For the last two seasons, Team USA goaltender Nicole Hensley has stayed away from women’s professional hockey.
Following her graduation from Lindenwood University and an illustrious four-year hockey career for the Colorado-based university, the 23-year-old goaltender instead stayed on board at the NCAA school, working as a video coach for the women’s hockey program when she wasn’t training or playing with the national team.
After two years of coaching, though, and one long season of centralisation, Hensley will finally make the jump to the Northeast and get paid to play.
It was announced on Wednesday morning that Hensley, who posted a shutout for Team USA in her lone Olympic appearance this winter, has joined the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts. She’ll do so with a collective 8-1-1-2 record and a .929 save percentage in 12 games for the national team since joining the Under-22 roster in 2014, including her 5-0 routing of the Olympic Athletes from Russia in preliminary play in Pyeongchang:
Olympic gold medalist, Nicole Hensley, is a Buffalo Beaut!— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) June 13, 2018
We have agreed to terms with the Colorado native on a contract for the upcoming season! Welcome to Buffalo, Nic! pic.twitter.com/xSlTggVCcZ
Per the team’s official press release:
“The addition of Nicole to our roster brings yet another proven winner to our team and somebody that we think can excel at this level,” said General Manager Nik Fattey. “Internationally and collegiately, Nicole has distinguished herself among her peers and we’re excited to bring her outstanding ability to Buffalo.”
Hensley finished her four-year collegiate career at Lindenwood with 122 games played, posting a career .921 save percentage in the process.
A native of Littleton, Colorado, she’s one of the most decorated female college athletes in her home state, boasting the distinction of two years on the First Team All-CHA honors, two years on the Second Team All-CHA honors, appearances on the CHA All-Rookie Team and National USCHO All-Rookie Team, and CHA Rookie of the Year honors. She was inducted into the Colorado Sportswomen of the Year Hall of Fame in 2016, has won two World Championships gold medals, and now has an Olympic Gold to her name, as well. If she wins the Isobel Cup during her time playing pro, she could join the ranks of women in the Triple Gold Club.
Last season, the Beauts primarily rode goaltender Amanda Leveille during both the regular season and the playoffs, although she was joined on the roster by Kelsey Neumann and Julia DiTondo. The signing of Hensley makes it clear that one of the three won’t be returning, although so far Hensley is the only one who has signed a deal for next year. The addition of the previously-centralized players from the Olympic roster to the talent pool for the NWHL this season will undoubtedly create some shuffling situations, although the addition of the Minnesota Whitecaps - a previously independent pro team - to the league should open up additional roster spots for displaced players (and those who would prefer to play closer to home if they’re from that area).