Minnesotan Billadeau helps CHA's Syracuse aim for NCAA shot
by Roman J. Uschak/Correspondent
Syracuse University has been slowly ascending the ranks of Division 1 women’s hockey, and part of the reason for that has been the play of junior goaltender Kallie Billadeau.
“She’s been really solid for us,” said Orange head coach Paul Flanagan. “Her stats this year are very strong, and probably the one thing that’s evolved in the last 2½ years is that she’s playing with consistency.”
Heading into a home series against Division 1 newcomer Penn State late last month, Billadeau had gone 9-6-0 with a 1.47 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. She had notched five shutouts total, against Penn State, Quinnipiac, Connecticut, Rensselaer and Colgate. Her best performance so far this season may have come at Clarkson on Dec. 7, when she turned aside 42 of 45 shots in a 3-2 loss to the nation’s second-ranked team.
In late January, Syracuse stood second in the College Hockey America conference with a 6-3-1 mark, just three points behind perennial NCAA tournament participant Mercyhurst. Overall, the Orange were 12-11-1 following a sweep of Lindenwood in which Billadeau made 39 saves in all, including 28 stops in a 2-1 victory.
“It’s been going really well,” said Billadeau, who is majoring in television/radio/film at Syracuse’s renowned S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “We’ve improved a lot since last year and our new faces have been contributing a great deal. I couldn’t ask for more, and I’m happy where we are now.”
A native of Minnetonka, Minn., the 20-year-old came to Syracuse from Hopkins High School, where she earned All-Conference recognition from 2007 to 2010. Her scholastic career included 15 shutouts, along with All-State and All-Tournament accolades from 2008 to 2010.
“It’s a hockey state,” said Billadeau. “A lot of girls choose to stay home and go to the (University of Minnesota), but I wanted something different. Syracuse is a top school and that was a big factor in my decision.”
Her high school coach, Vincent Paolucci, said he isn’t surprised by Billadeau’s collegiate success.
“She was a tremendous high school goalie,” he said. “She was great in big games and she knew how to handle the pressure.”
Billadeau didn’t make the trip from the Land of 10,000 Lakes to upstate New York alone. One of her high school teammates, Cara Johnson, is a junior blueliner with the Orange. Hopkins also has sent players on to several other major Eastern programs, including Princeton, Cornell, Harvard, Rensselaer and Brown.
“It was definitely intriguing,” recalled Billadeau of her college choice. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a legacy and a foundation for years to come, and it’s been really exciting.”
As a freshman in 2010-11, the 5-foot-7 Billadeau went 7-11-3 in 22 contests and was named to the CHA All-Rookie team, the CHA All-Tournament team and the CHA All-Academic team.
She made 18 saves in a 1-0 win over Niagara in a CHA tournament first-round game at Syracuse’s Tennity Ice Skating Pavilion for her first career shutout, before registering 41 stops the next night in a 5-4 second-round loss to Mercyhurst. It was the fourth time she had recorded 40 or more saves in a game as a rookie, including a 57-save performance at ECAC Hockey power Cornell.
Billadeau followed her first year with a 5-13-2 mark in 21 outings as a sophomore, including a 46-stop effort in the season opener back home against Minnesota. She also recorded 50 stops in a loss at Cornell, had 53 saves in a win at Quinnipiac and stopped all 17 shots she faced in blanking Connecticut.
“She understands teams and situations, and is an excellent student,” said Flanagan. “Her positioning is sound, and when she’s down and out, she’s pretty resilient. She’s had some pretty good competition (from teammates Jenesica Drinkwater and Julie Bengis of Stormville, N.Y.), and I think ‘Billie’ has emerged as our go-to goalie.”
Billadeau got her start back home in the State of Hockey, where her father was a boys coach. “In Minnesota, it’s the only sport, so it was kind of a natural push,” she said. “I started young and (eventually) played goal, and I was lot better at that than as a player. I stuck with it and it worked out.”
The Syracuse program is now in its fifth season overall and fifth under Flanagan, who previously enjoyed success at St. Lawrence, his alma mater. He came to the Orange after nine years behind the bench at St. Lawrence and was closing in on 300 career wins as January wound down. He led the Orange to an 18-17-1 record in 2009-10, his second season at Syracuse, including its first-ever victory in the CHA Tournament.
“We’ve had to carve out our own niche,” said Flanagan of starting the program from scratch. “I think we’ve gained some notoriety and we’re satisfied somewhat, but we want more. We want to win the CHA and knock on the door of the NCAAs.”
Winning the conference — and also earning Syracuse’s first-ever berth to the NCAA tournament — is driving his top goaltender, too. “We want to win the CHA playoffs for the first time ever, be ranked in the top 10, and get to the (national) final eight and win a national championship,” said Billadeau. “My goals fall in line with the team’s goals.”
After she concludes her college career next season, Billadeau isn’t sure what goalposts she might be guarding. “It’s been a big part of my life and it’ll be kind of hard to let that competitiveness go,” she admitted. “Hopefully, I’ll get to play for a year or two overseas before I get into the real world, although I could still see myself playing recreationally.”
Perhaps even back in Minnesota, where she stills returns periodically to work camps and help with Hopkins practices.
“She was the backbone of our team and a wonderful girl,” said Paolucci. “She’s looked up to by a lot of players. She made an imprint here, and I’m not surprised by what she’s done.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of New York Hockey Journal.