“By the way, you won the scholarship."
Cassidy Guthrie heard these words and had to step out of the room.
“Are you serious?” she asked her former coach, current boss and long-time role model, John Haferman — and he was serious. Guthrie had just won one of this year’s NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund academic scholarships.
"I didn’t believe him, honestly...it didn’t seem real,” said Guthrie. "So when I hung up it was the classic two-hands-up-in-the-air celly, running through my mom’s office screaming."
Of course, news this big requires more than one exuberant celebration.
“I sat down, took a few deep breaths, and then I did it again."
Guthrie started playing for the Columbus Ice Hockey Club when she was eight years old, which is how she met Haferman, CIHC’s program director. And to Guthrie, CIHC has become more than just a hockey team.
"It’s been a huge part of my life, to the point where I honestly can’t imagine being who or where I am without it,” said Guthrie. "Growing up in a community that was kind of a bubble, it exposed me to a lot of things I wouldn’t have understood beforehand."
She’s now a sophomore at Miami University and part of their women’s hockey team, but she’s still involved with CIHC — just in a different capacity. Instead of playing, she works there every summer as a skills coach.
"A lot of people ask me why I do the job and why I don’t look for something else that maybe pays more or doesn’t involve driving all over the city,” said Guthrie. “They don’t understand how great it feels to meet all these young kids and to see the excitement on their faces when you say ‘you’re playing hockey today!’"
The CIHC sessions that Guthrie coaches are broken up into two parts: a two-hour skate and a half-hour skills lesson.
Guthrie is studying adolescent/young adult English education at Miami, meaning that she’s on track to become an English teacher for grades 7-12. But she’s no novice when it comes to teaching — she’s just done it on the ice instead of in a classroom.
"When they get on the ice, they’re dead terrified, but by the end of the day they trust you and they want to skate with you,” said Guthrie. "There aren’t words to explain how that feels."
A lifelong hockey fan, Guthrie nearly walked away from the game before her high school senior season. She’d been on losing teams for most of her playing career, and it was starting to take its toll.
“She’s very determined, she doesn’t let anything get the best of her," said Haferman. "You try to teach these kids some life lessons about handling adversity and dealing with disappointment. She’s had some disappointment, there were a couple of years where she was on teams that didn’t win a lot of games."
Luckily, she had a coach and role model in Haferman who helped convince her to stick with it. The next year, as a freshman at Miami University, Guthrie was a part of the ACHA National Championship-winning Miami women’s hockey team.
"Once you accomplish something like that after all those years of losing, it just makes you realize the value of hard work and determination,” she said. "I never quit on it, and that was thanks to some very important people. I got to where I did with some help."
Scoring a goal in the national championship game is special, but a college student receiving the NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Find academic scholarship is unprecedented. The scholarship is typically reserved for high school students prior to their college enrollment, but Guthrie was allowed to apply anyways. And thanks to encouragement from Haferman, she did.
"I was at a point where I’m really crunched for money, so I went through with it and I guess here we are now," Guthrie said. "It’s very exciting and I don’t think I’ve quite grasped it yet."
For Haferman, it was a no-brainer. Guthrie was the perfect candidate for the scholarship.
“(I’ve) known her for the course of eight or nine years and the character she has. She’s also very intelligent, academically,” he said. "I knew she fit all the criteria. Girls in hockey are a minority, she's are really really smart and can handle adversity.
"She was a natural for me to suggest."