Goaltenders that stand 5'2" don't have a choice; they need to be phenomenally athletic in order to succeed.
Kristen Mrozewski fits that bill.
A city cross-country champion and tremendous multi-sport athlete, the 17 year old puckstopper recently committed to the hometown Laurentian Voyageurs, beginning in the fall of 2021. Truth be told, the scope of her athletic prowess was a trait that was evidenced even from the time of her start in hockey.
"When I was younger, I wanted to be a goalie, but my dad wanted me to learn the basics, to learn to skate, learn to shoot before I started to play as a goalie," said the grade 12 student who is currently attending Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Newmarket, part of the move to play in the PWHL, this winter, with the Central York Panthers.
"If we were missing players, I was the one who would jump out of the net and play as a player. For three on three or shinny, I usually am a player. It's more of a fun thing for me to go out and play. But it helped with my skating, things like T-pushing, getting across the net. A lot of goalies struggle with that."
"I'm a quick goalie, so it helps me get across the crease faster than some of the goalies in my league."
The concept of a well-balanced diet of sports has always been front and centre in the Mrozewski household. A talented soccer goalkeeper back in the day, Kristen's father Jasiu was adamant that her progress in hockey always be kept in perspective. In bantam, this would mean bypassing a spot on the AA team in favour of a far less stressful travel schedule with the Lady Wolves A crew that year (a team that was not competing in the Lower Lakes Female Hockey League).
"It worked out really well for me," said Kristen. "At that age, I didn't necessarily have to be travelling for hours, just to play games. I did more training at RHP, had a chance to work on my skills and just get better. When you get older, you can play in those harder games.
Yet few are the sporting journeys that are followed, free of adversity. For Kristen Mrozewski, that would come in her first year at what is now the U18 division. Looking back, it was also the season that really vaulted her development ahead, opening the door to contemplating life beyond minor hockey.
"I really wanted to play on the AA (Lady Wolves) team, because they were hosting the Esso Cup," she said. "I was really upset when I didn't end up making the team. But I played with the Lo-Ellen Knights and we did really well, second at OFSAA, so I was on the ice a lot for that. I had lots of training with the A Lady Wolves, and I got lots of private training."
"I think that was my big year."
Mind you, when it comes to her private training at RHP, sessions where she is most often accompanied by Mackenzie Savard, "big" might not be the word that first comes to mind. Much like Mrozewski, the Onaping Falls native who has played with both the Sudbury Wolves and Laurentian Voyageurs has also had to deal with a size disadvantage.
"I'm pretty tiny compared to most other goaltenders," said Mrozewski. "We know that we can't depend as much on our size, so we always have to be thinking about our angles. A typical goalie might be able to play near the top of the crease and they can cover most of the net. For me, I have to go out further into the paint and get my angles right."
Her Midget A year was also the winter that Mrozewski was first approached about the possibilities of post-secondary hockey. While that school was not among her preferred choices, the mere fact that she was being recruited served as a wonderful confirmation that her dreams were not in vain.
"I knew that I wanted to play hockey for as long as I could," she said. "That was kind of when I realized that this was something I could do. For me, the main thing is that I love the game. I always want to be out there, playing hockey. I think that's really important, just working to always get better."
Taking the initiative, Mrozewski would make the reach-out to schools which offered programs that aligned nicely with her career interest (teaching or nursing). "I didn't just want to go to school for hockey; I wanted to keep my options open," she said. "But this year made me realize that I wanted to stay closer to home, that I didn't want to travel too far, especially with the pandemic going on."
Unfortunately, said pandemic has also muddied the waters for many varsity coaches. Though U Sport has already confirmed that no athlete will lose eligibility based on the cancelled 2020-2021 campaign, the truth is that all university sports will be dealing with at least a small exodus of some sort.
Athletes whose roles remain on the periphery of teams may not be inclined to dedicate an entire season to training for a spot in the lineup that may or may not materialize. All of which has made the job of recruiting that much more difficult.
"I emailed Stacey (Colarossi) during my Midget AA year, just to let her know that I was interested - and we ended up talking," said Mrozewski. "She had been watching me for a few years. We talked again at the beginning of this season and I expressed my interest once again, but she had to figure things out."
"The pandemic has made everything more confusing."
Beyond clear-cut #1 netminder and fifth year starter (in 2021-2022) Shanna Dolighan, the L.U. net is open for battle. Rookies Skylar Blanchard (Brampton) and Abi Woods (Paris) are both with the team this year, though neither will enjoy any more OUA game experience than Mrozewski when the squad reconvenes for real hopefully next September.
"It will be a fight between the three of us for second, third and fourth," acknowledged Mrozewski. "We don't know yet what is going to happen, but for sure, we're all going to have to fight for our spot."
"I love that. I love the pressure. I think that knowing that somebody can take my spot is going to push me to be better."
Not that one should expect anything else from an all-around multi-sport athlete.