Melanie Ruzzi was hired as the new head coach of the women's hockey team, Vice President for Athletics and Recreation M. Grace Calhoun PhD’92 announced in a statement May 20. Ruzzi will replace former women's hockey coach Zaban Wahlig, who stepped down from the position April 14. Ruzzi called the opportunity to serve as head coach at Brown “sort of like a dream."
"Through her background locally at Providence College, in addition to her experience at three Ivy League institutions and USA Hockey, (Ruzzi) quickly rose to the top of an extremely strong and competitive candidate pool,” Calhoun said in a statement to Brown Athletics. “We feel that she is the perfect fit to restore Brown women's ice hockey to prominence and cannot wait to welcome her, along with her partner Katie Guay ’05, when they arrive on College Hill."
While Ruzzi has no prior experience at Brown, she is familiar with the city of Providence and Ivy League athletics. Ruzzi began her coaching career as an assistant coach at Amherst College and later served as an assistant coach at Harvard before joining Providence College’s coaching staff. Ruzzi played college hockey at Providence, where she would go on to serve as associate head coach. “I very much think of the city of Providence as a second home,” she told The Herald.
Ruzzi has spent the past two years as an assistant women's hockey coach at Princeton, an experience she expects will prove useful in her transition to coaching at Brown. “It’s just shifting from recruiting to Princeton to recruiting to Brown,” she said. “I think one of the positive things for me is that we are looking for similar caliber students, but we're just now looking for a fit at Brown, which is very different (from Princeton).”
Women’s hockey player Lily Lacey ’24 was impressed by Ruzzi’s resumé. “She seems very, very qualified for the job,” Lacey said. “She has the Ivy League student-athlete (coaching experience) under her belt.”
Ruzzi believes her main job as coach is to create an environment where her athletes can thrive on and off the ice. “It’s not that (Brown student-athletes) put athletics first or they put school first; they want to be great at both,” she said. “My job is to create an environment that’s efficient but also challenges them so that they can achieve those things they want to achieve, without putting one over the other.”
Coming off of the cancellation of the winter 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruzzi will be tasked with leading a roster composed of many athletes who haven’t yet gotten the chance to compete at the collegiate level. “We're going to have two classes of student-athletes that have never played D1 college hockey, and so what that means is we're a really young team, but it also means we have a chance to do some really cool things,” she said. “Our challenge is to get two full classes of young women to understand (the Division I) level”.
Despite these challenges, Ruzzi sees opportunity in the timing of the transition. “To take over a program after the pandemic is almost perfect timing,” she said. “It gives the athletes a fresh start."
Lacey and teammate Anna Gallagher ’24 expressed similar sentiments. “All of us are brand new to everything,” Gallagher said. “We have no idea what it's like playing D1, but it's a really good fresh start for all of us.”
“This program has been waiting for change for a while and I'm glad that we can all start on the same page,” Lacey added. “Our rink is getting renovated. There's all sorts of fresh starts.”
Ruzzi has made an effort to connect with her athletes, even though activities are still mostly virtual. “I think that the starter is just to get to know each of (the athletes), their families and what they care about,” she said.
Gallagher spoke to Ruzzi virtually and came away impressed. “She seems like she knows what she's doing and she's very professional,” Gallagher said.
While Ruzzi’s ultimate goal is to compete for championships, she is currently focused on building team culture. “I really want to create an environment where their time for practice, skills and video is the best time of day for (the athletes),” she said. “Bringing great character and great diversity (to) our locker room (is the goal).”
Peter Swope is the section editor of Sports. He also has written stories for University News. Peter is a junior from New Jersey studying history.