Ava Boutilier is starring in her comeback tour.
The 20-year-old Charlottetown native has a sparkling 2.05 goals-against average and a sizzling .930 save percentage while helping the University of New Hampshire Wildcats remain right in the midst of the NCAA’s Hockey East standings.
It comes a year after Boutilier lost a full season due to surgery on her right shoulder.
“This year was kind of my comeback season … (my) comeback tour,” she said Tuesday.
The injury occurred late in her freshman season of 2017-18. She tried to play through it, but the decision was made to have surgery and take care of a few other nagging injuries.
“It was tough, really tough,” she said. “My whole life I had never, knock on wood, really had a serious injury that put me out for numerous months, and it was also my first surgery.”
Boutilier attacked the adversity the same way she has attacked snipers since she started playing minor hockey in P.E.I. – head-on.
With the help of associate head athletic trainer Michelle Mallett, she pushed herself to be ready for the 2019-20 season.
“I kind of took it as a challenge,” she said. “I was like, you know what, I am going to get back exactly where I was before.”
“I kind of treated my rehab like a game day,” Boutilier said, explaining sometimes the sessions would last two to four hours. “My trainer is fantastic. We really pushed it to get back to 100 per cent playing capacity and get as strong as I can.”
Boutilier said she has the same strength and range of motion that she had pre-surgery.
“Now I don't even notice it. Other than the couple of surgery scars I have, I wouldn't know I had surgery.”
Boutilier’s parents, Jo-Ann and Dean, went to New Hampshire for the week of her surgery. Boutilier was grateful for their unwavering support and the help of those around her after her parents returned home.
“Luckily, I have an unbelievable support system down here, whether it is my teammates, my coaches (or) my trainer. They’re kind of like a second family to me down here.”
Head coach Hilary Witt is not surprised by Boutilier’s strong season.
“She’s a great competitor and she’s constantly wanting to get better, so she works hard every day to do that,” she said. “She’s a big part of our team. ... She plays with a lot of confidence. Whenever she’s in there, she gives us a great chance to win.”
The Wildcats (10-10-2) have five games remaining in the regular season. They are sixth in the 10-team conference, three points back of fourth and five up on eighth. Eight teams make the playoffs with the quarter-finals being a best-of-three series.
“The league is incredibly competitive,” Boutilier said. “We’re in the playoff push right now. We’ve been in playoff mode for a couple of weeks now.”
Boutilier started hockey in novice, playing with both boys and girls. She played AAA boys from atom through midget before heading south of the border.
With the Sweetheart girls hockey tournament beginning today on Prince Edward Island, Boutilier has a message for those girls playing in the event.
“The most important thing, especially at the younger ages, is just to have fun with it,” she said.
“At the end of the day, I always say, it is just a game and there’s no reason to get super worked up about it.”
The sport has provided Boutilier with some amazing opportunities, including playing for Team P.E.I. at the 2015 Canada Games in Prince George, B.C., going to Finland with Team Canada and playing university hockey.
“I never imagined when I was younger that I would end up in New Hampshire, about (900) kilometres away from home, playing hockey at a university that I hadn’t even heard of when I was a kid,” she said.
Who – A 20-year-old Charlottetown native who is in her third season with the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats. She is in her second year of eligibility after losing last season to injury.
Education – She has accelerated her education and is in the final year of her four-year biomedical sciences degree. She has applied to graduate school at UNH and plans to pursue medicine in Canada after her graduate studies.
Head coach Hilary Witt: “She’s very gifted in all areas – academically and athletically and she’s a great kid – so it’s a pleasure to have her on our team.”
Did you know? Boutilier was named to the Hockey East all-rookie team in 2017-18.
W L T SO GAA SAV%
9 7 1 4 2.05 .930