There were posters throughout the Tsongas Center Sunday afternoon hailing the return of former Boston Pride and Harvard hockey star Jillian Dempsey to the area.
Dempsey, who grew up in Winthrop and was a teacher at the Cummings Elementary School, is now skating for the Montreal team in the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWL). Montreal was playing the Boston team and judging by the scores of people wearing Jillian Dempsey “Pride” jerseys (in the crowd of 4,500) and the incredible hometown support she received on her shifts, the fans made it clear that they want the former Pride captain back representing her hometown again.
Dempsey’s Montreal contingent defeated Boston, 2-1, in overtime, and is currently in first place in the six-team PWHL.
Cummings School Delegation
Andrea O’Leary, principal of the Cummings School, led a delegation of teachers, parents, and students in the arena.
“The students, staff, parents, and I miss Jillian very much,” said O’Leary. “We want her back in Boston. I don’t know if she would be able to teach and play professional hockey, but we would do our best to keep her with us, and we’d love to have her back as soon as possible. She looks great on the ice skating for Montreal. It’s very difficult to be here and watch the Boston team play, but still root for Montreal.”
Middle School seventh grader Molly Titemore is one of Jillian Dempsey’s former students. “It’s really exciting to be here,” said Molly. “I haven’t seen Miss Dempsey in a while, so it’s really good to see her. She’s definitely been a big part of my life. She really helped me a lot with everything like my math, my reading. She’s an amazing hockey player.”
Petrola Brings his WYH U-12 Girls Team
Anthony Petrola, who almost won a state title while a standout player at Savio Prep in East Boston, chaperoned a trip to the game for the Winthrop Youth Hockey U-12 girls team that he coaches.
“They’re all fans of Jillian,” said Petrola, whose 11-year-old daughter, Brianna, plays right wing for Winthrop. “Some of the girls had Ms. Dempsey as a teacher. Jillian is so exciting to watch as a player. I wish she were playing for Boston. It [the PWHL] is great hockey. The girls love coming to watch the female professionals compete, and it’s really inspiring for them, especially playing hockey themselves, they get to see something like this.”
Grateful for the Reception
The ever-personable, ever-eloquent Jillian Dempsey met with many of her supporters and fans in the arena’s concourse after the game. She graciously signed autographs and posed for numerous photos.
Dempsey, 33, was thankful for the outpouring of support by the Boston fans.
“It was so heartwarming. It really made my day. It was very special to see all the posters and the Boston Pride jerseys and the Dempsey shirts, and so many of the faces from the Winthrop community that I love,” said Dempsey. “This year [playing for Montreal] is so different in many ways, but I miss being in school and in the classroom, so to see my teacher friends, former students, the Winthrop Youth hockey team, and all those connections to home – it all brought a big smile to my face, and it’s something I truly appreciate.”
Dempsey also noted the presence of her family, including her parents, Jack and Susan Dempsey, and her older sister, Meaghan Dempsey, a Savio Prep class valedictorian and Harvard graduate who is now a schoolteacher in Revere.
“Meaghan is a great role model,” credited Jillian. “She molded that path. I think part of me wanting to attend Harvard was because she wanted Harvard and spoke so highly of it. From that younger age, I was always able to look up to her. She did everything the best way an older sister could, so I am fortunate to have her.”
Breaking Attendance Records
The all-time leading scorer (146 points in 142 games) for the Boston Pride in the PHF, Dempsey is skating as a center on Montreal’s third line and is part of the penalty-killing unit. One of the highlights so far for Dempsey was assisting on teammate Claire Dalton’s opening-game goal, the first in Montreal team history. Interestingly, Dalton played college hockey at Yale. “We had a little Harvard-Yale connection there,” jested Dempsey.
Dempsey said hockey fans have been turning out in high numbers for PWHL games in Canada and the United States. Montreal’s home games have been played before huge crowds and the games are televised live on TSN.
“We’ve been fortunate to play in some of the record-setting games attendance wise,” said Dempsey. “In our opening game of the season in Ottawa, we broke an attendance record for women’s pro hockey in North America. In our next game in Minnesota, who plays at the Xcel Energy Center where the Minnesota Wild play, we shattered that record with 13,300 fans. It was pretty incredible to see the stands filled that way. We have a game on Feb. 16 against Toronto at Scotiabank Arena (home of the Toronto Maole Leafs) and that game is sold out (with 18,800 fans expected). It’s going to be really exciting to be in that venue with that many fans in an NHL rink.”
As fans attending the Montreal-Boston game at Tsongas Arena clearly noticed, the PWHL is being run very professionally and it has a great product. The game presentation was excellent. The action on the ice was fast and furious, the stickhandling, passing, and goaltending superb, as one would expect from the best female hockey players in the world.
And there is no one better to keep advancing the game of women’s hockey than Winthrop’s Jillian Dempsey. Just ask her legion of fans who hope to see their beloved “Demps” wearing Boston Green next season.