PRINCETON, N.J. (BVM) — If you’re great at something, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you are a boy playing on a girls team or a girl playing on a boys team. Just ask Princeton freshman hockey goalie Jen Olnowich.
As a young girl, Olnowich played lots of sports. Her parents loved to watch hockey but never played it. They got her older sister, Allie, into playing hockey.
“I pretty much played every sport I could, but when I was 3 or 4, I started to learn how to skate, because my older sister was a player and she needed someone to practice shooting on so I played goalie,” Jen said. “Then at the age of 5, I started to play organized hockey and really enjoyed it. I narrowed it down to soccer and hockey in middle school and was not sure which I wanted to pick to play in high school.”
Once Jen arrived at Chatham High School, she also arrived at a decision.
“I chose hockey because I thought there was a better opportunity for me to go to a top school because fewer girls played and I also ended up liking the sport more than soccer,” Jen said.
Chatham has both a boys and girls hockey team. During her freshman year, Jen was placed on the boys team.
“It wasn’t all that big of a transition for me as I grew up playing for a travel team for boys,” Jen said. “This was because the shots were a lot harder which made it good preparation for me.”
It was a challenge that Jen embraced.
“Growing up my development was much different than goalies who probably played only girls hockey,” she said. “I became a much faster skater pretty early on. When you’re younger, girls are bigger than boys, but when you get to high school, all of the guys start growing. This made me really have to work on all aspects of my game in order to keep up with the size difference.”
However, Jen has played on some girls teams as women’s college coaches only watch the women’s games. As soon as Jen found out she had made the boys team, it gave her great recognition.
“It was very exciting once I made the boys team because I’m pretty sure I’m the first girl to play on the boys team which made it that much more special,” Jen said. “Even though I played boys hockey growing up, I didn’t think anything of it, but now that I got to high school and made the team, many people were talking about it which was a great honor to me, especially since I did really well.”
Jen’s years at Chatham were successful ones as she was an all-conference and all-county honoree in hockey and earned team MVP honors. She also had a career save percentage of 91%.
Playing high school boys hockey was not only a milestone, but it was great preparation for the next step for Jen.
“A lot of my teammates at Princeton are from Canada and have played at a very fast pace with terrific players their whole lives, so I think playing on the boys team in high school was important for me as everything was much quicker and much stronger,” Jen said.
After Jen’s first season at Princeton, she already made a name for herself as the backup goalie. She played in four games with a 2-1-1 record including a shutout against Union. She recorded a 1.38 goals-against average in those four games and looks to continue that trend moving forward.
Before Jen graduates from Princeton, she has some very high aspirations.
“Obviously I would love to win a national championship,” Jen said. “I’d like to win a couple of titles, including the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship and Ivy Championship, but I would just love to be the starting goalie. Coming in as a freshman there’s not that much expectation to come in starting and I got a few games in this year, but throughout my career, I would love to play the majority of the games.”
Jen’s sister Allie plays professional hockey for the NWHL’s Metropolitan Riveters.
“She loves it a lot,” Jen said. “I’m not entirely sure what post-college looks like for me depending on how school goes and how much I love hockey by the end of it, but I definitely have every option open to me.”
The Olnowich name is one that those in the world of women’s hockey should keep in mind throughout the next few years.