By Joe Ray - Marketing and Communications Coordinator
For Hayley Scamurra ’13, her focus on academics and athletics was always a balancing act. When Scamurra's chance to represent the United States on ice hockey’s biggest stage emerged, however, it was a calling she could not ignore.
Today, she and her teammates from Team USA are three games away from Olympic gold at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
At Nichols School, Scamurra played for the Nichols girls prep hockey team as a ninth-grader. In the three years that followed, she balanced a Canadian junior hockey schedule with playing for a state championship-winning Vikings varsity girls soccer team and a rigorous class load. Scamurra went on from Nichols to Northeastern University, where she was a three-time conference All-Academic team member and put up 111 points in 123 college hockey games.
Then, while taking graduate classes at the University at Buffalo to pursue a career as a speech pathologist, she got a call – in the middle of finals week, of all times – to attend a USA Hockey camp.
“It was just an indescribable feeling honestly because at that point I wasn’t expecting it. I was in grad school thinking I’d have fun playing pro hockey for a bit and then get into a career outside of hockey and go from there,” Scamurra said. “I figured I’d give it a shot and had nothing to lose, and that’s what started my journey with USA Hockey. I kept making teams and figured once I made the World Championship team, I decided to leave graduate school because I could go back to that any time I want, but hockey, you can’t play forever.
“I wanted to put everything into it so I didn’t have any regrets, and I’m glad that’s the decision I made.”
That phone call set Scamurra on track to where she is today – at the peak of a hockey career that has gone from high school to college, professional, national, and now Olympic teams.
Throughout her time at Nichols, Scamurra managed a tougher schedule than most students. Playing junior hockey in Canada and commuting back to Buffalo challenged her, and through it all, she found fulfillment in the classroom and on the ice.
English was Scamurra’s favorite subject at Nichols, and she recalled how Upper School English teacher Roddy Potter ‘82 fostered student-led discussions and made reading fun. As a senior, Scamurra took engineering with Upper School physics and robotics teacher Larry Hiller and still remembers making a catapult for an experiment with her classmates.
“A Nichols education, it’s rigorous, I had a lot of work to do, and then driving three hours five days a week [for hockey] was crazy,” Scamurra said. “We had so many teachers with different backgrounds and perspectives, and a lot of unique classes you could take there that I feel like you couldn’t take at other schools. I loved learning different things and challenging my brain in that sense, and I feel like I definitely got that at Nichols.”
Scamurra did not get the call from Team USA to attend under-18 camps as a high school student, nor did she throughout her standout career at Northeastern. Professional hockey gave Scamurra an avenue to continue playing the game she loved, and after winning Rookie of the Year honors in the former National Women’s Hockey League with her hometown Buffalo Beauts, she received her first invite to a USA Hockey camp.
Scamurra went on to make her national team debut at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Espoo, Finland, helping the Americans win a gold medal. From that point on, her ongoing commitment to the American hockey program paid off. She earned a roster spot with Team USA’s IIHF World Championship rosters in 2020, when the tournament was canceled at the start of the COVID pandemic, and again in 2021, where the Americans won silver.
To her credit, Scamurra says the incremental growth throughout her hockey career helped her feel prepared going into each new opportunity.
“I got used to the college level and then made professional teams and that was a step higher, then I made national teams and that was another step higher,” she said. “I think taking those gradual steps was helpful. It helped me acclimate better to the teams I was on, so it didn’t feel like a drastic jump.”
At seven years old, Scamurra dreamed of being an Olympic hockey player. That year, the U.S. women’s ice hockey team won silver at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City – just the second time a women’s ice hockey competition was held at the Olympics.
Now, after three years in the national spotlight, Scamurra was prepared to step up once again to the highest stage of her sport. She entered the Olympic residency camp in October 2021 and carved out a spot on the United States roster for these 2022 Winter Olympics.
When it came to the moments that made Scamurra stop and realize the amazing opportunity she earned as an Olympian, the Opening Ceremonies were at the top of her list. Getting to meet five-time Olympian and Team USA snowboarding star Shaun White was an exciting moment for Scamurra too. It helped her see the camaraderie and the shared joy every athlete feels in that formal opening of the Olympic Games.
“It was a lot of waiting around to get it all organized with every country here with all athletes that are here, so you’re moving to a lot of different places, waiting, walking,” she said, describing the anticipation of the Opening Ceremony. “As you’re doing that though, you’re with all these other Team USA athletes and bonding over this shared team experience. It’s just so cool to meet all these different athletes, what they’ve been doing, how hard they’ve been working to get to this point.”
The biggest reality check has been on the ice though for Scamurra. As with every step in her hockey career the Olympics, she was presented with new challenges on the ice, and she has faced the world’s largest stage for women’s hockey with determination and found success.
Scamurra has two assists in four games for the United States, as the team earned a 3-1 record in preliminary play.
“I definitely had some nerves,” Scamurra said looking back on her first appearance during these Olympics. “I didn’t realize how nervous I was until I was feeling it on the bench before shifts.
“You just kind of realize what stage you’re on and how much you’ve been working to get to this moment. Then you just start remembering it’s the same game you’ve been playing for years and remember that and try to have fun with it. I think I’ve gotten in the swing of things and I’m feeling more comfortable out there, remembering why I’m here, why I’m on this team, and why I love this game so much.”
Scamurra’s journey as an Olympian is far from over though, as Team USA looks past preliminary play in pursuit of a gold medal. USA plays Czechia in the women’s ice hockey quarterfinal on Thursday, February 10 at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time. Semifinal matchups will be held February 13-14, and the medal games are set for February 16.
Congratulations Hayley, and best of luck from the entire Nichols community!
Story photo credit: USA Hockey