“Glove Saves and GPA” is a blog written by former University of Connecticut Huskies goalie Christie Houser. She brings readers an inside look at a NCAA D-I goaltender’s experience, and provides her own foray into the world of the student-athlete. Look for Christie’s work every week right here on The Goalie Guild, and feel free to leave your comments below.

Since graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2010, I have been asked many times how I chose UConn. The following is an account of the journey that I embarked upon to become a Husky.

As I have written previously, as a hockey player, I was a late bloomer. As a result, I had to market myself to college coaches and convince them of why I should be on their team. While blue chip recruits may have had the luxury of sitting back and waiting for coaches to come to them, I was not a blue chip recruit. I was however taught that dreams, even big ones, were worth working for and pursuing. I still believe this to be true.

I received my first letter of interest from a college hockey program at the end of my sophomore year of high school. I had never heard of the school that sent me the letter, but it was extremely rewarding to have someone else notice me for my skills, and take the time to write me.  I took this as my cue to start my college research.

I began by making a list of every school in the country that had a women’s NCAA hockey program. I knew I wanted to major in something writing related, so I looked at each school and made note which ones had writing related majors.  While I didn’t immediately rule out any college or university at this stage, I did make notes of which ones would be graduating goaltenders, which campuses appeared most appealing, etc.

That summer, I began visiting college campuses. UConn was the first campus I visited. It was also my favorite, but that was mostly due to the dairy bar’s homemade ice cream. I may have been feverishly motivated to play college hockey, but I was also easily distracted by a good bowl of ice cream.

During the course of these initial summertime visits, I quickly realized that I was most comfortable on rural, tree-lined, campuses. After growing up in a small town, anywhere with skyscrapers and a subway tended to jar me from my comfort zone. With this knowledge, I narrowed down my list of schools to a more manageable number.

With my new, shortened list of potential matches, I sent a letter of interest to every school. I included a copy of my high school transcript, as well as my hockey schedule for the year.

I had a solid junior year and improved a great deal from playing with a higher caliber of players than I had in the past. Unfortunately, my season ended in a crushing loss. The voice of confidence that once bellowed between my ears was reduced to little more than a meek whisper.

Mentally, I lost my edge.

My play declined considerably at the spring and summer showcases between my junior and senior year, and so too did the number of college coaches interested in me.  I felt like I was losing sight of all that I worked for. I felt defeated.

Thankfully, someone showed up to bail me out. At another one of my mediocre showcase showings, a college coach, who also happened to be a goalie, sat down at lunch with me. He said if I really wanted to play NCAA Division I hockey, then I needed to go for it. He believed in me, and believed I could do it, which in turn restored my belief in myself.

The coach suggested I take a postgraduate year at a prep school to reestablish my place as a viable recruit. I visited three different prep schools; picked the one that best matched my needs, and spent the rest of my senior year focusing on my play. The move paid off on two levels.

First, I regained my confidence and mental edge. I remembered how to be an elite level goaltender, and embraced the role with vigor. Secondly, I found that there were more open roster spots for goalies the following year.

Armed with restored confidence and a renewed sense of determination, I sent another round of letters out before the start of my PG year. Some schools immediately declined, as they already had top-level recruits in their crosshairs.

While I was initially discouraged, I remembered an important piece of advice a college coach had once shared with me. He said that while every school was going to target the same top five goaltenders, those goalies could only commit to one team each. Once they made their decisions, the door would open again for me.

Patience has never been one of my strong points, but I continued to focus on my play, and waited as patiently as I could for my door to open.

After exchanging phone calls and emails with college coaches at both the Division I and Division III levels throughout the late summer and early fall, three D-I schools offered to bring me in on official visits. It’s hard to accurately quantify the relief I felt. These visits meant that these coaches thought I could do it. They believed in my abilities, and wanted to give me the opportunity to be a part of their team.

My roommates at prep school could always tell when I was talking to one of these coaches, as an otherwise inexplicably goofy smile was usually plastered across my face during the phone call or email exchange.

Despite my excitement for each of these opportunities, I only went on one of those visits. This is because sometimes everything falls into place. Sometimes you have to embrace a great opportunity when it is presented to you. That’s what happened on my official visit to UConn. I realized from the moment I set foot in the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum that I could call that campus home.

UConn was a big school with a huge selection of academic options, but it was also the rural campus setting I was looking for. The hockey girls I met made me feel instantly comfortable and like I was already part of the team. I will be a bridesmaid for one of those girls this year, signifying the genuine nature of that initial feeling.

The UConn athletic facilities were also outstanding, the dorms were some of the best I had seen, and the coach was one of the few people on this earth whom I have found to be more competitive than I am.

And oh yeah…the ice cream was still phenomenal.

At the end of my official visit I knew; this was what I had worked for. I told Coach I was ready to be a Husky, asked if my number was available, and was excited to find out that a jersey with the number 33 on the back would be waiting for me when I arrived in the fall.

The metaphorical weight on my shoulders had suddenly been lifted. There would be no more holding my breath when checking my email inbox, no more trying to conceal my excitement when I got a phone call from a coach, I could simply relax and enjoy playing the sport I loved. In reality, that’s what I should have been doing all along, but that’s easier said than done.

If I had to give advice to prospective student athletes in high school, it would be three fold.

First, keep your grades up. Being a skilled athlete is required, but being an asset academically will open up doors that may have otherwise stayed shut. I didn’t mention it above, but two things should be noted about the three schools that offered me visits. First, the two I didn’t go to were Ivy Leagues. And second, I got a four-year academic scholarship from UConn for my grades, class rank, and SAT scores. If I wasn’t a solid student, I probably wouldn’t have been a Division I hockey player. Remember my blog title. Glove Saves and GPA.

Second, do the broken leg test. Would the school you are looking at still be a great home for you if you broke your leg? (Or tore your ACL two weeks before the start of your freshman year, as I did?)

Finally, never stop working, but relax and stay confident on the ice, regardless of who may be watching in the stands. If you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities, then why should anyone else? I forgot this one for a little while, and it almost cost me a chance to play in college.

If you are in the midst of your college search, I hope you too find a college crease to call your own.

Here’s to good luck, and great saves.

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