Women’s Hockey: Sulyma makes mark far from home

By Jared Sugerman

In Leah Sulyma’s West Village E dorm is a poster designed by New Hampshire Wildcats’ hockey fans. It reads, ‘ Save Sulyma’s House. Stop Global Warming.’

When she looks at it through her rectangular-framed glasses, the sophomore business student and goaltender on the Northeastern women’s hockey team can only laugh.

‘ The typical, ‘Do you live in an igloo? Do you ride polar bears to school?’ All that crazy stuff,’ Sulyma said when asked what questions she tends to hear when others learn that she is from Inuvik, Canada, home to the people commonly known as Eskimos.

Sulyma said most of the 3,500 people currently living in her hometown will probably never leave, and with good reason; when traveling by plane from the airport in Canada’s Northwest Territories, it takes about five hours to reach Edmonton, and 11 to 12 hours to get to Boston. Part of the year, it is impossible to drive to some of Inuvik’s neighboring towns, which are only accessible by an ice road – a path that is carved out along the frozen McKenzie River.

‘ They said that I’m encouraging people up there, like I’m seen as a role model. I actually went home during Christmas break and I did a free skate with a bunch of youth, and I got an award from the mayor. It’s like Inuvik’s own sports ambassador,’ Sulyma said.

Temperatures in Inuvik can reach as high as 80 degrees during the summer, when there is sunlight 24-hours each day, before plummeting to 40 below in January, a time of perpetual darkness. Such is life in the Arctic Circle, where fishing, hunting and hockey are just about the only games in town.

Sulyma was one of the first girls from her father’s hockey-loving Eskimo family to play the game competitively, stopping 104 shots in a single game and helping the team from the Northwest Territories take its first victory at the Canada Winter Games in 2007.

‘I think where she came from and how many shots she saw, she just found a way to stop pucks. She wasn’t too concerned with the technical aspects of the game, and maybe she didn’t have a lot of coaching and this is just how she’s developed over the years,’ said women’s hockey coach Dave Flint. Flint works with the net-minders on the US national squad, and said sometimes even he can’t understand how Sulyma makes a save.

‘ People always ask me, ‘what do you look for when you recruit a goalie or when you’re looking at goalies for the US team?’ Flint said. ‘I always say, ‘It comes right down to it, can they stop pucks.’ If they can’t stop a puck, I don’t care how technically sound they are. Can they stop a puck consistently, and do they compete and do they battle and how are they in pressure situations? That’s what makes [Sulyma] a Division. 1 goalie.’

Following a freshman season that earned her a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team, Sulyma has allowed 1.62 goals per game and stopped 93.8 percent of the shots that have come her way as a sophomore. This past week, she was named Hockey East’s Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this year.

After starting 31 of 34 games last season, Sulyma has split time this season with freshman Florence Schelling, the internationally-renowned goaltender for the Swiss National Team.

When asked if she thought about transferring when she learned that Schelling would be coming to Northeastern, the admittedly-awkward Sulyma replied she never seriously considered the idea.

‘ These are all my friends,’ she replied simply, referring to her teammates. ‘ Best friends.’ ‘

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