By Jordan Novack, Associate Sports Editor Link to Original
There are few more decorated freshman in college hockey this season than Melissa Samoskevich.
A 5-foot-4 winger with a fierce left-handed shot, Samoskevich possesses insane amounts of natural talent. From her burning speed, her ability to use her body to protect the puck, and a viciously quick release, the Connecticut native has all of the natural abilities to be an offensive force at the collegiate level.
In her young career, Samoskevich has shown a penchant for using these skills. An alumna of Minnesota’s Shattuck St. Mary’s, whose hockey program has standout alumni including Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Toews, Samoskevich scored 94 points (56 goals, 38 assists) in her 50 career games. That total was a full 40 points more than any of her other teammates. While in Minnesota, she served as captain of a Sabre’s team who boasted 16 fellow Division one hockey commits.
Another place that Samoskevich has shined is when she played for the United States national team. Throughout her tenure playing for the U.S., Samoskevich has shown great versatility, thriving as both a defender and as a forward in various competitions. As part of the 2015 U.S. under-18 World Championship team in Buffalo, Samoskevich’s tournament-high six goals and two assists would help lead the team to a gold medal. Following the tournament, she was named to the Media All-Star team.
Samoskevich would continue her international duty this past summer. She was named an alternate for the national team’s camp, and eventually would play for the u22 team in the August festival. Samoskevich and Quinnipiac head coach Cassandra Turner both credit this summer of international hockey for helping her have an easier transition to the speed and style of college hockey.
“She is processing things very well, and I think it is a product of her having experiences playing at elite levels,” Turner said. “The biggest difference I think was this summer, for her to have had the opportunity to go to the under 22 national team camp, and compete with girls who have been playing in college already, and to be the only player who hasn’t played in college yet, to be on that team, she had to raise her standard of excellence, and to raise her play.”
Following such a decorated high school and international career, many top tier universities took notice of Samoskevich. Storied programs such as Minnesota, Boston College and Wisconsin offered her scholarships. Yet, she was able to tell immediately that the best school for her was the one closest to home.
“It would have been great to play for a big name school, but for me Quinnipiac is a big name,” Samoskevich said. “Just stepping on campus it instantly felt like home, and the advice I was given was that when you find the right school you will get ‘that’ feeling so I knew this was the place for me. So while I liked the other schools, I knew this was the right fit.”
Despite already leaning toward coming closer to the east for college, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Sandy Hook native knew she wanted to play closer to home and her family.
“I knew I wanted to come closer to home, and that I wanted to play on the east coast. I have a brother and sister, who are twins, that had aged out [of the school] that year, and it was really hard for me, because I never got to see them when I was in high school.” Samoskevich detailed.
“It is awesome to get to see them now, because I get to go to see them whenever, and I can go to all of their games. So the Sandy Hook thing really affected us, but in a way that it really brought us all together, and coming home has really helped.”
On the ice, Samoskevich has had a very smooth transition through her first few games. Playing on the second line alongside Emma Woods and former u18 teammate T.T Cianfarano, the trio has been the Bobcats most lethal offensive weapons to start the season.
In the first four games, their line accounted for eight of 13 goals scored. Samoskevich has a goal and five assists on the season.
Samoskevich credits the similar styles of her, Woods and Cianfarano as the key to their early chemistry.
“I think we are all the same player, which has really helped us all out. Off the ice, we all click. I sit next to Woods in the locker room, which is cool because she is our assistant captain and I really look up to her, ” Samoskevich explained. “On the ice, no matter what, there is no screwing around. Whenever we are doing drills we talk about the minor details, and what we need to focus on. We are all creative players who know how to play off each other, and so far it has been awesome.”
As for Cianfarano, she feels the chemistry between the girls is so natural it occurred nearly instantly.
“I actually played with [Samoskevich] with the U.S. u18s, and even though I didn’t play on a line with her, I knew a lot about her, she’s a great girl. When I found out she was coming to Quinnipiac, I was really excited for her to come here, and [Coach Turner] thought we would play well together,” Cianfarano said. “I enjoy playing with her; the chemistry is all natural. You don’t even have to talk, the puck is just always where it needs to be.”
A sophomore who came into Quinnipiac with tons of accolades in her own right, Cianfarano knows plenty about living up to hype. She was the Bobcats leading scorer as a freshman. Now, Cianfarano has saught after taking her new teammate under her wing to ensure Samoskevich has a debut campaign as successful as her’s was last year.
“She came in for summer school, and again [Coach Turner] said we would be a good fit together, so I kinda threw her underneath my wing, and I learned a lot from her, and she learned a lot from me,” Cianfarano said. “She asks a lot of questions which is good. I think ever since she has just been building and learning off it, and she is a better player than she is a year ago, a week ago, even yesterday.”
For Coach Turner, Samoskevich’s seamless transition both on and off of the ice has not come as a surprise.
“Melissa is the type of person that fits into a group immediately. She is fun, personable and really looks after those around her. She didn’t miss a beat, and was instantly a part of this team,” Turner explained. “Clearly she is a really talented hockey player, but this is why we were so excited to have her be part of the team. She has great character and really puts the team first.”
Samoskevich, who originally committed to Quinnipiac while Rick Seeley was still the coach, loves the style of Turner, the new coach. Samoskevich credits the atmosphere that Turner and the coaching staff create, as making her time in Hamden so pleasureable thus far.
“Coach Turner is awesome. I get along with all of my teammates, but I knew I would going in because of the type of person [Coach Turner] looks for. One of the main characteristics they look for is how they will fit in with our community.” Samoskevich said. “I love playing for Coach Turner.”
Despite this being her freshman season, Woods feels that Samoskevich has fit right into the team, and plays beyond her age.
“She doesn’t even seem like she’s a freshman,” Woods said. “She’s really comfortable around the other girls, and is already being asked to play a large roll, and leads by example. She’s a great leader for the other freshman, and even some of the older girls. She is a really great hockey player.”
Despite only being on a line together for the last two weeks, Woods has also noticed playing alongside Samoskevich brings out the best in her game.
“Just knowing her skill level, it makes me want to play a bigger role with her,” Woods explained, “It makes me work harder, because I know what level she is at, and it makes me want to work to get there with her.”
As for the rest of the season, Turner has conservative expectations for her young forward, despite the hot start.
“She is in a good position right now,” Turner said. “Whenever she scores and contributes it is a bonus, we are not putting pressure to be that kid right now. Between players like T.T Cianfarano, Emma Woods, Nicole Connery, and Nicole Kosta, we have people who can put the puck in the net.”
Turner believes that Samoskevich’s main goal for the season should be acclimating to the style of the college game.
“That time will come when there will be an expectation for score, but for now our expectation is for her to play college hockey hockey at our level and our pace, as well as to play from the defensive side of the game to our expectations.”
While the season might still be early, Melissa Samoskevich is well on her way to exceeding those expectations, and becoming a force for Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey.