The Unheralded Backbone Behind the Winningest Team in Women’s Hockey
By Huy Nguyen
The winningest season in program history, a double-overtime victory against the reigning champions of Boston to snag the Beanpot, and an inch away from achieving the program’s first NCAA win; the 2019-20 Northeastern women’s ice hockey season was one that will push the program forward for years to come. The centerpiece of the success was the team’s captain, Paige Capistran.
Originating from Manchester, N.H., she started playing hockey after wanting to follow in the footsteps of her older brother, Luke.
“I started hockey because my older brother Luke played, so he’s definitely why it all started,” Capistran explained. “I said how I wanted to play hockey like Luke. He was a defenseman. I wanted to play D. I remember he had a weird red helmet. I wanted the same weird red helmet. I idolized him.”
The siblings bonded over hockey, and despite their three-year age gap, they shared a friendly sibling rivalry that strengthened their relationship until Luke passed away in 2011 at the age of 16. His memory fueled her passion for the game, and inspired her to continue pursuing hockey.
“Hockey kept me close with him even when he was gone,” Capistran said.
While she played three different sports in high school – hockey, softball, and cross-country – there was never a doubt in her mind that she wanted to focus on ice hockey and compete collegiately.
Throughout her hockey career in high school and college, she’s had countless influences who kept her spirit going; though none greater than her all-time number one fan: her mom, who supported her hockey dreams from the very beginning.
“My mom has been here through it all, she did not miss one game when I played at Northeastern,” she added. “She was in Ireland, she drove everywhere, flew anywhere. So having a mom that supports me, that was huge. I always made sure I know where my mom is before a game.”
In addition to her mom, she’s thankful for her past coaches, especially assistant coach Lindsay Berman, a Northeastern hockey alumna who’s return in August 2018 has coincided with two incredibly successful seasons. Berman felt equally as grateful to work with a player whose outstanding character and hard work set a high bar for younger players.
“She is the most dedicated teammate out there,” Berman said. “She is selfless, passionate, authentic, unbelievably hard-working, and a great leader. She’s the consummate team player. Our team doesn’t have this success without such a leader. She lives, eats, sleeps, breathes, walks, talks, dreams Northeastern.”
To Capistran, the hockey team was like family, and her closest friends and her favorite memories come from spending time with the team. Her constant enthusiasm for helping the younger players kept her team closer together, on and off the ice.
“We had a large freshman class this year,” senior forward Matti Hartman said. “So right from the start, she made an effort to reach out to them and be there for them if they had any questions. And she was big on team bonding. She would be a big organizer in our team dinners. I think she just put a big emphasis on the culture of the team, which ultimately translated onto the ice with our chemistry.”
Her four years of playing collegiate hockey culminated in the team’s most successful season ever: a record-breaking and NCAA leading 32 wins for the program, and Capistran’s rushing emotions during this year’s double-overtime Beanpot win stands as one of her favorite and most unforgettable ice hockey memories of all time, though with 145 appearances (sixth-most in program history), she had plenty to choose from.
Even with the Beanpot, Capistran had an even further-reaching target for her hockey career: to enter the NCAA tournament, which would be held at nearby Agganis Arena, and make program history.
“Every time we would pass this arena, [Capistran] would always shout ‘That’s the goal, ladies!’ And everyone would start cheering because we all knew exactly what she was talking about,” freshman defender Megan Carter said. “It wasn’t just something that came as that goal approached; it was from day one. She always knew that this team was so capable of achieving a goal like that, and it just helped us build confidence.”
Capistran enjoyed carrying the responsibility of being a captain and was proud to lead her team towards success. Following the season, her excellence in leadership earned her the Hockey East Sportsmanship Award and The Red & Black Dedication Award at Northeastern’s Howlin’ Huskies Awards, the first in the program to be awarded either.
“Being the captain really was the best honor I’ve ever had,” Capistran said. “I loved being their captain. They gave me so much confidence, so much respect. I really just wanted to be the best captain for my teammates, and they made it very easy for me.”
While her season getting cut short by COVID-19 may be a bittersweet end for her collegiate hockey career, her memories of ice hockey will stay with her for the rest of her life: the camaraderie between teammates, the guidance from her coaches, and the never ending support from her fans, friends, and family. Berman believes that without the cancellation of the remainder of the season, Capistran would have taken the team all the way to the NCAA finals.
“No one deserved the storybook ending of a National Championship more than Paige,” Berman said. “I know she would’ve taken her team there.”
She initially believed that Northeastern would be the end of her long-lasting hockey career, with the possibility of being more involved in hockey, such as coaching, in the future. However, Capistran was drafted in the fifth round by the Boston Pride during the 2020 National Women’s Hockey League Draft on April 29, 2020.
“I wanted to continue my career and have the opportunity to keep playing because I didn’t want to be done,” she reflected. “When I found out the Pride were interested, I thought about it for a while because it was a lot; but I’m excited that I’ll have the opportunity to continue playing.”
Luckily for the city of Boston, she will continue to represent the city as she’s done for the past four years at Northeastern.
“Northeastern made Boston my home,” she said. “I absolutely love this city, so being able to represent Boston, it’s a very big honor.”
Though her time as a Husky may have come to an end, her love for hockey keeps her hungry for more; and though we may no longer see her representing the red and black, the Pride’s black, white, and gold will be shining just as bright in the years to come.