By Allen Lessels, Photos by Gil Talbot.
Amy Zappen, Saint Anselm College’s starting goaltender for the past three seasons, lost sight of the puck for just a moment. It sat there, dangerously, in the crease in front of the Hawk net and a Saint Scholastica player moved toward it and knocked it forward, trying to tie the game. Zappen recovered just in time and kicked her left leg and skate out to stop the puck and preserve Saint Anselm’s lead.
Later, at the other end of the ice, Aly Zappen, Amy’s identical twin sister, collected a pass from Molly Corl and headed into the middle of the ice in front of the Saint Scholastica net. Aly waited, and then waited a little longer, and finally fired the puck into the net for what proved to be the winning goal in a 5-2 Saint Anselm victory.
“That was a great move,” Amy said of Aly’s goal. “It was pretty.” Aly was just happy to have finished off the play. “Molly and I connect together pretty well,” she said with a laugh. “I’m pretty sure we made direct eye contact on that one. I knew I wanted her to pass it to me. She told me afterwards that she was going to pass it and was already thinking that if I didn’t score she was going to be some mad.”
Hockey crisis averted.
The Zappens – Amy with her hair braided under her helmet and Aly with hers tied back in a ponytail—had come through again. Stopping pucks. Scoring goals.
Those are just a couple of the many attributes Aly and Amy Zappen—standouts at the rink as well as in the classroom—brought with them to Saint Anselm and the highly successful women’s hockey team upon their arrival from Huntington Beach, Calif., and showcased throughout their four-year run at the Thomas F. Sullivan Arena that wrapped up in February on the ice and concluded in May with their graduation.
“They both played huge roles on the team,” says Saint Anselm coach Kerstin Matthews. “They were both impact players and stellar students who went back and forth on the Dean’s List. They’re great kids. They not only work hard when they come to the rink, they work hard at everything.”
Amy, a criminal justice major, took over the starting goal-tending job as a sophomore and never looked back. Aly burst on the scene from the beginning as one of the team’s key forwards and finished third in scoring as a freshman.
The Saint Anselm folks who know them better away from the ice than on are quick to back up the coach’s praise and note how their enthusiasm and attitudes carry over from one assignment to the next.
“Aly always seems to be one of those kids who just really puts out a great deal of effort when she goes off the bench,” says Maria McKenna, an associate professor of psychology and faculty advisor to the hockey team. “She goes out fast. Just as she’s conscientious in class, she seems to be a very conscientious player as well. She always seems to be giving it her all. She explodes off that bench onto the ice.”
Aly combined two of her passions in a major psychology project. She started her senior research project in Experimental Psychology I with McKenna on the way people perceive men’s and women’s sports competitions and then finished it up in Experimental Psychology II with Professor Joe Troisi.
“She had a nice blend of academic issues in her thesis, melding them with athletic performance,” Troisi says. “She did a fantastic job. It was exceptional.”
Criminal justice professor Peter Cordella knows Amy better than Aly. “I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but she truly is an absolute pleasure to have in class,” he says. “She always comes prepared, the way I suspect she’s prepared for games as well. Since the first day I met her, she’s had one of the most upbeat attitudes that I’ve encountered. I think highly of our students in general and she stands above.”
Cordella is especially impressed that Amy has been able to maintain that approach through the trials and challenges of a four-year athletic and academic career. She wrote her senior thesis on the evolution of the use of forensic evidence (such as DNA testing, ballistics and fingerprinting) in convicting offenders.
“Sometimes with athletes it’s hard and it’s a long slog and by the time it gets down to their senior year, they’re burned out,” he says. “I’ve never seen that with Amy. She still brings the same enthusiasm she did as a freshman.”
Marcel may have a little to do with that. A banner hanging above one end of the ice at Sullivan Arena paid homage to Marcel, the defacto Hawk women’s hockey mascot, this winter. “All Opponents who Enter Beware, Marcel is Watching,” it read.
Marcel is Amy Zappen’s cow pillow pet. “It’s kind of silly,” says Amy, known around the team and school as the somewhat less serious of the Zappens, as she begins the tale of Marcel.
Angela Zevnik, a teammate on the hockey team and Aly’s roommate at one point, gave Amy the pillow pet for her 20th birthday. Amy named him—she says she’s not really sure how she came up with the name—and he quickly became quite popular with the team.
“I started bringing him on road trips and to games,” Amy says. “Now we bring him in the locker room and everyone passes him around and kisses him and hugs him. It’s become almost a superstitious thing.”
Not to undermine the magic of Marcel, but the success of Hawk hockey over the years likely has more to do with the ample talents of the Zappens and their teammates than even the luckiest of pillow pets. Saint Anselm makes a habit of putting up winning records and regularly has one of the top Division II or III teams around. Amy and Aly helped the Hawks to a 20-6-1 record as juniors and took it a step further as seniors. The team matched the overall record with another 20-6-1 mark and the Hawks also won their fourth ECAC Open tournament championship in the program’s history.
Amy and Aly saved some of their best play for the end. Amy, who was named the ECAC East Goaltender of the Year, had a remarkable four shutouts in her last five regular season games. Until giving up a single goal in Saint Anselm’s final home game, she had gone more than month, covering more than five games, without giving up a goal at Sullivan Arena.
Aly collected the second hat trick of her career in her final game as a Hawk. Her three goals led Saint Anselm to a 7-3 win over Holy Cross in the championship game of the ECAC Open. The Zappens and their teammates gained a little payback in the final game, too. In the two previous seasons, they had lost to Holy Cross in the title game.
The Zappens took little time to fit in upon arriving from Huntington Beach, located in Orange County between Los Angeles and San Diego, just over 3,000 miles from Manchester.
Matthews raves about Aly’s skating and her intelligence on the ice. “She’s not flashy, but she reminds me a lot of a professional hockey player,” the coach says. “She’s very solid. We’ve always put a lot of demands on her. She may not always have the most points, but she usually logs the most amount of ice time.”
Amy shared the goaltending duties as a freshman and it looked like things might be headed the same way her sophomore year. But then the Hawks played a game at New England College in Henniker early in the season and Amy was outstanding in a 1-0 win.
“She stole the game for us,” Matthews says. “I remember on the drive home that night telling my assistant coaches that I was going to have to tell the other goalie she was not going to play. I told all the goalies the job was theirs to take. Amy rose to the challenge and never looked back.”
Not bad for a couple of kids who grew up playing roller hockey in California, made a pretty much seamless switch to hockey on ice skates in their early teens and then crossed the country to help a collegiate hockey power continue its winning ways.
The Zappens wouldn’t have had it any other way. They looked at schools that played Division I hockey, but some of those schools were more interested in one of them than the other.
“As twins and sisters, we were kind of worried about going to different schools,” Aly says. “We weren’t sure if we could handle that at that point.”
They talked to former coach Dave Flint about Saint Anselm and committed to coming. He left before they got here and they were excited when Matthews, whom they also knew and who had recruited Aly while at Boston University, took over the team.
The fit has been just right.
“It’s been awesome,” Aly says. “We enjoy how small it is here. You really get to know your own class. And I found I really like Division II hockey. They have that balance between school and hockey. It seems like in Division I that’s not always the case. It seems education here is more important.”
Early on, Matthews encouraged Amy and Aly to branch out and grow as individuals, too.
“We really appreciated that, too,” Aly says. “We were always together and before we came here it was always just ‘the twins.’ It was never Amy separate from Aly. It was always Amy and Aly and we had all the same friends.”
They still have many of the same friends, but have roomed with other people and also have their own circles of friends and acquaintances. They say they have never pulled “twin tricks” and tried to pass themselves off as the other—“We’re scared to do that kind of stuff, we’re afraid we’d get in trouble,” says Aly—but chuckle about the times fellow students and professors who sometimes don’t know they have a twin, wave or chat them up around campus.
Zevnik prides herself on the fact that she was the first to be able to tell them apart: “I stared at them one day—well, not a whole day—and said, ‘I’m going to get this.’ They act so similar at first and look exactly the same. I thought it was important to be able to differentiate between them as individuals.”
A pairing of student athletes and a school that’s been good for the Zappens has been good for Saint Anselm, too.
“Amy has always been super-appreciative of the classes when she’s had them with me,” says Cordella, the criminal justice professor. “As a faculty member, that really makes our job very, very gratifying.”
Zevnik has seen that attitude, too. “They’re definitely key players on the team and it would be a whole different team dynamic if we didn’t have them, both for their abilities and the chemistry of the team,” she says. “If you throw a birthday party for them, everyone will come. You might have the same turnout for someone else, but I don’t think everyone would be as excited. People like doing things for them because they’re so appreciative of it all. It’s fun to do things for them. They bring a lot of character to the locker room. They really do.”
Marcel, perhaps, lends a hand with that as well.