Light Heart, Deep Focus

makenna newkirk


ntering her junior season, Boston College women’s hockey’s Makenna Newkirk was asked to make the transition to center. All she had done was rack up 88 points in her first two years as a winger, but as it tends to happen at elite programs, there’s always talent coming in.

With future Patty Kazmaier award-winner Daryl Watts announcing her presence on the wing, it made the most sense for head coach Katie Crowley to move Newkirk to center, keeping her on the first line. While it would be a big change, Newkirk was the perfect candidate for the job.

“I’ve always had the mentality of play wherever the coach needs you,” Newkirk said.

As a center, Newkirk became more responsible for communicating with her defenders, forwards, and goalie, and the learning curve was steep. But the added communicatory role fit very well with her new title as captain.

She was willing to do whatever it took to make the team more successful, and she passed this test with flying colors. In her first year in the middle, she posted career highs in goals and assists, finishing seventh in the country in points.

Newkirk had overcome this obstacle, but was anyone surprised? She has been up to the challenge her whole life.

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he first time Newkirk laced up a pair of skates was when she was 6 years old. Her parents wanted her to learn how to skate so that she could be ready for the various birthday parties in the area. Skating was a staple birthday party event in Newkirk’s hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz., where anything to beat the heat in summer was welcomed.

But it wasn’t just the ice skates that drew Newkirk in—she wanted a stick as well. On her way out of the rink, she saw a group of older boys playing hockey. She turned to her father and said, “Dad, I want to do that.”

She pestered her father for the whole car ride home, but he did not believe that the 6-year-old in the backseat was serious about the prospect.

“By the time we got home, I’m thinking, she’ll forget about this,” Makenna’s father, Greg Newkirk said. “She didn’t. She just kept bugging me, so I finally made the phone call.”

The rink on the other end of the line informed him that they had coed leagues, where Newkirk and one other girl joined a sea of boys. She immediately fell in love with the game and has immersed herself in hockey ever since.

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ewkirk played on the coed team in Scottsdale until age 10, at which point coed gave way to an all-girls team that often found itself matching up with boys teams in the valley. By 14, she had exhausted most of the hockey opportunities that the Southwest had to offer. She began playing travel in Colorado, where tournaments took her to East Coast cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Boston for the first time. The twice-a-month travel back and forth to Colorado began to take its toll on the whole family, but it was one of many sacrifices they all made for Newkirk to pursue her dream.

Ready to begin her second season in Colorado, Newkirk wanted a bigger challenge. She tried to play up on the U-16 team, but fell just short of making the roster. Instead of playing with her own U-14 age group, she went even further east. She started up with a travel team in Pittsburgh, who she would play tournaments with a few times per month, while spending the rest of her time practicing with the boys team in Arizona.

The experience was very formative for Newkirk, as she spent a total of seven years in Pittsburgh and points to coach Greg Carter as a role model who always held her accountable and shaped her into a better hockey player and leader. It was during these years that she started to focus primarily on hockey, cutting back the other sports she played, which included soccer and softball. Under Carter, she created friendships with fellow star players who ended up joining the ranks of Ohio State and Northeastern.

“I think the path that I took was unique and beneficial, and it made me grow up at a young age,” Newkirk said. “I was sitting in airports at 14 and traveling across the country.”

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ewkirk’s cross-country excursions were mostly a result of hockey’s prevalence, or lack thereof, in the Southwest. She loves the Southwest, but also has grown an affinity for the East Coast and is grateful she has been able to see so much of the country.

The next big decision carried Newkirk all the way to the Eastern Seaboard. She tried a brief stint with online schooling, but she and her parents later decided that prep school was the right choice. After touring many schools in the Northeast, Newkirk settled on Pomfret Academy in Connecticut, a prestigious boarding school that would allow her to be easily accessible to college recruiters. She starred at Pomfret under former Eagle Becky Zavisza, totaling 118 points in three seasons. Colleges took notice, and Newkirk had a slew of legitimate options.

She relished the college tour process, visiting 15 schools that included huge state colleges like Ohio State, as well as small, private ones like St. Lawrence. BC came on her radar very late in the process, but it was the campus feel, stellar academics, and being so close to Boston that sold her on the Heights. Harvard was in contention as well, but because the Ivy League does not offer athletic scholarships, Newkirk decided against burdening her parents with more school bills after they had already done so with Pomfret.

“I knew that walking out of school without debt was not something that a lot of kids could say,” Newkirk noted. “I don’t want to take that for granted.”

Her freshman year, Newkirk was joining a team that had only lost three games the year prior, which was not exactly a promising script for her to come in and contribute right away. Well, Newkirk rewrote that script in a hurry. She played in all 41 games for an Eagles team that carried an undefeated record into the national championship, falling one game short of the trophy. She racked up the individual accolades as well. Newkirk finished runner-up for the ACHA Freshman of the Year and led all freshmen with 22 goals on the year.

But going in, Newkirk’s only priority was to get playing time. The humble playmaker just wanted to work hard and get in the lineup. She credits the leadership of the coaching staff and veterans like Alex Carpenter, Dana Trivigno, and Haley Skarupa, for constantly challenging her and allowing her to be her own player. She appreciated not having to change her game to fit into the team’s system and loved the challenge of playing on the nation’s biggest stage so early on in her college career.

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hen asked about her favorite game of her BC career, Newkirk pointed not to a contest where she excelled individually, like when she recorded a pair of hat tricks against BU and Northeastern, but to the team’s National Semifinal victory over Clarkson in 2016. The Eagles fell behind, 2-0, but the team banded together to rattle off three consecutive goals, including the decisive shot in overtime from Skarupa. It seems fitting that Newkirk would point to a game where she recorded zero points as her favorite, showing her modest character.

“She never takes the credit she deserves,” Newkirk’s mother, Janelle Smith, said. “Never ever will you catch her bragging. [Humility] has been her trait for a long time.”

While her numbers dropped slightly in her sophomore season, Newkirk still finished in the top 25 nationwide in points and trailed only teammate Megan Keller in the Hockey East in assists. The biggest strides came in her aforementioned third season, where she was only the eighth junior to be named a captain in program history.

Newkirk pointed to the ease of being a captain on a team like BC, because, as she says, it’s full of great people who need very little oversight. She was honored by this new role, but it did not greatly change her mindset.

“If people find you as a leader, that’s amazing,” Newkirk said. “But don’t change the way you act based on a leadership role.”

Referred to by her mother as a quiet leader, Newkirk effectively took control of an Eagles team that suffered from losing stalwart defenders Keller and Kali Flanagan to the U.S. Olympic Team. Newkirk’s outstanding vision on the ice led to a career-high 37 assists, good for fifth in the country. Many of these passes set up Watts, who led the nation in points and goals as a freshman from the left wing. As prolific of a goal scorer as Newkirk is, she’s tallied more assists than scores in every season, which speaks to why she was a perfect choice for captain.

Growing up in Scottsdale, Newkirk has always admired Shane Doan. The NHLer played 21 seasons for the Pheonix/Arizona Coyotes, during many of which he served as team captain. A right winger, Doan’s game was much like Newkirk’s: He posted 570 career assists to 402 goals, always looking for the open man instead of taking the shot himself. Newkirk praised not just his play on the ice, but his loyalty to a struggling team that made the playoffs just three times in his final 15 seasons, as well as his incredible level of community involvement. Newkirk sought not just to be like Doan as a player, but as a person as well.

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ntering her senior season, Newkirk will once again skate with the C patch on her jersey, and this time, it’s along with Keller and Flanagan, all of whom are seniors who don’t just know the ropes—they’ve mastered them.

Newkirk noted how important it is to be there for everyone. The first month of college hockey is often difficult for the freshmen, so from a leadership perspective, the importance of being friendly and letting them know that the entire team has their backs cannot be understated. Having great upperclassmen mentors herself, Newkirk strives to give the freshmen as wonderful of an experience as she had, providing them with a welcome environment, both on and off the ice.

Looking forward to her own season, Newkirk knows that the ever-elusive National Championship is the light at the end of the tunnel, but she also understands that solely looking at the big picture is detrimental, preferring a day-by-day approach. Her team fell one game short three seasons ago, and while a championship would be a dream come true for the roster, once again, for Newkirk, it’s not just about herself. She wants a championship to celebrate with the alumni who came so close but could not get over the hump. She credits the family-like nature of the alumni network and pays respects to the Eagles teams that came so close but fell just short.

For as committed as Newkirk is to hockey, she carries a lighthearted, carefree demeanor, especially as she has progressed through her years at BC. This season being her final on the Heights, she is placing an added emphasis on soaking it all in and enjoying what time she has left in college. She does not like carrying herself too seriously, because that’s when it stops being fun.

“We gel together really well,” current teammate and roommate Keller said. “She’s so laid-back and easy to get along with.”

As the girl who couldn’t stop bugging her dad to sign her up for hockey, flew across the country for travel teams, and moved to center two years into her college career, Newkirk’s dedication to the sport has never been disputed.

The only question that remains is how she will write her final chapter on the Heights, and how much fun she will have along the way.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart
Images by Julia Hopkins, Kaitlin Meeks, and Bradley Smart

Marc Occhipinti

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