The first time Victoria Vigilanti ever played goalie, her team lost 9-1.
“I don’t think I made one save the whole game,” Vigilanti said.
Over 13 years have passed since that game, and needless to say, Vigilanti’s play has improved. The Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey team is in the midst of their best season in program history (15-8-7 overall, 8-4-6 ECAC), thanks in large part to the play of their freshman netminder.
Vigilanti’s .944 save percentage is best in ECAC Hockey and third in the nation. Her 1.39 goals against average ranks only behind the goaltending tandem of Christina Kessler and Laura Bellamy from Harvard in ECAC Hockey. She has seen the bulk of the minutes in net for Bobcats, and is fourth in the nation in minutes played.
Vigilanti may just be the cure for what has ailed this program over the years. The Bobcats only average 2.1 goals scored per game, which ranks in the bottom half of ECAC Hockey. But Vigilanti’s play between the pipes has saved the Bobcats time and time again.
She has held the last seven teams QU has faced to one goal or less, leading the Bobcats to a 5-1-1 record over that span. Senior captain Kallie Flor has endured some of the lean years this program has gone through, and realized early on that Vigilanti was the real deal.
“I could see it the first week of practice,” said Flor, who has already notched a career-high 10 goals this season. “We would just be messing around playing the rebound game, which is a game of the shooter against the goalie, and she stopped everything. She’s a hard goalie to beat.”
She even protects the net when play is stopped.
Vigilanti, who just won her fourth ECAC weekly award, often stays in her crease when timeouts are called by head coach Rick Seeley, but simply feels it’s just one part of her intense focus during her 60 minutes on the ice.
“It’s a total mental game; a lot of the girls make fun of me because I talk to myself,” Vigilanti said. “I tell myself not to think about anything, and I constantly knock on wood. But you have to do it, because you’re standing there by yourself, and you don’t want to think about anything else besides stopping the puck. Once you lose focus they’re going to score.”
“She has really been the backbone of our team,” Flor said. “She has kept us in so many crucial games and allowed us to gain and keep the momentum throughout a game. A good goalie can change the game with one huge save, and Vigi makes them all the time.”
Perhaps her most impressive effort came this past weekend in a scoreless tie at Cornell. Vigilanti stopped all 37 shots she faced, including 18 in the third period where Quinnipiac was outshot 18-1, putting on a display that Flor termed as “the best I’ve ever seen a goalie play at this level.”
Vigilanti says she thrives on the situations when it’s all on her shoulders.
“It’s all confidence. If you don’t have the confidence, you can’t play,” Vigilanti said. “I like that pressure. I like knowing that if I screw up, we could probably lose the game.”
If there’s any perceived weak spot that opposing teams think they find, it’s her height.
Vigilanti is listed at 5-foot-2, and her head barely creeps above the crossbar of the goal. That means teams will often take their chances high and try to beat her in either top corner.
“Everyone’s like, ‘shoot high on her, she’s short,’ ” Vigilanti said. “Of course I’m going to play as big as possible, and Coach always says I have to play on my feet. If I go down, a taller goalie would cover more net than I would so I have to challenge the puck more.”
Even though she’s been playing hockey since she was four years old, it wasn’t the only sport in which she’s had to protect the net. Vigilanti played soccer for many years leading up to high school before finally making the decision to focus on hockey.
“I played soccer for awhile too and I was a goalie as well, but I didn’t really like it,” Vigilanti said. “I usually just did it to stay in shape for hockey. People would ask me if I was going to choose hockey or soccer, and it wasn’t even a question for me.”
Looks like she made the right choice.
Photo credit: Caiti Kaminski