CHATHAM, NJ - Molly Coyne has been a scoring machine for the Chatham girls ice hockey team in her two-plus years skating for the "Chatison" and Cougar teams. But few may know that the junior made one of her more significant scores during a physics class in October.
That's when Coyne recruited classmate Grace Zinn to become the goalie on the first-ever Chatham High girls ice hockey team.
"I became the goalie when I was sitting in physics class and Molly said, hey, you played field hockey, you're the goalie right?," Zinn said. "Will you be our ice hockey goalie, one of our girls is injured and no one is there. I said, why not?"
The only catch was that Zinn never played ice hockey and didn't even know the rules of the game.
"I went to the rink twice with my brother before the actual season started, just to see what it would be like to be on skates," Zinn said. "It wasn't good. I fell a couple times. I got laughed at by children."
Fast forward to last Friday when Zinn came up with 22 saves, including the stop of two breakaways, in the first-ever Chatham girls ice hockey win, a 4-2 decision over Oak Knoll.
Grace Zinn is the TAPinto Chatham Athlete of the Week.
"Grace has become a very welcome addition to our team," Chatham coach Kevin Hannon said. "She is 'all in' and very focused on learning how to be an ice hockey goalie. She is a naturally gifted athlete that has the talent to do accomplish any goal she might set.
"She is someone who works hard and I can see improvement each time she takes the ice. We are very lucky to have her come aboard and be a part of our brand-new program."
Zinn didn't have such an auspicious debut in the first game of the season when Immaculate Heart Academy posted an 11-4 win over Chatham on Dec. 4.
"I was absolutely terrified," Zinn said. "It was so intense. We had done a preseason game before then and I thought, this is fine, this is great. But those girls (from IHA) were such good players. That was kind of how I expected the first game to go. In a preseason game, I blocked a bunch, but this was a complete washout. It was a good experience."
Zinn took in that experience and pressed forward. She tweaked her technique, which is much different than what she does in field hockey and began to adapt.
"The instincts are there, it's the game that is different," she said. "The first thing I asked the coach after the first game: What can I NOT do?
"I focused a lot more on what I needed to do. Sometimes I feel like when I'm in goal I go back to field hockey things, which isn't necessarily the right thing to do. Sometimes when I meant to go down into a butterfly, one leg would go down and one would go out because in field hockey that's what you do. If you're running, the impact bounces you back up. It's an automatic reaction that I had to break."
Zinn got her act together against Oak Knoll, allowing a goal in the opening period before settling in and shutting down the opposition until late into the third period.
"The girls on the team are so fantastic and so good at what they do and that makes it a lot easier," Zinn said. "As soon as I got on that ice, I said these girls have my back. If something goes wrong, they're going to be there to help me make the save.
"I don't think I ever thought I shouldn't do it. It was just a matter of how hard I'd have to work. Honestly, it's taking in everything they say. During the games, I get tips from the girls on what I can do that will help. My skating has gotten better, that part comes naturally. It's learning the game and making it better for them."
Chatham had taken a 3-1 lead in the first period vs. Oak Knoll but Zinn had to hold off the opposition in the final two periods, snuffing a breakaway in each period.
"I had no idea what to do, but I figured if I put myself on top of it, there is no place to go but into me," Zinn said of the breakaways. "Those are fun. I'm an adrenaline junkie. People will be yelling and I hear no outside noise when I'm in goal, which can be terrifying to be honest. I don't even recognize what's happening. My parents tell me that the coaches are yelling to me from the sideline, but I don't remember hearing anybody. I block everything out."
Zinn played a lot of different sports growing, but she was a latecomer to field hockey, where Michael Bessette tutored her at clinics into becoming a goalie.
"I play a lot of sports, but I've never loved anything like being a goalie," the 17-year-old said. "It's a unique part of the game. It's just a different perspective on the game. You see everything. You watch your teammates do well. It just gives me a rush of adrenaline."
Zinn played well enough this past fall to help the Chatham field hockey team reach the state sectional championship game. In addition to ice hockey, she's also joined a Chatham robotics team and is thinking about running track in the spring."
"I love to run sprints," she said. "The funniest joke on the field hockey team is that I can run faster backward than I can run forward. I can cover like 20 yards in three seconds flat, backward."
Right now, she's thinking of moving forward and seeing where the inaugural girls ice hockey season at Chatham will take her.
"I'm just excited to see what happens, where it goes," Zinn said. "I think I'll get better as the season goes. I'll get used to it and eventually get to where I need to be with the rest of the girls. I'd love to play next year, hopefully. If they'll have me back, I'd gladly play for them."