Cassandra Sherman may be only 17 years old, but the North Smithfield native has seen more of New England, New York state, and eastern Canada than the average adult three times her age has.
Sheâ€™s seen plenty of southern New England during her days in youth hockey, and sheâ€™s played in every hockey arena in this state during her freshman and sophomore seasons on the North Smithfield High girlsâ€™ team.
And for the past two years, sheâ€™s toured the northeast part of this country and three provinces in Canada during the last two seasons with the Rice Memorial High prep hockey team of South Burlington, Vt.
And speaking of Rice, while the high school hockey season has been finished for more than a week throughout New England, itâ€™s still going very strong for Sherman and her Knights teammates.
Last weekend, they captured the Tier 1 New England District championship by posting a 3-2 overtime victory over the Mid Fairfield Stars of Connecticut, and their reward for claiming the title was a spot in the USA Hockey National Championships that will begin on Wednesday.
And the Knights wonâ€™t have to fly out of New England for the tournament. It will take place at the New England Sports Center in Marlboro, Mass., which is still a four-hour bus ride for the team, but just 50 minutes away from North Smithfield.
â€śItâ€™s just amazing,â€ť offered Sherman, whose team posted an overall record of 27-17-6. â€śI canâ€™t explain how it feels to play for a national championship. Itâ€™s awesome. Our team has been talking about it all week long and we canâ€™t wait to play.â€ť
The tournament will serve as a brilliant ending to an excellent prep career for Sherman, who in her two years with the Knights, scored 37 goals and assisted on 48 others, which made her the programâ€™s all-time leading scorer.
Before her time with the Knights, Sherman was carving out a fantastic career with the Northmen, one that saw her produce nearly 100 points (43 goals, 55 assists) during her two seasons and help N.S. reach the Division II title series each winter.
And while her numbers are truly amazing, so is the reason why Sherman was inspired to play hockey -- by her familyâ€™s friendship with former Providence Bruins enforcer and fan favorite Aaron Downey.
â€śI used to go to Providence Bruins games with my dad, and he knew Aaron,â€ť said Sherman. â€śMy dad works for Poland Spring and he used to deliver to the Civic Center, and when he went there, Aaron would be there hitting punching bags. He used to come over for dinner, and just talking to him about hockey, I just knew that I wanted to play really badly.â€ť
And play Sherman did. She played for a number of youth travel teams, such as the Lincoln Lions boysâ€™ winter team, Northeast Elite of Walpole, Mass., Providence Lady Reds, and Walpole Lady Rebels, and then for the Northmen until she decided to test her game at the prep hockey level.
â€śIt was tough to leave (North Smithfield),â€ť added Sherman. â€śWalter Oâ€™Brien, my coach right now, talked to me about going up there to play, and I wanted to get better at hockey and challenge myself, so I thought it would be a good idea to play on the prep high school level.â€ť
The move to the prep scene meant several sacrifices not only by Sherman, but also her family. To be closer to their daughter, Shermanâ€™s parents, Henry and Jennifer, decided to buy a second house in Colchester, Vt. and have Jennifer live there with Cassandra during the school year while Henry stayed in North Smithfield and with his job at Poland Spring.
â€śMy momâ€™s gone through a lot by coming up here to stay with me,â€ť added Sherman. â€śBut our family still gets together a lot. My dad comes up here every weekend, and sometimes, he comes up here with my sister, Corinne.
â€śMy other sister, Corissa, goes to Mercyhurst College (in Erie, Penn.), and we still see her a lot. And we always have holidays together, usually up here in Vermont, but sometimes in North Smithfield.â€ť
And Shermanâ€™s sacrifices to play and study at Rice have also been numerous and usually absorb most of her school year, beginning with pre-training workouts during the second week of school and concluding after what the Knights always hope is a long postseason run.
â€śDuring the season, weâ€™re on ice Mondays and Wednesday from 2:30 to 3:50 and then we have off-ice workouts until 5,â€ť she reported. â€śOn Tuesdays, we have tutoring, and Thursdays, weâ€™re on ice and we have tutoring. And then on Fridays, we have on-ice (workouts) and study hall.â€ť
And weekends mean game time, which also mean taking a long coach ride to an arena and living out of a suitcase in a rented house or a hotel.
A small fraction of the Knightsâ€™ 50 games took place in Vermont, while other were to destinations as far south as Norwich (Conn.) University, west as Lake Placid, N.Y., and in Canadian locations such as Stanstead, Quebec; Rothesay, New Brunswick; and Cornwall, Ontario.
And while the scheduleâ€™s tough, so is the teamâ€™s strict diet policy. Restaurants such as McDonaldâ€™s and Taco Bell are taboo on the team, as well as soda and any other soft drink.
â€śOur coaches are good about nutrition,â€ť noted Sherman. â€śWhen we go on the road and weâ€™re at a house, our coach always cooks for us -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And if weâ€™re in a hotel, heâ€™ll bring his blender and heâ€™ll make us nutrition smoothies.â€ť
Sherman also admitted that her overall experience at Rice has helped prepare her for the next step in her hockey career -- the collegiate level. She plans to continue her career at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Me. and study either Disabilities Studies or Pre-Veterinary Science.
â€śTheir coach, John Lauziere, is amazing and heâ€™s talked to me about playing center for his team,â€ť said Sherman. â€śJulie Pearl, who played for our team last year, plays for (Southern Maine), and I went and visited the school and stayed overnight with her, and I just fell in love with the school.â€ť
But before Sherman can set her sights on Southern Maine, thereâ€™s the task of helping her team bring a national championship back to South Burlington.
â€śItâ€™s going to be awesome,â€ť said Sherman. â€śOur first game is on Wednesday afternoon against a team from Colorado. Weâ€™ll be ready for them.â€ť