If you had told 19-year-old Huntington Bay native Grace Dima a year ago that she would be playing at the Nassau Coliseum in front of family and friends as a member of Long Island’s first Division I college hockey team, she might have called you crazy.
“It’s pretty unreal,” Dima said after the LIU Sharks' two-game weekend series. “I’ve grown up knowing this rink. I’ve been here so many times watching games and the Islanders play. We’re so thankful for this opportunity, that the Islanders let us stay in their locker room and play on their ice. It’s a dream come true.”
Dima recognized that the two lop-sided defeats against the University of Wisconsin, the defending NCAA champion and top-ranked women's hockey program, were only a stepping stone.
“Having games like this are preparing us for our conference and I definitely think we’re going to come back from this better and stronger,” said Dima. “Having these amazing opportunities really makes us feel special.”
What made the moment all the more special for Dima was that she almost gave up hockey last year. After captaining her varsity team at Portledge School in Locust Valley and playing for the New Jersey Rockets AAA team, Dima had enrolled at St. Lawrence University.
She played a handful of games with St. Lawrence but said “things didn’t work out as planned.” She joined the college rowing team to stay active and “keep in shape” before transferring to LIU.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I can honestly say I thought I wasn’t going to be playing hockey anymore. This is a great opportunity for me and I am really happy that I made the switch. I never stopped loving hockey. That’s always going to be a part of me. That’s why I am here.”
Against Wisconsin, Dima was rewarded with her first career collegiate goal.
“I’d say that was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my entire life,” said Dima. “I was crying a little bit on the bench. Everyone was laughing at me. Coming this far, scoring against the number one team in the country, there’s just no better feeling.”
A sophomore blue liner, she is one of only two non-freshmen on the Sharks roster. Despite her exploits in hockey, including consecutive trips to USA Hockey's Youth League National Championships in 2016 and 2017 and a hockey lineage (her mother played hockey when she was younger and her older brother Jake currently plays club hockey at the University of Florida), Dima remains modest.
Dima called herself "a middle-of-the-pack player" but LIU head coach Rob Morgan has designated her an assistant captain based on her "people skills" and perseverance and praised her as "a good shot. She can get pucks through. Like everyone in our locker room, she’s got things to work on in her game, but she will continue to get better like everyone else.
“She connects very well with people,” said Morgan. “She brings energy to the locker room. She works incredibly hard. Those experiences that she’s had allows us to utilize her as an extension of us coaches, to connect with players that maybe are going through some challenging times while they’re a freshman. That’s incredibly important to allow the team to stick together and be successful when you have someone like Grace in the locker room.”
“I’m a big locker room gal,” Dima confirmed. “I get the girls hyped up. I’m just a teammate person. I think we’re all connecting. There's a heck of a lot of talent on this team. We’ve got some great girls. I can’t take credit for it. I’m really proud of my teammates.”
As the lone Long Islander in the group, Dima has helped show her teammates around Long Island and New York City. She even brought some teammates to the beach at the beginning of the school year as a team-bonding experience.
“I strongly and firmly believe that it’s only uphill from here,” she said. “I see so much potential in all of these girls. We are working hard every day. We have great coaches who really care about all of us and I see us going really far in our league as a team and keep getting better every day.”