The lifer and the newbie.

Those terms sum up Leocadia Clark and Jack Seivwright, at least when it comes to hockey. They were the starting goaltenders for the cooperative hockey teams fielded by Peoples Academy-Stowe this winter. Both are juniors at Stowe High, and both were between the pipes for two more successful seasons of Raiders hockey.

But their similarities probably end there.

“Leo” Clark, the starting goalie for the girls team since she was a freshman, has been playing hockey most of her life and is regarded as one of the best goalies in Vermont, and beyond.

Seivwright had never skated in a game of competitive hockey in his life until he signed up to be backup goalie for the boys team last year. After one season as the understudy to all-state goalie Kristian Viljanen, he became the netminder for the PA-Stowe team, a small school playing against some of the largest schools in the state in heavyweight-laden Division 1.

Both goalies helped lead their teams to successful seasons. In Stowe’s third year playing in Division 1 facing the likes of Essex, BFA St. Albans and Spaulding, Seivwright helped the Raiders go 13-5-2 in the regular season and earn the No. 3 seed in the D-1 tournament. PA-Stowe was upset by No. 6 Rice in the quarterfinals, but the Raiders’ season did include a 4-2 win over eventual state champ Essex, a game Seivwright says was one of the highlights of his athletic career.

A year after helping PA-Stowe win its first-ever girls hockey title in 2018, Clark and her teammates also moved up, playing nearly half their games against Division 1 opponents. The Raiders still finished the regular season 11-8-1 and were one of only two lower-tier teams to qualify for the D-1 postseason, eventually falling to No. 1 BFA St. Albans in the quarterfinals.

The hockey lifer, Leo Clark

Clark grew up in Stowe and, like many Stowe kids, plays more than one sport. She was the starting goalie for the girls soccer team the past two seasons, and plays lacrosse in the spring.

As March wound down, she’d already traded in her goalie pads — at least the ones for PA-Stowe — for a pair of goggles and a net on a stick.

Clark was one of the top soccer goalies in the Capital League, and is no slouch in lacrosse, where she plays defense and midfield.

But, for her, hockey will always come first.

“I’ve always played. I started skating when I could walk,” she said. Her older brother, JJ Clark, a staple on the Stowe boys hockey team, graduated in 2015. Leo has been playing hockey, and goalie, with him as far back as she can remember. And a little bit even before that.

“He played, so I played with him,” Clark said. “My mom tells me this story: Once I could stand up, he would duct-tape pillows to me and shoot tennis balls at me down our basement hallway.”

Clark is actually a force on offense when she can get out from between the pipes. In her sophomore season, when Stowe had a second goalie on the roster, Clark scored 17 goals and four assists as a defender, nearly leading the team in scoring despite seeing limited action.

“Great all-around athlete,” said Adrien Melrose, Clark’s coach at Stowe High. He’s said repeatedly that Clark is the best goalie in Vermont — high praise from someone with his background. His father is Barry Melrose, a hockey legend, former NHL player and coach, and current ESPN hockey analyst.

“I would say Leo is the best goalie in the state,” agreed Tyler Post, her soccer coach every fall and her goalie coach in hockey season. And he doesn’t just mean the goalies on girls’ high school teams; Post thinks Clark stacks up favorably against the starting goalies on most boys teams.

“She’s a very, very good goalie,” he said. One of Clark’s best attributes as a goalie is that she never gets rattled, never hurries.

“She’s very calm in net,” Post said. “When you get frantic in goal, you start over-moving, and overreacting, and you get yourself in trouble.”

If a goalie is nice and calm, that means “everything has slowed down” for them, and Post sees that in Clark. That, and she has great technique.

“She’s a very technical goalie,” he said, always moving from Point A to Point B in a consistent pattern that allows her to be there to make the save. “Getting there in position, ready to react.”

Clark’s stats in the past two seasons give credence to the opinions of Melrose and Post. In limited time in goal during her sophomore season, Clark went 6-2-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average and a save percentage of 94.3 percent. She was best under pressure, posting three straight playoff shutouts, including a 28-save clean sheet in the 2018 Division 2 state championship game.

Playing against more D-1 teams this season, and working as the team’s only goalie, Clark went 10-8-1 for the year, but her goals-against average dropped to 1.41, her save percentage increased to 97.9 percent, and she posted six shutouts.

“Another special season,” Melrose said about her junior season.

She gave Stowe a chance to win every game. But what stood out most to Melrose was what Clark did after the team lost emotional leader Heather Walker for much of the first half of the season. Clark stepped up into more of a leadership role, earning an A for assistant captain on her jersey.

“She’s not a rah-rah leader who would give huge speeches, but when she did say something, everyone listened,” Melrose said.

Clark would never admit it, but Melrose thinks his star goalie was a little banged up and nursing a few injuries late this season. But she was always one of the first players out on the ice for practice every day, injured or not.

Melrose thinks there are two types of hockey players, “ones who won’t play with a hangnail and ones who will try to play with a broken leg.”

Clark is that second type.

“She showed me how tough she is. Without our backup goalie from last year, Leo had to play pretty much every game,” Melrose said.

“Best goalie in the state of Vermont, no question,” he said.

Clark wasn’t always a goaltender. She played up and down the ice when she was younger, but slowly transitioned primarily to goalie as she reached high school. Clark does still play out on the ice at times when she’s skating for the Vermont Shamrocks, an elite youth team. She plays for the Shamrocks during the short off-seasons between her three varsity sports at Stowe High.

With Clark sharing the goaltending duties, her U-16 Shamrocks teams won New Englands in 2017 and 2018, and finished second both years at the national championships.

This season, Clark moved up to the Shamrocks’ U-19 squad, with the same results: The Shamrocks claimed the 2019 New England Championship by going undefeated at regionals in Concord, N.H., March 15-17. Clark and her teammates will compete for the national championship in Buffalo, N.Y., between April 4 and 8.

Clark can play multiple positions for the Shamrocks, since that team carries multiple goalies, but she has to think a bit when asked what position she prefers.

“Goalie, probably,” Clark said. “But, I still like to be able to do both.”

So, a goalie who scores goals? “I like to score ’em, and I like to stop ’em,” Clark laughed.

As Stowe’s last line of defense in two sports, Clark has piled up plenty of experience as a netminder. Things are different from sport to sport — “What I’m telling my defense,” for instance — but “that mindset of being there, being ready, that’s pretty much the same.”

Role model

Growing up, “I definitely wanted to be the best,” Clark said. She started practicing with the high school varsity when she was in elementary school. Back then, Danielle Mayo, who graduated in 2014, was the Stowe High goalie. Clark thinks Mayo was the best goalie in Vermont at the time, and with Mayo as a role model, “I thought it would be so cool to be the best in the state. I mean, I do work to be the best.”

As PA-Stowe played more Division 1 teams, Clark more than held her own against a level of competition more like what she sees with the Vermont Shamrocks.

“It’s the same speed, really,” Clark said. “We really had to pick it up when we played those D-1 teams. We didn’t beat them, but those were the best games we played.”

The Raiders lost several one-goal games to those D-1 heavyweights in their first year moving out of Division 2. Stowe’s 1-0 loss to No. 1 seed BFA St. Albans in the D-1 quarterfinals put Clark’s skills on full display. She stacked up 45 saves for the game, holding the high-powered, senior-laden Comets at bay all night.

“Best player on the ice,” Melrose said about Clark’s performance that night.

One save in that game stands out to Clark. In the second period, she made a save that ricocheted off a St. Albans player and hit the crossbar. From there, chaos ensued.

“Everyone crashed the net,” Clark said, but she and her teammates prevailed. “Everyone was trying to get it out; I kicked it out, my defense cleared it and the forwards iced it.”

Like Seivwright, Clark has her own drills that, while effective, aren’t her favorite.

“A lot of the getting up and getting back down,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of practice with that, getting into position and staying there.”

Clark hasn’t decided what she’ll do for her senior hockey season. One option is Stowe’s own North American Hockey Academy, which attracts the finest women hockey players on the continent. She may just stay put at Stowe High, but college hockey is in her future, and that future may affect her present.

“I definitely want to play hockey in college. My top pick is U-Maine,” Clark said, and the school has expressed interest in recruiting her. Maine is coming off one of its best seasons ever, and Clark wants to join the burgeoning program.

Plus, the example of Amanda Pelkey, a Montpelier kid and UVM alum on the U.S. women’s hockey team that won an Olympic gold medal, helps Clark and other young skaters dream big.

“I knew her really well from hockey camps,” Clark said. “It’s amazing that someone from such a small state could do that, make it to the Olympics.”

She may not be the last one.

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