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Monday, April 14, 11:57 a.m.
Sports

Dougherty’s hard work continues to pay off for UMaine women’s hockey

In what has been an up-and-down year for the University of Maine women’s hockey team, senior forward Brittany Dougherty has been counted on to consistently put points on the board, and she has delivered.

The Michigan native currently sits in fifth place in the Hockey East scoring race with 28 points — 11 goals, 17 assists. Despite being the go-to player on a team still finding its groove over half way through the season, Dougherty continues to value team’s success over her own.

“[Coming into the season] I wanted to be the point-getter of the team and help our team succeed,” Dougherty said. “Even though I am putting points up, I want to help others get points as well.

“I’d rather have a Hockey East Championship [than a scoring title],” she added.

Although Dougherty — who cites the former Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman and “The Mighty Ducks” as her biggest hockey influences — remains adamant about being more than a goal-scorer, she is no stranger to being honored for her offensive prowess.

The senior was recently named Player of the Week back on Jan. 14, adding to a growing list of accomplishments that includes being named Bauer Rookie of the Week in 2009, Women’s Hockey East Association Pure Hockey Player of the Week twice in 2010, and a Second Team WHEA All-Star selection for the 2011-12 campaign. Dougherty — or “Chappy,” as her teammates and coaches call her — co-led the Black Bears in points her sophomore year before netting a team-high 33 the following season, and she says her individual successes come as a byproduct of working toward team goals.

“It’s an honor,” she said when asked what her thoughts were on individual awards. “It’s cool to have awards and earn them through hard work and dedication. It’s rewarding at the end of the day, knowing you can be counted on by your teammates.”

“She just gives us a lot of opportunity,” UMaine head coach Maria Lewis said of her star forward. “Whether she is getting shots in a game or scoring or making assists, she is always going to be a factor. Our team is a lot different without her.

“We are fortunate to have a player like that,” Lewis continued. “She’s one of the best in the league and I think one of the hardest in the country to stop.”

Scoring didn’t always come so easy, however. Dougherty, who was an integral part of three state-championship teams for L’Anse Creuse North High School from 2006-09, admitted she struggled to put points up her freshman year as she was transitioning from high school hockey to Division I.

“It was frustrating, going from scoring all the time to scoring very little,” she said, “but once I got accustomed to the level of play, it just got easier.

“Back in high school, there were only maybe five teams that were in competition and only two teams that were decently good, so all the best players in the state would come to the same team,” she added. “It wasn’t as much of a challenge, and it wasn’t as rewarding as, say, making playoffs in college.”

Dougherty also played for Little Caesar’s in a U-19 hockey league in Michigan where she was teammates with another UMaine senior, goaltender Brittany Ott. Even though the prospect of playing with Ott — who has also been honored by the WHEA this season — at the college level added another incentive to come to Maine, Dougherty says she chose to join the Black Bears because of the beautiful campus and welcoming atmosphere.

“[The decision] wasn’t necessarily made because Brittany Ott was coming,” she said, “but it was also interesting and exciting that I was going to play with an old teammate.”

Dougherty plans to use her degree in kinesiology and physical education to work with hockey players as a physical therapist after graduation, but she hasn’t ruled out continuing with her career on the ice.

“My coach wants me to try out for the Boston Blades — which is a semi-pro team for women in Boston — and possibly go to the Olympics, so I’m going to keep playing and try and do that,” she said.

Dougherty attended USA Hockey’s Olympic training camp in 2011, so she should have an advantage over her fellow try-outs this time around.

“The first camp I went to [in December 2011], it was scary. I did not know what to expect,” she said. “But in the consecutive camps, it got better and better, and the team was very welcoming.”

Although the Black Bears struggled out of the gate this season — a year after going 17-11-6 — they still find themselves just eight points out of sixth-place Vermont and nine points out of fifth-place Providence College.

Dougherty believes UMaine’s young squad — which dresses just four seniors compared to nine freshmen — has a realistic chance of capturing the five seed before playoffs begin, especially if they play with the same energy and confidence they showed last weekend against UVM.

“In previous years — especially the last two years — we’ve had a huge amount of upperclassmen. They knew the ropes; they knew what it took to succeed,” Dougherty said. “This year has been more of a teaching year, where we have to build up to that. I think the first semester was more building up than anything.

“Now that the second half has started, we’re playing a lot better and we have a lot more confidence in our abilities,” she continued.We know we can do this.”

Dougherty leads the Black Bears into battle this weekend as they take on the University of Connecticut and Providence on the road on back-to-back days. The senior knows nothing will come easy the rest of the way — especially against a Huskies team looking to jump them in the standings and a Friars squad fighting to maintain their spot.

“They’re both hard-working teams,” Dougherty said. “They may not try to dangle the puck past you, but they’ll work hard and be in your face. That’s how they succeed.

“We just have to push them right back.”

UMaine played their  Skating Strides game against Boston College over the weekend where Dougherty tallied 1 assist and 5 shots on goal in the 6-3 loss. You can catch Dougherty and the rest of the UMaine team play their final home series of the season Feb. 16 and 17 a 2 p.m. in the Alfond Arena as they take on Northeastern University.