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What's up, Doc? NWHL first overall pick Sammy Davis driven to succeed

Sammy Davis comes to the Boston Pride after four standout seasons at Boston University. Just as she would not allow double hip surgery to derail her career, she's not fazed by pursuing both a professional hockey career and a doctorate degree.

If you’re of a certain vintage, you desperately want Sammy Davis’ dressing room nickname to be Junior. After all, the former standout at Boston University and the first overall pick in the 2020 National Women’s Hockey League draft will be counted on to be really good, versatile and entertaining with the Boston Pride. “We’re all younger, so the girls I play with have no clue who Sammy Davis Jr., is,” Davis said. “But the adults all razz me about it.”

Perhaps that’s because, unlike their male brethren, women hockey players don’t go for the low-hanging fruit when it comes to nicknames. One thing that is so intriguing about many women’s hockey players is they lead such incredibly interesting lives off the ice, while being among the best in the world on it. And Davis is no exception. As a redshirt senior at BU this past season, she captained and led her team in goals, assists and points. In high school, she did a study on a marine lab in the Atlantic Ocean. While she was leading her team on the ice, she was also pursuing a Master’s degree in special education. And while she’s forging her career as a pro hockey player starting next season, she’ll also be embarking on a three-year journey, studying for her doctorate in occupational therapy at BU.

Interesting tidbit: The Terriers are the only program to have a first overall pick in the NWHL (Davis), the Canadian Women's Hockey League (Kayla Tutino by the Boston Blades in 2016) and the NHL (Rick DiPietro by the New York Islanders in 2000). Combining her success in the classroom and on the ice, there’s no mystery to why the Pride, a team that was in first overall in the NWHL standings when the season was suspended, traded up five spots with the expansion franchise in Toronto to get the first pick so they could choose the native of suburban Boston. “It’s crazy, man,” Davis said, taking a break from a bike ride with her boyfriend Wednesday afternoon. “I guess they really wanted me.”

No kidding. The fact that she was a point-a-game player over her career with the Terriers, part of a team that won an Under-18 World Championship for USA and the MVP of the Women’s Beanpot Tournament in 2019 makes her somebody you probably want in your dressing room. Juggling the demands of a doctoral program at a prestigious university and being a professional athlete will undoubtedly be an enormous challenge, but Davis sees it as an opportunity. “I think it sends a message, especially for women’s hockey players, ‘Don’t be afraid to try to do two things at once and be successful,’ ” Davis said. “Because it’s possible. I hope that eventually that changes and we can just play hockey as a career, but the reality now is that it’s really not.”

That issue continues to play itself out in women’s hockey, with hundreds of players electing to sit out of the NWHL after the CWHL folded after the 2018-19 season. Those players have instead elected to join the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA), which spent last season barnstorming across North America with its Dream Gap Tour. Davis has no issue with the PWHPA players, many of whom are close friends and former teammates, but said it was not feasible for her because of her school commitments. “It’s nice to be around people who know and (the Pride) have been so accepting,” Davis said. “They want it to work both ways and they know I want to make it work both ways. It’s so nice to have a hockey team that respects you.”

Davis has already agreed to terms with the Pride, so assuming the 2020-21 season can go ahead as planned, there’s no reason she won’t be in the Pride lineup, a powerhouse that lost just one of 24 games this past season and led the league in goals. With 42 goals and 93 points in 73 games over the past two seasons, Davis found her stride as a go-to offensive player. Those two seasons came after her career was almost derailed and forced her to take the entire 2017-18 season off. As her sophomore season came to a close, Davis noticed her hips were in constant pain and it did not dissipate in the off-season. It turned out she had a bilateral hip labral tear and needed surgery on both hips. “It was really hard to sit out that year and watch on the sidelines,” Davis said. “But I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about the game. I try not to think about the negatives."

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