Arielle DeSmet found a new home and refreshed purpose in Syracuse
By: Ryan Nelson
CitrusTV Women’s Ice Hockey Beat Reporter
Arielle DeSmet woke up on May 26th, 2021 as a defending College Hockey America conference champion. By the time she went to sleep that night, she was questioning whether she would ever play Division 1 ice hockey again.
DeSmet, a native of Charlotte, Vermont, was a member of the Robert Morris University Women’s Ice Hockey team.
The Colonials program joined the CHA in the 2005-06 season, but did not find consistent success within the conference until the 2016-17 season. In that season, under head coach Paul Colontino, Robert Morris went 24-5-6, the best record in the program’s history, and won their second CHA conference title.
Following this championship, the Colonials program was on a high.
During her time as at Robert Morris, DeSmet was never given a full-time starting role, but performed well during her short stints as the number one goalie. She averaged 2.30 goals against per game and a save percentage over 91%. These numbers put her in the top five among goalkeepers in College Hockey America.
“When I was there, I mean, tough for Syracuse, but we play against them in the Final Four,” said DeSmet about her time with Robert Morris. “We got some conference championships […] but getting that experience there is something that I think was really beneficial.”
Between the years 2017 and 2021, Robert Morris made it to the CHA title game each and every season. The final year, 2020-21, Colontino’s team pushed over the hill yet again and took down Syracuse in the championship game for their third College Hockey America title.
On March 6th, 2021, as then-backup goalkeeper DeSmet was lifting up that trophy, she did not realize it would be the final time wearing the red, white, and blue of Robert Morris.
“We never expected it, no one on our team,” said DeSmet. “[We] came off a great season, so super unexpected, something that we never really wanted to happen.”
Waking up on May 26th, DeSmet was met with confusion and feelings that she had never felt before.
“We got a notification that morning that we had a zoom call with both the men’s and women’s hockey teams,” said DeSmet. “A lot of people are in work and couldn’t even get on the call during the summer, but I was just in a parking lot in my car.”
The call was from the Robert Morris athletic director. The Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey programs were cancelled immediately.
According to a statement from the university, “[The decision] doesn’t detract from the history of our hockey programs, which found success and in the classroom.”
Following the larger meetings with Robert Morris staff, DeSmet remembers sitting frozen in her car.
“We kind of had our own team call and just broke down,” said DeSmet. “The biggest thing was just shock.
In the weeks after the announcement, DeSmet was lost in an unfamiliar place. Robert Morris had given her an opportunity that very few other Division 1 schools did.
Her first thought she can remember following the day was a very simple one. “My college hockey career. Is it going to continue?”
DeSmet had to act quickly in May of 2021 because university registration deadlines were approaching. While her teammates were already fielding calls from other schools that very night, DeSmet spent that night with a quiet phone.
After that, she needed to move to the offensive.
“Being able to reach out to other coaches almost immediately was was kind of uncomfortable given that I had no idea the day before that I would even need to do something like that,” said DeSmet on what she did the very next day.
Of all the coaches the goalkeeper rang up, there was only one that expressed interest in having her join the team, former Syracuse head coach Paul Flanagan.
“[He was] super nice about the fact that while we were a great competition for Syracuse, he really did feel bad for me in that situation,” said DeSmet. “I really respected his opinion and the fact that he was giving me the opportunity to come here because so many other coaches really shut me down.”
Flanagan and the Syracuse coaching staff had given DeSmet a second chance in Division 1 hockey. In the conversation with them, the former Robert Morris goalie said Flanagan’s honesty stood out.
““The fact that he acknowledged the fact that I was a great goaltender in the CHA was something that I really respected his opinion because he has been in the city a while and he is a great coach here at Syracuse,” said DeSmet.
With DeSmet, while her hockey future was always on her mind, she also had to deal with academics. She had already completed too many credits at Robert Morris to transfer to Syracuse as an undergraduate student, but had not finished enough classes to graduate.
This set DeSmet off on a journey in the summer of 2021.
She would be taking five extra classes over the summer with three different universities, while also continuing her job coaching hockey.
“It’s super stressful and overwhelming,” said DeSmet about that summer. “I’m so glad I pushed through it, but in the moment, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get through. I just knew at the end of the day it was going to be worth it.”
Since joining the Orange last season, Arielle DeSmet has proven all the coaches who passed on her wrong. She earned CHA Goalkeeper of the Year in the 2021-22 season, finishing top three in each three major statistical categories.
After winning the CHA the year prior with Robert Morris, DeSmet knew she wanted to bring the same to Syracuse. Last season, the Orange did just that, winning the CHA Championship for only the second time in school history.
Even after reaching the mountain top at her second college hockey program, the adversity did not stop for DeSmet. Head Coach Paul Flanagan, who had taken the chance on DeSmet decided to retire, issuing in a new regime at the head of Syracuse Ice Hockey.
Current Syracuse Head Coach Britni Smith came into the fold in the May of 2022, a year after DeSmet had gotten the call about the Robert Morris program.
“I think going through the transition of schools made it, honestly, a lot easier to switch from to the new coaching staff, but just different coaching styles,” said DeSmet.
The appreciation is not just one-sided though. Despite only being around the program for just over a year, DeSmet is seen as a veteran, respected voice in the locker room.
“She’s been phenomenal for us and she stepped up off the ice in leadership,” said Coach Smith. “I think she’s done a good job of recognizing when something needs to be said. She does a good job speaking up in the locker room, finding those opportunities to use her voice and obviously backs it up in her play on the ice.”
So far this season, DeSmet has continued her hot start to her Syracuse career. She has started every single game for the Orange this season, only allowing 2.23 goals per game and stopping 92.3% of the shots she faced.
After this season, the netminder wants to finish her graduate degree in forensic science, but isn’t ready to give up on hockey just yet.
“I want to do crime scene investigation,” said DeSmet. “I think I want to play professional hockey first if I have that opportunity, but crafting an investigation is what I’m super interested in, solving it final pieces and and getting justice for those that are that deserve it.”
Despite only being at Syracuse for two seasons, DeSmet knows the hockey played here and the lessons learned here are invaluable.
“We’re really big on unity and that everyone has their own part to making us great,” said DeSmet. “I think coming in and just kind of adding my own piece of the puzzle, my own experiences from Robert Morris is something that I’m able to bring to kind of help us get to that ball and really helps combine that unity and I think it’s great.”