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Pioneer brings Sunshine to Division I hockey

Lindsey Bazzone went from playing against boys to first Floridian playing with college elite.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003

Boston College hockey coach Tom Babson sat in the stands at a tournament two years ago furiously scribbling notes on a potential recruit.

Name: Lindsey Bazzone. School: Deerfield Academy, Mass. Credentials: Member of Olympic Development team. Strengths: Size, speed, aggressive with the puck. Position: Forward.

Babson knew he had unearthed a gem. It didn't take long before he started calling Bazzone his Cam Neely, a former star for the Boston Bruins.

But the most impressive fact Babson learned about Bazzone came from one line of her bio sheet.

Hometown: Oldsmar.

A hockey player from Florida?

"It's the type of response I usually get in this sport," Bazzone said.

Babson knows a good hockey story when he sees one. Before coming to BC in 1999, he spent more than 20 years as an actor. He taught Paul Newman how to play hockey in Slap Shot and had an 11-year recurring role as Sam Malone's lawyer on Cheers.

But the story of Bazzone, 20, a sophomore, was too good to be true, even for Hollywood.

Of the 39,693 registered female hockey players in 2000-01, only 260 were from Florida, none on a Division I team.

Bazzone is the first.

She broke the ice when she signed with BC in 2001. But Bazzone is not a forgotten cog. The sophomore was on a primary line this season and named Hockey East co-player of the week in November.

"It's hard enough to find girl hockey players, let alone one from Florida," said Babson, who retired March 31 after four seasons at BC. "To play Division I hockey, you have to be pretty special. And for her to buck those odds and be the first from her state is pretty remarkable.

"It's funny. I thought I was getting this player from New England and didn't know she was from Florida. It wasn't until I saw her hometown and got a chance to talk to her that I really found out about her story."

* * *

John and Debbie Bazzone's first child, Lindsey, found her outlet through soccer, softball and basketball while growing up in Pittsburgh.

The hockey bug first bit Lindsey's younger brother, Michael, in 1991, the year the Penguins won the first of two straight Stanley Cups. Michael, then 5, cut his teeth as a goalie in youth leagues and continued to play at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy when the family moved to Oldsmar in 1992.

Lindsey, meanwhile, continued to apply her athletic talent elsewhere.

Eventually, though, she was drawn to hockey. She couldn't help it. Her brother played with travel teams, and she routinely tagged along with the family for out-of-town tournaments.

The two bonded through the sport. Michael played. Lindsey cheered. They talked hockey. They lived hockey. But Lindsey wanted more. She was itching to get on the ice.

During one of her brother's tournaments in Alabama, she finally asked her parents if she could play. The request was met with hesitation. John and Debbie knew their daughter was not going to play the same position as their son. Lindsey didn't want to stop shots. She wanted to score. She also wanted to hit.

To do that, Lindsey had to play with the boys. Girls hockey did not exist in the Tampa Bay Junior Lightning League. One girl played on Michael's team but quit quickly. Girls never played anything but goalie. There was a reason. It was rough. Checking was allowed, and Lindsey's parents feared she would get squashed whenever she got pinched against the boards. They wondered why she chose a sport that offered its fair share of bumps and bruises.

"Our biggest concern was there were no other girls," Debbie said. "We knew that she could do it. We just didn't know what to expect. I guess a part of me also thought that I would be losing my little girl."

John and Debbie didn't supply Lindsey with top-of-the-line equipment at first. She was 12 and an all-star in softball and basketball.

"We weren't going to spend a lot of money until we knew she was serious," John said.

Despite attempts by her family to steer her away from it, Lindsey wanted to play hockey. Aided by a love for the game and a deep-rooted fear of failure, she willed herself into a player. When she wasn't taking classes or skating at a nearby rink, she often could be found in the driveway slapping a puck past her brother into a makeshift net.

A year after learning the nuances of the game, Lindsey was ready to play in a league. She tried out for the Tampa Bay Lightning peewees (12-13 year old) travel team, the first girl to participate in that age group.

* * *

Playing against boys was not the easiest way to break into the game. Often, the boys dished out high sticks and cross-checks instead of the puck.

Some told the coach they didn't believe Lindsey could cut it. The coach asked her if she wanted to move down to the recreational league. Lindsey took that as an insult.

"I think that made her even more determined to make it," Debbie said.

Lindsey held her own and made the gender barriers crash along the boards. She proved them wrong, if not with bruising checks, then with a handful of goals and several brilliant passes. It didn't take long for her to become one of the boys.

"It was odd for them to see a girl out there," she said. "Usually, the first thing the opponents wanted to do was hit the girl. And my teammates were reluctant to feed the puck to me. But they got over that. I ended up being pretty good friends with all the guys."

It took Lindsey just a few games to shed reservations about her place on the boys team. Her teammates eventually allowed her to dress in the same locker room. They also started shielding her from opposing teams' goons even though she really didn't need the protection.

"The biggest thing that helped my sister was she was bigger than most of the boys," Michael said.

But once she stopped growing, the boys did not, and the risk of injury increased. The sport became more grueling, and Lindsey had the scars to prove it. When she was 14, she broke her arm, cracked a bone in her ankle and sustained a concussion as she subjected herself to constant pounding.

That same year, Lindsey found an outlet. The Sunshine State Games offered girls hockey for the first time. Lindsey was one of the first to be selected.

No longer a face in the crowd among the boys, she appeared in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd after a hat trick in the gold-medal victory. Her experience playing against boys helped her stand out. Lindsey landed on girls all-star teams and was selected to the U.S. Women's Ice Hockey Developmental Camp held in Salt Lake City in July 1999. The camp was for Olympic hopefuls and was the first step toward making the national team.

Her selection showed just how far she -- and the sport -- had come. It gained attention in 1998 when it debuted as an Olympic sport and the United States beat archrival Canada 3-1 for the gold medal. Lindsey remembers taping that game and "watching it like four times a day."

A hockey renaissance followed. Colleges added women's programs. High school teams formed, and clubs popped up overnight. But the wave of enthusiasm crashed before it hit Florida.

* * *

Bazzone was stuck. The girls game became so easy, she maneuvered past her statewide female counterparts as if they were orange cones. Often, she played with the boys for better competition.

Needing a challenge, Lindsey made a tough decision before her junior year. She transferred from Berkeley Prep to Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts to play with an elite girls team.

"I knew I would miss my family, and that was hard," Lindsey said. "But it was something I had to do. I wanted to play college hockey, and to get noticed, I had to come here."

It wasn't an easy adjustment. Checking is not permitted, the only difference between boys and girls hockey. Lindsey learned the hard way.

"I racked up a lot of penalties real quick," she said.

The girls game made up for its lack of bone-crunching collisions and speed with an emphasis on playmaking, puck-handling and overall finesse.

"There was a big difference," Lindsey said. "When I played with the boys, it was kind of a free-for-all. The skill was nowhere near what it is up here."

Lindsey wasn't the only one who had to adapt. Most of her teammates had played together in leagues since they were toddlers. They had never seen anyone from Florida who could play.

"I got a lot of questions," Lindsey said. "They would say, 'You played hockey there? What kind of hockey? Field hockey?' Or they wondered if we had ice down there."

The girls from colder climates warmed up to Lindsey once she skated onto the ice and showed her skill. From 1999 to 2001, Lindsey starred at Deerfield Academy. The team won the New England championship for the first time in 2001.

Lindsey's plan to get a scholarship worked. Colleges took interest, and she signed a partial scholarship to play for BC. Her first season at BC was tough. Halfway through, Lindsey developed mononucleosis and was relegated to the bench. She had just one goal and three assists in exhibition games. Tired of watching from the sideline, Lindsey vowed she would break more of a sweat during her sophomore season. Last summer, she went with teammate Alaina Clark to a camp in Pittsburgh. Lindsey also played in different leagues at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy.

"I played against her a few times and knew she was a good player," Clark said. "(Lindsey) being from Florida wasn't as big of a deal to me as some of the other girls. Heck, I'm from California. It just shows how much the sport has evolved. Players aren't just from the Northeast and Midwest anymore."

After spending last summer sharpening her game, Lindsey's wish of making it onto a primary line was fulfilled. She scored eight goals and helped the Eagles win 12 games. "Lindsey has shown tremendous improvement," Babson said. "But that didn't surprise me. She's a pretty determined person. I could tell that when I first started talking to her. Hockey wasn't handed to her.

"Just look at what she had to go through to be able to play. There was a commitment and a will and a passion. That's what I look for in a player."

By opening eyes with her play, Lindsey also has opened doors for others. Roxanne Gaudiel of Venice is a freshman goaltender at Princeton and the second player from Florida on a Division I team. Even Lindsey's brother is following her. Michael, 17, is a junior goaltender at Deerfield. "My sister has became a pretty good player," he said. "She's even taught me a few things."

But Lindsey doesn't see herself as Florida's matriarch of hockey.

"All I've ever wanted to do," she said, "is play the game."


SCHOOL: Boston College

YEAR: Sophomore


BORN: Nov. 18, 1982

MAJORS: Biology (pre-med) and English

FAVORITE MALE HOCKEY PLAYER: "I'm from Pittsburgh, so I always had pictures of Mario Lemieux."

FAVORITE FEMALE HOCKEY PLAYER: "Cammi Granato (captain of the U.S. Olympic team) is the main player when it comes to women's hockey, so I'd have to go with her."

MOST MEMORABLE HOCKEY MOMENT: "Winning the New England championships (equivalent of a state title) in 2001."

DESTINATION IN 2006: "I'd like to be playing in the Olympics. That would be the ultimate dream."

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