WATERVILLE — Many articles have been written over the years on the psychology and psychological pressures of hockey goalies. Colby College senior Brianne Wheeler is qualified to talk about that. In addition to being in her fourth season as the starting goalie on the Colby women’s ice hockey team, Wheeler is a psychology major.
“The whole idea of positive and negative reinforcement — if you are telling yourself that was a bad goal that you just let in, you’re more likely to let in another bad goal,” Wheeler said. “You’ve just got to stay positive. At the end of the day, you’ve got to realize why you’re playing, and it’s because you love the game.”
Wheeler, a native of Brussels, Ontario, has had her chances to get down on herself and the game of hockey while at Colby. She’s been brilliant between the pipes, compiling over 2,000 career saves and a 2.55 career goals-against average. While that has translated to a record of 23-47-2, Wheeler has remained a leader and positive influence for the Mules.
“She’s a fantastic teammate,” Colby interim coach Mallory Young said. “She’s a natural leader in whatever she’s doing. She has a very calm presence with the team, very approachable by anybody. She just has a way of connecting with people everywhere, and keeping people focused, and yet calm and engaged in what they’re doing.”
Wheeler chose Colby after playing in high school and at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire. Though she is a good enough softball player that she batted cleanup, started at third base, and led Colby in runs batted in as a junior, softball wasn’t why she came to Waterville.
“It was all hockey,” said Young, at the time an assistant with the Mules. “We had told the softball coach that she was interested in playing softball, but she hadn’t decided until she got to Colby.”
Wheeler played in 22 games as a freshman, and has played in every conference game over her career. Young says her quickness and rebound control have improved since she came to Colby, while Wheeler (remember, she’s a psychology major) thinks her improvement has been mostly mental.
“In high school I was kind of a shy goalie, would stay in the crease,” Wheeler said. “I was kind of passive. Now I feel like I’m a lot more aggressive in the net, and I’m just more confident in general in my ability, and I think that makes a huge difference on the ice. It took a while for me to really step up and realize that I could play at this level, and I was ready to compete at this level,.”
Wheeler’s mental abilities help her in other ways as well. Like a chess player, she thinks ahead, and that has helped in many of those 2,000 saves.
“She’s a really fun goalie to watch,” Young said. “She’s aggressive. She can see the play developing, and understands where that play might go. If you can think ahead a couple steps, that’s pretty (unusual) for a goalie, just to be able to see that far ahead.”
Still, the wins have not been regular occurrences for the Mules. Colby scored less than two goals per game last winter, and lost several games by scores like 2-1, 2-0, and 1-0. Young points out that there have been numerous games over the years when Colby was struggling but Wheeler kept the score close. But at the end of the game, Wheeler is the only individual on the team with a loss by her name, and she remembers the one-goal losses.
“We had so many of them over my career — just so close, but not getting the goals in the net,” Wheeler said. “This year, our offense seems a lot stronger, and I think we’re going to have less of those one-goal games.”
“When things don’t go right, and it’s her deal, she’s like, âThat was my goal. That’s my problem. I have to be able to fix that,’ ” Young said. “She wants to work on those specific game situations. That’s how you become successful together, is everybody owning up on what their job is, and figuring that out.”
Wheeler also has minors in human development and administrative science. She readily admits she’s not sure what she’ll be doing at this time next year. She’s looked at marketing and business jobs, as well as the possibility of playing abroad. The picture of what she wants for her team this winter is more clear.
“I just want an overall successful season,” Wheeler said. “Wins and losses are kind of whatever, but I just want the best season possible for Coach Young, because it’s her first season as head coach. I’ve seen so much growth in our team the last four years, and I just can’t wait to help them make it farther. I just would love to see the program grow, and our teammates come together, and be a cohesive unit.”