University of New England freshman Avery Lutrzykowski tracks the play during a game against Nichols in Biddeford earlier this season. David Bates photo

As if adjusting to a new, more challenging level of play wasn’t hard enough, Avery Lutrzykowski had to adjust to a new position only a few games into her college hockey career. 

Turns out, one of the most productive forwards in Maine girls hockey history can play defense, too. 

After compiling 290 points for Saint Dominic Academy, Lutrzykowski scored two goals and assisted on five others while appearing in all but one of University of New England’s games during her freshman season.

“I feel Avery’s a very talented player who has terrific hockey sense, who stepped right in and certainly was an impact on the success of the program this year,” UNE coach David Venditti said 

Before she could take the ice during a regular season game for the Nor’easters, Lutrzykowski first had to earn her spot on the team. She said she talked to Venditti before the school year started, “but everybody has to try out. … So even though I had talked to him I still wasn’t fully aware if I was going to make the team or not.”

“I kind of went into it with a very open mind,” Lutrzykowski, who chose to attend UNE because of its nursing program, added. “I didn’t expect to make the team, but I was very hopeful that I would be given the opportunity, and I’m very fortunate that I was.”

Venditti, who has known Lutrzykowski since she played for Casco Bay Hockey with Venditti’s daughter Sophia, said he thought Lutrzykowski would make the team “for sure.”

Avery Lutrzykowski

“She’s a very strong skater. My concern was, as you do with a lot of people, is just the transition to the college game. Is she going to be able to make that transition?” Venditti said. “And as soon as we got going in the beginning of practices, she immediately showed that she would definitely have what it takes to play at this level and excel at this level.” 

Lutrzykowski’s college career began as a forward, but after dressing for UNE’s first game she missed the Nor’easters’ second contest. Then after playing in a game against Nichols, in which she took her first penalty and blocked two shots, she was switched to defense for the first time since dabbling in position “once or twice” in youth hockey. 

“It actually became a situation where we thought we needed another defenseman, and so I sat a couple kids down — her actually being the first one — and just said, ‘Look, I’m thinking of moving you back on D, would you be comfortable? I’m not going to move you there unless you feel comfortable,'” Venditti said. “And she had said that she had played some D prior, so I said, ‘Well, let’s give it a shot, see how it goes.’ And right off the bat she played extremely well as a defenseman, and obviously stayed there for the rest of the year.” 

Lutrzykowski recorded her first collegiate point in the next game, an assist in a 2-1 victory over Becker, while also recording a season-high five shots. 

“It was pretty nerve-wracking at first, but I actually really, really enjoyed defense,” she said. “It’s a different perspective on the ice, and I think I like the perspective of defense better. You have the ability to see more of the ice than you do as a forward, and I really, really like that.” 

Life on the blue line wasn’t too foreign for Lutrzykowski. 

“For me, I always paid attention, no matter what Coach was talking about. So I kind of had a general idea of how to play defense in the defensive zone,” she said. “And for the majority of my career, for travel and high school, I played center, and center is probably the most defensive forward, so the aspect of the defensive zone wasn’t something that was hard to pick up just because I’ve been around it for so long.” 

Her experience playing forward for so long might have helped her play defense for the Nor’easters. 

“In our style of play the defenseman really starts our offensive attack,” Venditti said. “And that was her advantage, is she had played offense, now she’s playing defense and understands what’s happening at both ends of the ice, and was able to adapt to the college game and use her speed and her hands to excel.” 

Lutrzykowski’s first collegiate goal came on a power play during a 4-3 loss at SUNY-Potsdam in mid-January. 

“It was pretty awesome. I don’t really know how else to describe it,” she said. “We were on the road in New York and it was pretty awesome to score it — I think I scored my first goal the day before my birthday, so that was pretty cool.” 

Her second goal came in the Nor’easters’ regular-season finale, a 2-1 home loss to Endicott. 

“That was definitely a different experience than being on the road and scoring, especially since we were playing Endicott, who is primarily our rival in the conference that we’re in. So that was an interesting experience, being at home and scoring against them,” Lutrzykowski said. “I think it was senior night, so to be able to score and celebrate the seniors in that way, even though we didn’t win, was pretty awesome.” 

UNE’s season was ended two weeks later by that same Endicott team, albeit on the road in the Colonial Hockey Conference championship game — the Nor’easters’ first championship game appearance in program history. 

Despite the loss, Lutrzykowski said she was glad the Nor’easters completed their the season before the coronavirus pandemic began to cut other sports seasons short. 

She and her UNE teammates are hoping to take it at least one win further next season, whenever that does come. She doesn’t know if she will be playing defense again, or moving back to forward, but she’ll play whatever position Venditti wants. 

Lutrzykowski’s first college hockey impression earned her a position on the conference’s All-Rookie team. She said the honor “meant a lot.” 

“I hope that she takes great pride in that, as we do as a program,” Venditti said. “She had a stellar year, and she was positive throughout the year, works extremely hard, very coachable person, and basically did whatever we asked her to do. She was on our power play, she was on our PK. Certainly special teams, as a first-year, she was able to handle that pressure and handled it quite well.”  

A FRIEND IN FRECHETTE 

Venditti wasn’t the only friendly face to Lutrzykowski when she got to UNE. Joining the women’s hockey team also reunited her with former travel hockey teammate Ally Frechette, who played at Lewiston for one season in 2014-15 before attending prep school at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts. 

“I reached out to her over the summer and just kind of asked her about the team, asked her how she felt, and from what she said I was very confident that I would enjoy my experience,” Lutrzykowski said. “It was really nice, especially to have that person that I had known previously. Obviously, tryouts can be a little nerve-wracking, so having somebody kind of help me through it, and say that it’s going to be OK either way, it was very beneficial, I think.” 

Frechette appeared in two games at forward for UNE as a sophomore this season, after totaling one goal and one assist in 19 games as a freshman. 

“Ally was a good teammate and worked hard during practice, and was positive, and hopefully continues to grow,” Venditti said. 


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