Gilford's Shayna Tomlinson recently signed her National Letter of Intent, as the St. Paul's School senior will attend Division I Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y. this fall. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
March 24, 2014GILFORD — Shayna Tomlinson took her first strides on skates at the age of three. Some 15 years later, she shows no signs of slowing down.
The Gilford native recently closed out her senior hockey season at St. Paul's School in Concord, and she signed her National Letter of Intent to play next year at Division I Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y.
"After I committed last spring, it was kind of a huge weight lifted off my shoulders," said Tomlinson of the decision. "This fall when everyone was stressing I was able to relax a bit. I still have to keep up my grades but it's nice to know where I'm going and playing next year. I knew (RPI) was the right choice for me."
Tomlinson began her life on skates as a three-year old, and she quickly joined the Lakes Region Lakers youth hockey program at Laconia Ice Arena. She played with the boys in those early years, quickly making a name for herself. It wasn't until seventh grade where she made the shift to playing against all girls.
"I loved playing against the boys but I was definitely ready for the change," said Tomlinson. "My foundation was all boys' hockey. So I had about four years of checking before switching over."
The girls' game was much more skill-oriented, a more open game that was perfect for Tomlinson's speed and skillset. She quickly took to it.
"I liked it a lot better," she said. "It was faster and more skilled, less taking people out and that kind of thing. Girls' hockey is still pretty physical but no real blatant hitting."
Tomlinson's decision to play with the girls came with a big commitment however, as the options in this region were limited. She decided on a U14 team in Concord, Mass., joining the Assabet Valley girls' hockey program.
"It was a big commitment," said Tomlinson of the 90-mile trek to Concord, "but ultimately we decided that it would be best for me."
One big decision out of the way, the time quickly came for Tomlinson to make her high school choice. While she attended Gilford Middle School, the fact that the high school didn't offer a girls' hockey team meant she began looking into the prep school route. With the help of some of her club teammates, she explored several options.
"There were a couple of girls on my Assabet team that were already in prep school and they kind of got us thinking about it," she explained. "We would play against some of those schools so I got to see what it was like. I didn't really want to live away from home at first, so I was looking into schools like Brewster and Holderness. But when I got into (St. Paul's, a 100-percent boarding school), I couldn't say no. It's an amazing school."
When Tomlinson stepped foot onto the campus in Concord, her new hockey team wasn't exactly excelling. In fact, her club team of middle school players beat the varsity team at St. Paul's before she got there.
"We had a really tough time," said Tomlinson of her freshman year. "We didn't win many games and that was a little different for me. But my sophomore year, it started to turn around for us. We were .500 or so but you could see us getting better."
With Tomlinson pacing the offense as a sharpshooting forward, St. Paul's took a huge step forward during her junior campaign. Now with her as a co-captain, the squad lost just two games all year, reaching the New England semifinals thanks to the best year in program history.
"We had an incredible season," said Tomlinson of the 2012-13 campaign. "I think going into this year, we knew we would be even better though."
As a co-captain yet again for her senior year, Tomlinson's team powered its way through yet another record-breaking campaign. But St. Paul's fell a bit short of a championship, losing a 1-0 game to eventual Division I NEPSAC champ Westminster in the semis.
Despite the loss, Tomlinson's contributions to the program were impressive. She was the Independent School League (ISL) co-MVP this year, and earned All-ISL honors once again.
"Shayna is without a doubt our best all-around player," said St. Paul's head coach Heather Farrell. "Shayna has been an incredibly consistent player. She leads by example and competes day in and day out. She has learned how to play hard without taking penalties and is always the go-to play for all on-ice situations. She is a student of the game, ready to learn from her coaches and to help out her teammates."
While the season didn't quite end the way Tomlinson & Co. had hoped, it was certainly a senior year to remember. Perhaps nothing was as memorable as the team's regular season matchup with Governor's Academy though, as St. Paul's was invited to play at Fenway Park during the Frozen Fenway series in January.
"Our coach e-mailed the whole team back in like November that we were going to get to play at Fenway and we were all so excited," said Tomlinson. "It started coming up and we had to try and treat it like a normal game. When we got there, we came out of the dugout and everything so it was an amazing experience. We wore the eye black and everything because it was sunny out."
Scoring was hard to come by for both sides in the outing, and the teams skated to a 0-0 draw with several Gilford community members making the trek to Boston for support.
"It was kind of a bummer to tie but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything," Tomlinson recalled. "I'll probably never get a chance to do something like that again."
With this hockey season now behind her, Tomlinson's days at St. Paul's are numbered. She'll hope to lead the lacrosse team to a postseason run this spring (she also played soccer), and her last days as an Assabet Valley member (U19) are also at hand. The good news is that she'll still get a chance to play many of those teammates in college, with players attending several D-I universities from the program.
"This'll be it for Assabet and that'll be sad," said Tomlinson of her club team that won two national championships entering this year's tourney. "The club really helped me get to where I am today."
RPI played a very competitive schedule this winter, with games against top Hockey East foes like Boston University, Vermont and Northeastern. The team finished in a tie for ninth place in the ECAC standings, compiling a 10-20-3 record.
"I like the school because a lot of the girls on the team were already doing tough majors," said Tomlinson, who will study engineering, of RPI's rigorous academic tradition. "I visited a couple of times and felt like it was a good fit."
Whatever happens next, Tomlinson is prepared for the next chapter in her hockey story. While her days as a youngster motoring around the rink at Laconia Ice Arena don't seem that long ago, in just a matter of months, she'll be showcasing her skills at the NCAA Division I level. An impressive ride indeed.