Jan. 24, 2005
When Nicole Symington '05 (Burlington, Ont.) was being recruited by Yale four years ago, the Bulldogs were in the midst of a 3-23-2 season. They hadn't finished above .500 in 15 years. A coach from an opposing school who was recruiting her openly questioned her decision to sign on with such a program. Then, when Symington was a freshman, she suffered a shoulder injury that wasn't fully healed until she had surgery after her sophomore season. She herself wondered whether she would ever find success with the Bulldogs, who went 18-39-5 over her first two seasons.
"There were times when you were like `Why, why?'," Symington said. "I learned to be patient."
That patience has paid off for Symington and Yale this year, as the senior forward has been a key part of the team's hot start that elevated the Bulldogs into the national rankings for the first time in school history. For her and fellow seniors Erin Duggan '05 (Beaumont, Alb.) and Ali Turney '05 (Marshfield, Wisc.), this year's success is a validation of their decision to come to New Haven four years ago.
"When I first came here [on a recruiting visit], I came on the campus not really knowing what to expect," Symington recalled. "I was really drawn in by the energy and the people in general. It just seemed like a good place to be off the ice. I also saw it as a great challenge on the ice."
Symington could not have imagined how challenging her experience would wind up being. She had individual success right away, earning a spot on Yale's top line and picking up 24 points (fourth on the team) on 10 goals and 14 assists. But she was hit from behind in a game against Cornell in February and suffered a separated shoulder and torn labrum. She returned a month later for the Bulldogs' playoff series against Brown - a two-game sweep in which the Bears outscored Yale 12-0 - but was not the same player.
"Those two games weren't particularly fun," Symington said. "Looking back on it, it's maybe something I shouldn't have done, but you always want to get out there and play -- it was the playoffs."
Opting not to have surgery, Symington had a solid season (6-18-24) as a sophomore, but felt unsatisfied with her performance as the Bulldogs finished 9-20-2. She refused to use her injury as an excuse.
"I don't want to blame it all on that," she said. "I came back and didn't have the start to the season that I wanted to. I had a little bit of a hard time finding my confidence. It's just something that I've had to work out on my own and learn to be confident in myself in general."
Last year, when Yale tied the school record for wins in a season (12) and set the school record for conference wins (8), Symington had another productive season (9-6-15) but wanted more. She approached her senior season from a different perspective.
"The middle years, it was kind of finding myself off the ice as well as on the ice," Symington said. "It was a bit of an adjustment for me after I got back from my injury. This year, I just came in with a new outlook - I've only got one year left, so make the best of it. I worked really hard over the summer." Nicole Symington leaps in celebration of a goal in Yale's 3-2 win over Harvard
The results of that work have been evident all year long, but perhaps were most apparent when Symington scored the first goal of the game against Harvard Nov. 12. That tally set the tone for Yale's 3-2 win, the Bulldogs' first over the Crimson (then ranked No. 3 in the country) in 20 years.
"Beating Harvard this year was one of the turning points for this team," Symington said. "We needed to get over that hurdle ... After that, kids in the lockerroom started to feel really confident in themselves."
Symington's teammates have always had confidence in her. Duggan played with her before the two got to Yale, when they were members of the Edmonton Rebels and won the Alberta Provincial Championships and the Western Canadian Championship.
"She's definitely a teammate that I have a lot of confidence in when she's out on the ice," Duggan said. "She's got a great shot."
The two shared the same sentiments in deciding to come to Yale.
"We both understood that there's no NHL hockey [for women]," Duggan said. "We're not going to finish college and get paid to play hockey. It was the best educational choice, but also we knew that together we could come here and make a difference."
Symington and Duggan have made a difference this season with their veteran leadership, as Duggan serves as captain with Symington as assistant.
"She's an outstanding leader," head coach Hilary Witt said of Symington.. "She leads by example. She doesn't have to say too much, and when she does say something it's the right thing."
Symington's leadership by example goes well beyond just what she does at Ingalls Rink. She's also earned ECAC All-Academic team honors the past two seasons. She plans on going to law school next year, with a career in politics potentially following.
"It's important to me," Symington, a psychology major, said of her academic efforts. "I do take a lot of pride in being able to do well on and off the ice. I think it's important to provide that kind of leadership to the rest of the team."
She also appreciates the way that the team has served as her support structure in difficult times.
"I'm very fortunate to have great support from my teammates and my family," she said. "They've helped me through the rough times, and it's made this year just that much better. Obviously we're not finished yet, but we're well on our way to being successful this year and that would make it all worthwhile."