Kassidy Sauve can’t put her finger on why, not even now, but she knew she needed change in the aftermath of her junior season at Ohio State.
That desire had nothing to do with her teammates, nothing to do with her development and very clearly nothing to do with her own play. Through three seasons with the Buckeyes, she had proven herself to be one of the U.S. college game’s top netminders. She was coming off a season in which she had posted an outstanding .938 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average in 32 games and had landed squarely on the Canadian national team’s radar. But by the time the 2017-18 season concluded and the academic year had ended, Sauve’s mind was made up. She was ready to move on. “It’s tough because a lot of people would probably question why I would leave, especially after such a successful season,” Sauve said. “But I was the last player remaining from a group of girls who went through three head coaches. I think I had nine assistant coaches when I was at Ohio State. I had four goalie coaches. For me, it was just so much change over and over again that I hadn’t experienced consistency.”
Finding it meant venturing elsewhere, ironic as that might be. And despite her on-ice success, Sauve faced great uncertainty as a fifth-year redshirt senior searching for a transfer, and leaving Ohio State for the unknown was a gamble, one that very well could have concluded with one of the NCAA’s best leaving the circuit altogether.
It wasn’t long, however, before the perfect opportunity presented itself. Following the graduation of Shea Tiley, the back-to-back defending national champion Clarkson Golden Knights were seeking a starting goaltender. Sauve more than fit the bill, and her visit to the campus sold her on Clarkson, athletically and academically. That the Golden Knights had done their research on Sauve, too, didn’t hurt.
After Sauve underwent bilateral hip surgery midway through her freshman year – which cost her the rest of that campaign and the entire 2015-16 season and kept her off ice for more than 500 days – Clarkson showed her how they could continue to aid in her recovery and help take her game to another level. In part, that meant continuing to develop what Sauve called a “contained athleticism” that sees her make the smart save, not the tough one – “that’s probably my biggest strength now,” she said – and turning her high-energy and sometimes frantic mindset into one that was more calm and collected. “That’s something that honestly took me four years to get right,” Sauve said. “This year I was able to calm down my game quite a bit compared to the past, and my coaches played a big part in that. They put a lot of emphasis on calming my game down and focusing on the next shot all the time. It’s something that I was able to master this year.”
It was evident in her numbers. In 36 games, Sauve posted a stellar .937 SP and career-best 1.71 GAA, the seventh- and fifth-best marks in the nation, respectively. Sauve also registered 27 wins, second-most in the NCAA, and her .778 winning percentage was better than all but two keepers’. “It’s a snowball effect of working on those things and paying attention to those things throughout the year,” Sauve said. “It’s cool to see that paid off.”
The offer of coaching consistency and continued development weren’t the only perks of leaving the big campus and Buckeye State behind for a taste of small-town life in Potsdam, N.Y. Another benefit was exposure. As a senior, not to mention a graduate student nearing completion of her one-year master’s in business administration at Clarkson, Sauve had her future in mind. Working on the mental side of the game is something Hockey Canada had requested and something Sauve had done. But she also wanted to put herself in the best position possible ahead of the next chapter. “Being here in upstate New York gave me more exposure to both the CWHL and NWHL teams, because I was closer to them,” Sauve said. “Thinking long run and knowing that at this point I’m able to play with the hip injury going away, I needed to put myself in the best situation for me.”
Even the best-laid plans come with curveballs, though, and Sauve, who grew up idolizing longtime CWHL goaltenders Charline Labonte and Kim St-Pierre and wanted to follow in their footsteps by playing in the primarily Canadian women’s league, had her dream dashed – even if only temporarily – when the league announced in March it was ceasing operations. The NWHL followed the CWHL’s announcement by speeding up plans for expansion to Toronto and Montreal, however, and discussion continues about the next step for the women’s professional game. So, what comes next for Sauve? “For now, for me, I’m focusing on putting myself in the best physical situation to be an impact player next year as a rookie,” she said. “I’m focusing on that right now and waiting to see what happens in terms of the two Canadian teams joining. It’s a waiting game, but I want to put myself in the best situation to help whatever team I do end up with.”
TOP FIVE DRAFT-ELIGIBLE NCAA JUNIORS
This quintet with star potential will be eligible for the next NWHL draft
Cornell Big Red
Age: 20 Position: D
All the trappings of a future fixture of the Canadian national team blueline. Consistent growth in production and defensive play across her three seasons at Cornell led to an opportunity at the World Championship, where she had an excellent showing.
Boston College Eagles
Age: 21 Position: C
Breakout 30-goal, 75-point sophomore season put her on the map, but a difficult junior campaign saw a regression to 14 goals and 39 points. She got her first taste of top-flight international action at the 4 Nations Cup.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Age: 21Position: C
Former U-18 MVP was a final cut from the 2018 Canadian Olympic team after making the World Championship squad in 2017. Her 26-point output was a step back from 53-point sophomore campaign, but the diminutive speedster has scoring touch.
Clarkson Golden Knights
Age: 22 Position: C
Former Czech U-18 captain put up 55 points as one-third of the best line in the NCAA alongside Patty Kazmaier winner Loren Gabel and Elizabeth Giguere. Do-it-all pivot can light the lamp and distribute the puck.
Age: 21Position: G
Bettered her already brilliant sophomore numbers by posting an eye-popping .940 save percentage and 1.03 goals-against average in 41 games behind a stifling Badgers defense. She didn’t allow a single goal during three-game run to national championship.