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On the ice with the BU women’s ice hockey team, Tara Watchorn blends in. Donning red warm-ups like the other coaches and a nondescript gray beanie, she mingles with the players and coaching staff, no suggestion of anything out of the ordinary about her.
It’s only in the details that evidence of her history as a former Terrier superstar and Olympic gold medalist can be detected. Her passes are crisp, her skating fluid. When she speaks, rapt players hang onto her every word, eager to soak up the knowledge of a player with 46 appearances as a member of the Canadian National Women’s Team under her belt.
The first alum to return to the program as a full-time assistant coach, Watchorn (Sargent’12) sees her new appointment as a homecoming. As a player, she helped the BU team become a national force. When the Terriers won their first Hockey East title in 2010, it was Watchorn who potted the game-winner. BU also became a perennial NCAA Tournament contender during the defenseman’s career, making appearances in each of her last three seasons.
“Coaching has always been a dream of mine beyond playing the game at the Olympic level and in college. It’s hard to see a path to it when you’re younger,” Watchorn says. “I knew I was retiring this year, and it was something that I always wanted to do. To be able to come back and do it at your alma mater is a dream.”
After leaving Boston, Watchorn exploded onto the international scene and quickly became a household name playing for the Canadians, the team that captured the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. She is also a three-time IIHF Women’s World Championship silver medalist and a two-time gold medalist at the 4 Nations Cup.
With that kind of starry résumé, it’s no surprise the new assistant coach has quickly earned the respect of her players.
“She’s very approachable. She’s played here, and she knows the pride that comes with this program. She embodies that very well,” BU defenseman Abbey Stanley (CAS’20) says. “With her experience, she knows what it’s like to compete at an elite level. In that sense, we all really look up to her.”
Growing up in Ontario, BU assistant captain Victoria Bach (CGS’16, COM’18) idolized Watchorn. The new assistant coach has become an immediate leader, Bach says. “Having her here—she’s a huge role model. She knows a lot about hockey, and our entire team really looks up to her,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to have her.”
Head coach Brian Durocher (SED’78), who has been at the helm of the program since its inception, says Watchorn’s wealth of experience makes her a natural coach. “Tara was somebody who always challenged herself and wanted to play at the highest level,” Durocher says, “and she’ll bring that knowledge to the kids here and certainly to her working relationship with me.”
Watchorn will be involved in recruiting new players as part of her job, he says, with particular emphasis on students from Canada.
Working with the women on player development is something Watchorn is particularly excited about. “There’s so much to learn, so many little things,” she says. “They are all great players at this level, but when you get to college, there are so many little things that you can work on with them.”
She also says the lessons she learned as a Terrier are already informing her work as a coach. “I was always a player who valued the team culture and atmosphere, so that’s something that is a priority to me as a coach. I’d do anything for my players, and I put them first.”
“She always calls herself a nerd of the game,” Stanley says. “She has a passion for it. She loves the game, and she loves to be around the rink. That excitement is contagious. Her experience offers a lot, but as a person she offers so much more.”
Watchorn is one of two new assistant coaches to join the women’s hockey team this year. The second is Liz Keady Norton, who comes to BU after two years as an assistant coach at Harvard, and like Watchorn, has experience at the international level. She skated in 16 games for the US Women’s National Team during its 2005 pre-Olympic tour.
As an alum, Watchorn says, she finds it easy to sell the school to prospective players. “When I’m recruiting kids, I can go on a tangent, because I fell in love with this place, too. I get to share that experience every day as a coach. That’s something that makes me happy.”
Taylor Raglin can be reached at email@example.com.