Katie McLaughlin has scored a number of goals in her hockey career, but the most memorable one to date came on one of the biggest stages of her young life.
The 16-year-old Glenburn native, who attends the Taft School in Connecticut, helped lead her Tier II Connecticut Polar Bears to a national title by scoring the game-winning overtime goal at the USA Hockey Girls 16-under Tier National Championships.
The Polar Bears defeated the Keweena Storm of Michigan 2-1, and McLaughlin’s goal was a highlight-reel one.
“I was across the ice from my teammate and when she passed across there were two defenders, one of which was skating backwards,” she explained, “so I went to the left of the defender skating backwards, between the two girls, then I had a little opening to get a shot off.”
McLaughlin wound up leading her team with seven goals and three assists (10 points) over the March 30-April 3 tourney, which was held in Anaheim, Calif., and her wrist shot 8:36 into the first overtime of the title game wound up being the clincher.
The Polar Bears, coached by Bill Quinlan and Jim Ward, wound up winning all four of their games in the tourney while outscoring their opponents 25-4, which was quite a turnaround from the 1-2 record the team posted in this same tourney in 2010.
“This year I feel like we had a lot of strong players,” McLaughlin said. “I also feel like the team chemistry was a lot better this year. We had faith in each other, we trusted our linemates, we trusted our goalies. We wanted to win it this year.”
McLaughlin played on the boys’ varsity team at Brewer High her freshman year before heading to the Taft School in Watertown, Conn., as a sophomore.
Her course load is not an easy one.
“We go to classes six days a week, we have half-days on Wednesday and Saturday and those are our game-days,” she said.
But playing at a prep school and success at the U16 level could go a long way in helping McLaughlin attain her goal of playing at the Division I level.
“I think being here I’ve just have gotten more respect from my coaches and my linemates playing on an all-girls team,” she said, ”and I feel as though that’s given me more confidence and made me a better player.”
Some of the prep schools that Taft plays against include players from the U18 national squad.
“That can only make you better playing against girls like that,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin has also established a leadership role as the Polar Bears’ captain the last two years.
“I think being the captain means you’re a team motivator, you’re a team leader,” McLaughlin said. “You are that person that encourages everyone, brings out the best in your teammates.”
Of course, the southern California visit was not all business for McLaughlin and her teammates, as they visited Disneyland and headed down the coast a bit to Laguna Beach.
McLaughlin and her teammates practice at Trinity College in Hartford, about 30 minutes from Taft’s campus. Between playing for the Polar Bears, Taft’s school team and her studies, there’s not a lot of time for relaxation, but that’s something McLaughlin and her teammates have in common.
“What I like the most would be the girls that I play with, we all come from different prep schools,” she said. “It’s nice to see us all come together [on the U16 team] even though we play against each other during the season.”
Taft’s girls hockey squad struggled to a 5-12-6 record this winter, with that season wrapping up in early March, allowing McLaughlin to shift her focus to the Polar Bears, who wrapped up their season with 11 consecutive victories.