.
In the meantime, she happily continues to tie up the laces on her hockey sweater, coaching and playing to the best of her ability.
“Honestly, at this point, I can say that I don’t have any regrets,” said Koizumi about her career so far.