Sports Person of the Week
McCarthy Works Her Way to Starting Role with the Blades
After starting with the sport as a freshman, North Haven senior Kelsey McCarthy worked hard to secure a starting spot on defense with the Blades’ hockey squad in her final season with the team. (Photo courtesy of Kelsey McCarthy )
Kelsey McCarthy grew up on the ice as a skater before moving over to hockey as a freshman at North Haven High School. After making the switch, Kelsey worked hard to find her stride as a hockey player and ultimately earned a starting role on defense with the Amity- North Haven-Cheshire Blades co-op team in her senior season.
Kelsey started figure skating when she was only two years old. In the 2nd grade, she joined Team Esprit, a synchronized skating team based in Hamden. With her mother Jill being a coach, Kelsey was always around the ice and took a liking to figure skating right away.
“I grew up figure skating. My mom has been a coach all my life. I grew up going to competitions with her. I fell in love with the sport,” Kelsey says. “It was all I did, almost seven days a week. I found my family. We competed all over New England. It was a lot of work.”
By the time Kelsey reached 8th grade, most of her teammates had graduated from Team Esprit. Kelsey contemplated finding a new synchronized skating team, but decided to switch sports and give hockey a shot. After seeing her younger brother Robert play hockey, she had a feeling that she was going to like it.
“I grew up watching hockey. Whenever his team was playing, I’d go in the box and help with the clock or keeping the score,” says Kelsey of Robert, who is a freshman at Notre Dame-West Haven. “I fell in love watching NHL on the TV and going to Quinnipiac meets. I was in love with the sport from day one. I knew I wanted to play the sport, and I had a lot of work to do. I knew I wanted to do this. It paid off.”
After deciding to transition into hockey, Kelsey knew that she needed to immediately start putting in the work to improve. Kelsey trained with both her brother and her friend Meaghan Francis, a member of the Endicott College women’s hockey team. She also started taking lessons with the Shoreline Sharks during her 8th-grade season. While the transition between figure skating and ice hockey was difficult, Kelsey was dedicated to becoming a solid hockey player.
“It’s a hard transition. I had never used a hockey stick before. It was very difficult. I had to put in 10 times the work, because I was starting as a freshman,” Kelsey says. “Hockey and figure skating, skating wise, is a completely different ballgame. I was such a high-level figure skater that starting over with hockey was difficult. You have to change your stance and stride and basically everything I was taught my whole life.”
When she started high school, Kelsey joined the Blades, a co-op girls’ hockey squad that features athletes from Amity, North Haven, and Cheshire. It was intimidating for Kelsey at first as she watched the older players on the team glide across the ice. However, Kelsey knew that she needed to earn her spot and worked hard to be just like the veteran athletes that she idolized.
“Every practice, I went 110 percent to get better. I couldn’t afford to waste any time on the ice. It was definitely difficult and nerve-racking getting out on the ice with these girls,” says Kelsey. “We had all these phenomenal girls playing and then, me going out there as a freshman, it was scary. I knew I wanted to become one of the girls who was starting and the coaches could rely on in a game.”
Kelsey continued to develop her hockey skills as her career with the Blades unfolded. As she entered her senior season this winter, Kelsey was elevated to the starting lineup as one half of the team’s top defensive pairing. Earning a starting position was not only a great accomplishment for Kelsey, but also showed the incoming freshmen just how good they can be if they’re willing to give an extra effort.
“I definitely have developed so much. Even this year, I’ve told so many freshmen how I was where they were, how I started out my freshman year. But if you put in the work, you can accomplish anything you want,” Kelsey says. “I started with basically nothing with hockey. I want other girls to know that in a male-dominated sport like hockey, that it’s so worth it in the end. I was proud I could be a player my coaches could rely on.”
Between her family, friends, and coaches, Kelsey has had numerous parties supporting her throughout her hockey career. However, it was the naysayers who always drove her to always try her hardest. Kelsey wanted to prove that she could not only transition from skating to hockey, but that she could be the best player possible whenever she was out on the ice.
“I had so many people support me. But there were a few that were like, ‘Oh really, you’re going to be a figure skater turned hockey player?’ There’s a stigma behind it,” says Kelsey. “Those few comments really set the fire underneath me. I wanted to prove to them that it doesn’t matter what they say. I’m going to be the player and person I can become. I’m going to make all my family, friends, and coaches proud. It was all about me playing the best I can at this phenomenal sport.”
After she graduates from high school, Kelsey is planning to go to college to pursue a career in nursing. Kelsey is open to playing hockey at the Division III level, but will most likely compete for a club team as she focuses on academics.
As someone who’s been on the ice for quite a while, Kelsey enjoyed every second of the four years that she played hockey for the Blades. In a short time, Kelsey learned plenty of lessons and formed numerous bonds that will stay with her for the rest of her life.
“To me, being a hockey player isn’t just trying to get the biggest hit or having the prettiest shot—it’s being a part of a team where they become your family,” Kelsey says. “I have teammates I still keep in touch with that are in college. It’s about making connections that last a lifetime. Hockey has helped me stay focused and keep my grades up. Being a hockey player is about being well-rounded and determined.”