'She's one of the special ones': Lourdes grad Saltness excelling as senior for Quinnipiac women's hockey team
Regardless of when or how Renee Saltness’ season or college career may end, what she’ll remember most is the journey she took from being a seldom-used underclassman on the Quinnipiac women's hockey team to a relied-upon senior goal-scorer and leader.
When the calendar hit July last summer, Renee Saltness’ internal clock told her it was time to head east, like she’d done every summer for three years.
This time, though, like so many college athletes around the country, Saltness had to wait.
That’s when she realized how big a part of her life Quinnipiac University, its women’s college hockey program, and the city of Hamden, Conn., have become.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered more than just game schedules for college athletes, and Saltness’ summer training regimen was just another adjustment she’s had to make, in a year full of adjustments.
“Typically we train together as a team in the spring, then I always come out here for the second half of the summer to train with the team, the six weeks or so from the beginning of July to the middle of August,” said Saltness, a 2017 Rochester Lourdes graduate, who typically skates at Dodge County Ice Arena during the spring and summer months in which she’s home. “It’s definitely been different this year, being home for all of July was different.
“I haven’t been home for that extensive amount of time, but it definitely pushed me to think outside the box and try to train at home like we do out there in Connecticut.”
The constant change over the past year, and the never-ending question marks hanging over this season didn’t deter Saltness and her teammates, though.
The Bobcats’ regular season was limited to 15 games, but they went 10-5-0 and they carry the No. 10 ranking in the Division I women’s hockey national poll into the postseason. Quinnipiac opens play in the ECAC Hockey postseason tournament today at No. 6-ranked Colgate in a conference semifinal game. The winner will meet either St. Lawrence or Clarkson in the championship game on Sunday.
Saltness has flourished as a senior leader. She is second on the team in goals (six) and assists (nine) and third in total points, with 15, nearly doubling her career points total entering this season (nine).
“Seniors are always just fun to watch and Saltsy is certainly no exception,” sixth-year Quinnipiac head coach Cassandra Turner said. “It’s amazing to see when it’s an accumulation of years of hard work and to see the consistency and confidence and the ability to make plays all comes together.
“That’s what’s happened for her this year.”
Saltness made a big adjustment when she stepped onto the ice as a Bobcat for the first time.
She left the John Marshall/Lourdes co-op as its all-time top scorer , recording 132 goals and 238 career points. Twice in her high school career she topped 70 points in a season. At Quinnipiac, she didn’t record her first point until the fifth game of her junior year.
“She’s a goal-scorer,” Turner said. “That’s what she does. In high school she was a remarkable scorer. It’s really hard to score at the college level. It happens right away for some players, but sometimes it takes time.
“We want players who’ve scored at any level, because once they figure out how to play at this level, at this pace, there’s good potential for the puck to go in the net. She’s grown every year here. To see her play as well as she has this year, to be as prominent a part of this team as she has, is (rewarding).”
Though she’s a senior this year, Saltness’ college hockey career may not be finished. She’ll be back on campus at Quinnipiac in the fall, as she has already been accepted into the Occupational Therapy graduate program.
Because of all of the postponements, cancelations and alterations to this season, The NCAA is granting athletes another year of eligibility. So, if hockey fits around her class schedule, Saltness plans to be back on the ice with the Bobcats next season.
“There’s that potential that I’ll play next year, so it really hasn’t set in with me that I’m a senior,” Saltness said. “We have such a great senior group this year. We all have the same goals in mind and expect a lot of the team. That (leadership ability) came naturally because of the culture around (Quinnipiac) and my other senior classmates.”
Turner didn’t hesitate when asked about Saltness returning to the Bobcats for another season. The coach said her “funny and fun to be around” senior will be welcomed back with open arms.
“She’s always had just the most amazing work ethic, attitude and support for her teammates,” Turner said, “and the drive to dive into the process of getting better. Had she not had that, you wouldn’t see the success she has now.
“She’s one of the special ones who have been able to find that next level in their game. She’s been really remarkable, putting pieces and more pieces and more pieces together throughout her career and now she can show that offensive side of her game.”
Regardless of when or how Saltness’ season or college career may end, what she’ll remember most is the journey she took from being a seldom-used underclassman to a relied-upon senior goal-scorer.
“I feel like I’ve steadily grown each year in my role,” she said. “I wasn’t always a regular-(shift) player. I’d get thrown into games and have to be ready to go.
“That’s taught me how to be ready for anything and has definitely contributed to my mental toughness, and to be ready to face anything that comes my way.”