But for Dublin’s Isabel Heminger, her commitment to play hockey at Penn State carries historical weight: she is the first-ever girl from the AAA Blue Jackets to accept an offer to play hockey at the Division I level.
“It’s so exciting,” Heminger told BlueJackets.com. “I feel like it opens up so many opportunities for other people around me, too. I always knew I could go far in hockey and now I’m able to realize that it’s actually coming true.”
Isabel, who goes by the nickname “Iz,” first put on skates at age three. By age six, she was playing mini-mite hockey – all in an effort to keep up with her older brother Joel, who currently plays for the AAA Jackets U18 boys’ team.
“I think I fell in love with hockey right when I started,” Heminger said. “I liked how fast paced it felt and how different it was from every other sport.”
Heminger grew her game – playing defense, just like her brother – through the ranks of the Jackets’ program, putting in her time on the ice but also working hard off the ice.
One summer, she accepted a coach’s challenge, following the guideline that it takes 10,000 repetitions times to master something. Heminger shot 10,000 pucks, and worked to do 50 push-ups and 15 pull-ups. She said that’s how she learned that doing things “beyond normal practice” is how you get to the next level.
And getting to the next level is exactly what Heminger is doing. After playing on boys teams her entire career, Heminger switched over to the Blue Jackets’ girls program three years ago.
One of Heminger’s coaches in the AAA program is Ohio State alumnus and former United States Olympian, Lisa Chesson.
“(Isabel) is all around a great player,” Chesson said. “Her play is very strong, very intense, she’s always battling in the corners. She’s got a great shot from the point. Playing defense, that’s what you want to see, and a girl her age shooting a puck like she’s 25 is pretty incredible.”
The talent and potential for growth is what attracted Penn State’s interest.
Heminger had already visited Penn State once over the summer when she and her family were traveling for one of her brother’s hockey showcases, but it was after a showcase of her own when Penn State reached out to Heminger’s coaches.
“I planned another visit to Penn State, and I was 99% positive this is where I want to go,” Heminger said. “After I got home, it all set in and I thought this is the best school I’ve seen, and I could really see myself going there.”
Heminger has high hopes for the team she is joining. The Penn State women’s program is just four years old, but is benefitting from a grant from alumni Terry and Kim Pegula of over $100 million that was earmarked specifically for men and women’s hockey development at Penn State.
A member of College Hockey America (CHA), the Nittany Lion women struggled early, but last year, they won a program-high 17 games. Heminger says she fully expects, her voice thick with excitement, for Penn State to “dominate” this coming season.
But while Penn State is the first step of Heminger’s dreams coming true – her principal goal is to be part of Team USA.
“That’s my biggest dream,” Heminger said. “That’d be insane to do.”
According to Chesson (who is quite familiar with USA Hockey herself), Heminger has a good chance to do just that.
“Obviously she’s one of the top players in Columbus, in all of Ohio,” Chesson said. “I definitely think she has a great shot to make a team. Especially at this age, she’s already so good, and she can only get better.”
And as Heminger takes each step in her career, she remains a beacon of opportunity that is growing for girls in hockey.
“It’s so exciting,” Heminger said. “I just know my teammates are going to have opportunities, too. They’re talking to schools, and I’m really excited for them.”
Ed Gingher, program director for the AAA Blue Jackets, is thrilled that Heminger is the first girl to get a Division I scholarship, but he doesn’t want her to be the last. His group is working tirelessly to provide places to play for the elite girls in central Ohio.
The program is young and has contracted a bit to match current demand, but seeing success from someone like Heminger shows that, as Chesson says, there are opportunities for girls to play hockey beyond high school. Chesson says it’s important to show the possibility to play in college or on the national team to young women interested in hockey.
And that is why Heminger believes the AAA Jackets program is so important. She knows that her coaches, whether it was by answering her questions or someone like Chesson showing her how to think through different on-ice scenarios, have set her up for success.
Now the 15-year-old Heminger looks to Penn State to help her take the next step. Though she won’t play her first game as a Nittany Lion for another three years, in the meantime, she plans celebrate her accomplishment while continuing to push to get better.
“She epitomizes everything that we hope for and we’re so very proud of her,” Gingher said. “It’s going to be pretty cool to see if she can get to the level that I think a lot of people think she can get to.”