NORTHFIELD — Oh to be home again. There’s nothing better than stretching one’s legs on familiar soil after a long trip. For Sophie Leclerc, the trip took only 14 years. Late last week, Leclerc was announced as coach of the women’s hockey program at Norwich University.
“Everybody that I’ve met through this process has just been absolutely amazing,” Leclerc said at a press conference to formally announce her hiring at Norwich. “It’s just an unbelievable opportunity. Almost a year ago today I was watching Cam (Ellsworth) up here as he crushed his press conference, and as I was watching him, I wondered what it would be like.”
It’s been an interesting year at the university — at least hockey-wise. Cam Ellsworth stepped in to fill former coach Mike McShane’s shoes and led the men’s hockey team to the NCAA Division III final. Leclerc now gets the chance to fill Mark Bolding’s shoes. With hockey serving as the crown jewel of sports at Norwich and both the men’s and women’s teams enjoying levels of success that are rarely seen elsewhere, Leclerc inherits a team similar to what Ellsworth did on the men’s side just a year ago.
Of course, the fact that she’s been a hockey fixture in Central Vermont for over a decade makes it even more fulfilling.
After a standout hockey career at Spaulding High School in Barre, Leclerc took her talent to the ice at Norwich University. As a four-year star for the Cadets, she helped build the Norwich women’s hockey program from the ground up. She played for the inaugural varsity squad in 2007-08 and capped her sensational career by guiding NU to its first national championship with a 5-2 victory over RIT in 2011.
Simply put, there has been no stopping her.
After earning an NCAA D-III title in 2011 as a Cadet, she spent a season at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, before returning to Northfield to assist her former coach Mark Bolding on the bench. She left to become an assistant at D-I Colgate in the summer of 2015. But now with Bolding accepting the position of head women’s hockey coach at Yale University, Leclerc is back once more — and this time she’s been given the keys to the car.
“Being here is home,” Leclerc said. “The first time I stepped into this rink, we won a state championship at Spaulding High School.”
Leclerc eased through her introduction, noting that each time a fork popped up in the road, Norwich University presented an option — first college, then as an assistant coach and now as a head coach. It seems that all those right turns have brought Leclerc full-circle.
The Norwich women have set a bar high as perennial contenders for a national championship. Just one year ago, they won a second NCAA D-III title. And now with Leclerc at the helm, they hope to continue the recent string of excellence. At Colgate, Leclerc was lauded for her recruiting efforts and helping to guide the Raiders to the D-I national championship game in 2018. The 2017-18 Raiders experienced several program firsts including: first Regular Season ECAC Hockey Conference title, first conference title game appearance, first NCAA Tournament berth, first Frozen Four, and their first national championship game.
Bringing Leclerc into the coaching fold at Norwich brings a familiar face with an impressive hockey resume back to the campus where she performed so well as a student and athlete.
“Mark left this program in a better place than when it began,” Leclerc said. “And that is what I intend to do here.”