Steamboat hockey player inks with Western New England University |

Steamboat hockey player inks with Western New England University

Steamboat Springs hockey player Alexa Paoli committed to play on the first-ever women’s hockey program at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Alexa Paoli/Courtesy

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs hockey player Alexa Paoli has been playing with the boys for about half of her athletic career. Going back and forth between girls and boys hockey, the defender had to adjust her mindset and style of play. 

Now, she’s committed to play women’s hockey after signing with the first-ever Western New England University women’s hockey team. 

“At first, I was like, ‘ooh, first year, I don’t know about this,’” Paoli confessed. “But I was kind of thinking, it’s a great opportunity. It’s kind of like I get to help build the program.”

WNEU, an NCAA Div. III school in Springfield, Massachusetts, announced the expansion of its athletic programs in June. Paoli knew she wanted to go back to the East Coast, where her parents are originally from, so after speaking with the coach at WNEU, she committed. 

“I haven’t been there, but everything I’ve seen it seems like it’s a great campus. The coach I talked to — she’s really awesome,” Paoli said. “And it’s not too big of a school, but it’s not too little. It’s kind of in the middle.”

Having Katie S. Zimmerman as the appointed head coach of the brand new program helped convince Paoli. Zimmerman formerly coached at Amherst College, as well as USA Hockey and at SUNY Cortland. Paoli thought playing for her was a great opportunity. 

The Steamboat senior spent the last hockey season playing for the Hockey Training Institution Stars Elite, an all-girls U20 team based out of Barrie, Ontario. Prior to that, she played for the Steamboat Springs boys varsity squad. The year before that, she was on another all-girls team, Team Colorado. Ahead of that, she was on the Bantams boys team. Finally, she’s settling into a role on a roster full of females.

“I love boys hockey, and it’s so much fun because everyone is competing and going hard, but girls hockey has another aspect of different plays and stuff like that,” Paoli said. “I don’t know how to put it into words.”

Over years of playing the sport, Paoli has learned a lot about herself as a person and as a player. She thinks she’s good at having her teammates’ backs and making the hard pass, but she admits she needs to work on her confidence. A few coaches have told her that she has skills but just needs to implement them more often.

Paoli quit hockey when she was a Mite because she had to play with the boys, but she obviously got back into the game. Playing with the boys has helped make her into the player she is now. 

“I love how big of a community (the sport of hockey) is,” Paoli said. “In the sport itself, everyone cares for each other. Even if you play against each other and you hate each other on the ice, you’re friends off of the ice. It’s brought me to so many new places. I’ve made so many new friends.”

Since she’s been in Canada, Paoli has been doing remote learning for her entire senior year of high school, something that her peers are still getting used to due to COVID-19. 

“I got all my complaining over in September,” she said with a chuckle.

With the addition of women’s hockey, WNEU joins 65 other schools at the D-III level to offer varsity women’s hockey. Women’s hockey is rapidly growing and is changing, especially at the professional level. The National Women’s Hockey League just announced an expansion team in Toronto. 

“It’s a really fast-growing sport, and I’m so glad it’s growing how it is,” she said. “Every girl should be able to see that you can go somewhere.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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