Feb. 9, 2012
Chestnut Hill, Mass. - Even if her style of play doesn't elicit a direct comparison to any household names, there's one thing for certain: Emily Pfalzer is emerging as an impact player on the blue line.
As the only freshman defenseman on one of the most consistent and highly-ranked women's ice hockey teams in Boston College history, Pfalzer has had a steep learning curve. But she's responded by putting up strong offensive numbers and shutting down opposing forwards.
With five goals and nine assists on the season, the Getzville, N.Y., native is the only freshman to crack the top 10 in defenseman scoring in the Hockey East, sitting in a tie for fourth. These totals also put her in 10th place in freshman scoring, where she is the only defenseman represented.
"I don't really think about that stuff," Pfalzer said. "Most of my goals I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time. I've always been an offensive defenseman so it's kind of what I like to do. I like to join the play and the rush."
Pfalzer has always had a scoring touch and a knack for hitting her teammates' right on the tape. In her two years with the Mississauga Junior Chiefs in the Provincial Women's Hockey League (PWHL) of Canada, she put up 44 points (10 goals, 34 assists), good for 13th all-time in regular-season scoring.
For defensemen, though, defense always comes first and scoring is often seen as an added bonus. Standing only 5-foot-2, Pfalzer is smaller than many of the forwards she faces, but she never backs down from a challenge.
"I've always had coaches tell me it's not how big you are, it's how big you play," she said. "So I always try to play big, not check people, but play big."
There's no question that Pfalzer's competitive fire was kindled while playing with her older brothers on the ice rink in their backyard during her childhood.
"They always challenged me," she said. "They never let me beat them. I was kind of the guinea pig. They'd stick me in net, I'd play goalie. They'd always invite me out to play and never said, `Oh you have to stay inside.'"
Matt, who played Division III hockey at SUNY-Fredonia, and Thomas, currently a senior at BC, were role models for Pfalzer, who says their example was part of the reason why she chose to play defense.
Now Pfalzer cites her teammates as her role models and says they helped her learn head coach Katie King Crowley's defensive systems and achieve an impressive +6 plus/minus rating so far. Senior Allison Szlosek, her defense partner, has played a key role in facilitating her transition to the college game.
"We have a good time when we're out there," Pfalzer noted. "We're serious but we always have fun while we're playing."
Playing on some of the game's biggest stages hasn't fazed her either, largely because to her, hockey "has always just been a game." While Pfalzer admits she was nervous for her first game at BC because Division I hockey was always her dream and she wasn't sure what to expect, her ability to keep things in perspective and have fun has helped her to succeed.
It doesn't hurt that she's had international experience while playing for the United States U18 team in the IIHF World Championships. The assistant captain of the 2011 gold medal team and a member of the 2010 silver medal squad, Pfalzer honed her skills playing on the pressure-packed international stage.
At the same time, she was able to meet some of her future BC teammates in sophomores Meagan Mangene and Melissa Bizzari and fellow freshmen Alex Carpenter, Megan Miller and Emily Field. She also had her first taste of playing for King Crowley, who coached the 2010 team.
"It was nice to know people on the team," Pfalzer explained. "I would talk to Mangene [and Bizzari] about coming to BC when they were freshman here, and I felt a little more comfortable knowing people coming into the team."
Just as knowing some of her teammates beforehand helped BC feel like home right away, playing against these players in practice has helped to make her a better defenseman.
"It's awesome to play with people who are really talented, and I get to play with such talented forwards like Carp and Fieldsy," she said. "Everyday I'm challenged playing one-on-one against them or with them."
In the end, Pfalzer has a lot in common with her favorite player Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, even though her style of play is a unique blend of offensive flair and defensive dependability. Like the 5-foot-11 forward, she is a dynamic and creative skater capable of coming up with the big play to help the team win, and she's had to work harder to get where she is today because of her size.
"I like how he was a little guy and everyone always doubted him, but he made it," Pfalzer said.
Now that Pfalzer, like Kane, has made it to the top, nobody can doubt that she'll be an important contributor for years to come.
Written by Jen Dobias