Three years after achieving her childhood dream of entering the world’s most prestigious university, Jillian Dempsey is at the top of her sport.
Dempsey, a junior at Harvard University in Cambridge, has been nominated for the Patty Kazmaier Award that is given to the most outstanding Division 1 women’s hockey player in the United States. It is the equivalent to the Hobey Baker Award and the Heisman Trophy.
The 21-year-old daughter of Jack and Susan Dempsey of Winthrop says she’s humbled by the nomination for her sport’s highest individual honor.
“It’s pretty humbling – anybody who plays women’s college hockey is competing to be the best that they can be and the amount of talent, dedication, and hard work that all the other athletes put
in – to be able to placed in a group among the best of them is an incredible honor,” she said.
Dempsey said that some of the previous Kazmaier Award winners have been her truest role models.
“To be able to get the chance to follow in their footsteps would be pretty incredible,” she said. “It’s something that you dream about but it was never a straight-up goal. I just always said that I wanted to be the best I can be and someday have a chance at it. Everything I’ve done up to this point is for my team to get closer to a national championship.”
Playing in her third season for the Harvard Crimson, the 5-foot-4-inch Dempsey is having a prolific campaign on the first line. She is the leading scorer (26 goals and 21 assists in 29 games) for a nationally ranked Harvard team that is hoping to win the ECAC Tournament and secure a bid to the NCAA Division 1 Tournament.
Dempsey’s first steps to hockey greatness came at the age of five at Larsen Rink on Pauline Street. “My dad played hockey growing up and he loved it, so he got both my brothers and me started,” said Dempsey. “He would take us to the rink on Saturdays and his days off and we would just skate around and work on crossovers and the basics and it was always so much fun.”
Jillian, 21, is the second oldest of four children. Her sister, Meaghan, 23, a valedictorian at Savio Prep, preceded her to Harvard University, having graduated in 2010. Connor, 19, is playing in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League but will buck his sisters’ Crimson connection and continue his career at Division 1 Dartmouth College. Hunter, 15, is a freshman at The Rivers School in Weston where he plays hockey.
Jillian participated on boys’ teams in Winthrop Youth Hockey until the age of 11 and then moved on to the highly competitive Assabet Valley (Concord) program where she helped her teams win four national championships.
Dempsey matriculated at The Rivers School in the eighth grade, earning a spot on the school’s first-ever girls varsity hockey team. An All-Scholastic and top student academically, she received the Independent School League’s Most Valuable Player award while teaming with other Winthrop players such as Nicole Ferrara (Syracuse), Janelle Ferrara (a senior heading to Yale), and Kara Cummings, a senior.
Harvard was her first choice, an affinity for the storied Ivy League institution that dates back to her childhood. “I’d been wanting to go to Harvard since sixth grade,” said Dempsey. “Obviously it’s local and my parents started bringing me the Harvard women’s games in sixth grade. Pretty much from that first time I saw Harvard play, I felt that this was where I wanted to be and I worked as hard as I could to get there – and it has been a dream come true.”
Dempsey lauds Harvard coach Katey Stone for her outstanding leadership of the program and her knowledge of the game. “She always demands from us our best effort. She embodies everything – hard work, hustle, passion, respect, being humble – and she’s so knowledgeable about the game. I really respect and admire her.”
Dempsey, who is majoring in the Classics, has merited laurels that accompany her status as one of the top amateur players in the country. She has competed for the U.S.A. national team in international tournaments in Finland and Sweden, winning a gold medal in the Four Nations Cup in November.
This month she will attend a USA tryout camp for the world championships. “I’m hoping to make that team and start putting myself in a position for the Olympic team,” said Dempsey. “I keep thinking that all my dreams are coming true and then more great things keep happening so it’s always good to be blessed like this.”
She is aware of the accomplishments of Winthrop resident Mike Eruzione, who scored a famous goal, led the U.S.A. men’s hockey team to a gold medal and became an international celebrity.
“That would be something else – wow, that would really be a dream,” said Dempsey. “I’ve seen “Miracle” and it’s one of my favorite movies.”
But before she sets out to conquer the hockey world and help the U.S.A. reclaim supremacy from their neighbors to the north, she’s hoping to bring a national championship to Cambridge.