The arc of Julie Sasner’s career meant that she was already retired as a player and in the coaching ranks when the U.S. team was selected for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, the first that would award a gold medal in women’s hockey.
But that doesn’t take away from a stellar career at both levels – as a standout at Harvard and on the U.S. women’s national team, and behind the bench, where she built programs from the ground up at Cornell and Wisconsin, and served an Olympic stint of her own as an assistant coach in Salt Lake City in 2002.
The Durham native, who grew up playing with her older brother and his friends on the pond next to their home on Bagdad Road, and later for the Oyster River Youth Association, is the fourth woman to be inducted into the New Hampshire Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame as a player.
“To follow (Olympians) Katie King and Tara Mounsey and Tricia Dunn-Luoma – the women in there are pretty accomplished women,” said Sasner. “It’s nice that they’re going to reach back even farther.” Sasner never had an official affiliation with UNH, her backyard school, but its influence was a heavy one.
Under Coach Russ McCurdy, UNH was a pioneer program in women’s hockey in the late 1970s, and is still the all-time winningest program. Sasner and her ORYA teammates would make the short walk to watch these top players practice and play.
“I think it was a pretty unique situation, that I got to look up to female hockey players,” said Sasner. “We got to go to all the games. It was great when they played Concordia and Providence and Northeastern and Colby. We even got the UNH players to tape our sticks.”
While playing club hockey, Sasner was also an accomplished athlete in other sports at Oyster River High School, captaining the soccer team twice, the basketball team three times and the tennis team twice. She was the school’s first female 1,000-point scorer in basketball and was a state 18-and-under singles champion in tennis.
“She could have played collegiately in any of the sports she played and was the best player on nearly ever team she was on,” said former Oyster River athletic director Dave Nichols.
At Harvard, Sasner was a four-time All Ivy League selection, and Rookie of the Year as a freshman. She left as the program’s all-time scoring leader (78 goals, 133 points) and was later named to the first U.S. women’s national team.
After five years coaching a fledgling Cornell program she was hired to start a program at Wisconsin. Two years later, USA Hockey picked her as an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s national team and she was part of the staff in Salt Lake City that reached the gold-medal game, falling to Canada and settling for silver.
“I’m not one for pomp and circumstance,” she said, but to be able to take part in something way bigger than my little self was so special.”