Two Illinois natives help the University of Wisconsin repeat as NCAA National Champions
By Ross Forman – Sylvain Turcotte remembers the determination of Caitlin Schneider, dating back to learn-to-skate lessons he taught her at age 3 or 4. If she fell, for instance, Schneider did everything to make sure she got right back up.
Turcotte was then watching Schneider at age 6, skating for a Glenview Stars team, as Turcotte has been the longtime hockey director for the Glenview Park District, including the Stars.
As a squirt, shooting to make the Glenview gold team, though, Schneider was cut, landing on the silver team. She was distraught.
“Experiences like that shape you as a player, when you (have to) battle adversity. Moments like that really push you to be better,” she said. “Those experiences for sure, and others, help guide me to where I am at now.”
Now, as in, mid-March to be specific, was when and where she became a two-time NCAA National Champion after her Wisconsin Badgers knocked off top-ranked Northeastern in overtime to claim the Badgers’ second national title in a row.
Wisconsin’s Daryl Watts scored the game-winner for the school’s sixth national title.
Schneider and her teammates went into full celebration mode.
“After the puck went in and Daryl started celebrating behind the net, I was like, ‘Holy crap, I cannot believe it!’ There are no words to describe the feeling. Just pure joy,” Schneider said. “Winning is exciting; winning in overtime, with the heightened emotions, with the pressure … that’s just pure joy and happiness.”
Schneider, a senior forward from Glenview and Glenbrook South alum, has played 135 games in her Wisconsin career, with 20 goals and 26 assists for the Badgers.
No moment stands higher than the memories from the Erie Insurance Arena in Pennsylvania, when Schneider and the Badgers moved into a tie with Minnesota for the most national titles.
Defenseman Nicole LaMantia, from Wayne, Ill., and Montini Catholic High School, also celebrated the magical memories made by the Badgers.
Nicole LaMantia, Photos courtesy of University of Wisconsin
Winning the National Championship “is a really unique experience that takes a little time to set in,” said Schneider, who has been skating on “cloud nine” since Watts’ tally, which slip in off a Northeastern defenseman.
“It’s amazing,” how far she’s come, Turcotte said. “She was always driven; her work ethic was amazing.
“When she was 8 or 9, I’m not sure I saw her (advancing to this level). But when she was 12 or 13, there was no doubt.”
Schneider skated several seasons for the Stars, as did her brothers. Then she switched to CYA.
“I was very fortunate, what hockey in Illinois has done for me, especially with so many good teams, so many opportunities, so many teams to grow as a player,” she said. “A lot of my success I have to tie back to my time growing up in Illinois and the people who supported me throughout my journey.”
Her Glenview memories include the road trips and more. “It was fun playing boys hockey and something that, looking back, I wish I could have done longer,” Schneider said. “I have a lot of good memories, good times from the Glenview (seasons).”
In fact, her best friend is Abby Brush, who was a senior forward this season at Plattsburgh State. Brush, from Mount Prospect, also skated for CYA – and the two met through the Stars, some 15 years ago.
“She was very feisty on the ice, always wanted the puck,” Turcotte said of Schneider, who shined just as bright for CYA, even though she was nervous about the transition to higher-level hockey.
In fact, Schneider said she was “super nervous” going to CYA, not knowing much about girls’ hockey.
But, “I liked it right away, she said.
Schneider skated 8 or 9 years for CYA
“A lot of my character, who I am, was shaped by a lot of people and years at CYA,” she said.
No season was more memorable than her U14 run, when Schneider’s CYA club captured the national championship – in overtime, as well.
She tagged that U14 memory as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“There are a lot of people who supported me through my ups and downs of hockey, and I’m very grateful,” Schneider said.
John Cimba, the CYA girls’ hockey director, coached Schneider for years, including her U19 campaign.
“She always was an amazing skater, just as she still is (at the) NCAA (level),” Cimba said. “She always had speed (on the ice). She always was that kid who, when you saw her, everyone would say, ‘She has it,’ and there’s no doubt about it.
“There were so many (CYA) highlights of Caitlin. To pick one that stands out is impossible.”
Cimba added: “The day she came to us, she knew she could play at a high level. And we too knew she could play at a high level.”
Schneider’s senior season at Glenbrook South also included a state championship run for the co-op Glenbrook Girls Hockey Team, capped with a title win on the United Center ice.
Glenbrook, she said, “was such a great experience.”
She only skated the one season for Glenbrook, but the memories are lifelong.
“That season ended up being one of the best experiences,” she said. “To play at the United Center, for the state championship, with so many fans in the stands … that was beyond anything I could have imagined.
“It really was a cool experience.”
Caitlin Schneider, Photos courtesy of University of Wisconsin
Alex Botvinnik was the Glenbrook assistant coach during Schneider’s season – “an amazing team, led by Caitlyn Schneider,” he said. “Her on-ice accolades speak for themselves. Most people who have watched her skate already know: she is a great teammate, poised, skilled, and generous. As incredible as it was to watch her skate, I’ll never forget how humble, sweet, inclusive, and supportive she is off the ice. She didn’t just make everyone better on the ice, she was a great teammate because of the way she carried herself off the ice.”
Schneider will return to Madison, Wisc., next year as a fifth-year senior – in hopes of capturing her third National Championship.
And all Illinois eyes will be watching, just as Schneider cheers for the next generation of Illinois girls hockey players.
“Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and go for it,” Schneider said, when asked for advice for youth skaters. “Throughout my career I had people tell me that I was not good enough, that I wouldn’t be able to play college hockey.
“Have faith in yourself and find people who you can look up to, much the way I looked up to Kendall Coyne Schofield through my whole development.
“Know that anything is possible.”
Coach Turcotte added: “Hockey is a great sport and a sport for everyone. If you want to play, don’t let anything stop you.”