In her first year as the everyday starting goaltender for Cornell women’s hockey, junior Lindsay Browning set a single-season program record with 12 shutouts, was named Ivy League Player of the Year and conceded only one loss on home ice all season. But in high school, she almost walked away from hockey altogether.
The aspiring Marine was ready to leave her sport behind to pursue another calling.
“I told [Cornell head] coach [Doug Derraugh ’91] I was going to quit hockey and go to a military academy,” Browning said. “And so I quit hockey for two weeks and then came crawling back to him.”
Browning, who was deciding between two colleges that had offered her a spot on their rosters at the time, didn’t see joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps at either one as appealing an option as going to a military academy. But that brief hockey-free stint made her realize that she wasn’t ready to let go of the sport.
And, further, Derraugh’s reaction to her return to hockey showed Browning that Cornell’s program was the best fit for her.
“The way Coach supported me, really, through everything, even quitting temporarily — I think that that really sealed the deal for me,” Browning said.
So, Browning made her decision to come to Cornell and join the Naval ROTC program to get the best of both worlds in playing with an elite hockey program while simultaneously training to join the armed forces.
But the 5-foot-3 Browning — who admits to not liking ships “at all” and getting seasick — didn’t envision herself in the Navy. Originally planning to join the Army, she realized she wanted to become a Marine after exploring her options.
Her commitment to holding herself to the “highest standards,” in her own words, led Browning to her goal of joining the Marine Corps. She was just unlucky enough that the Marines’ collegiate program is housed within Naval ROTC.
“I’ve since [coming to college] gotten more into the ocean-type stuff, because I had to,” Browning said. “But the Marine program is more on-land-type things.”
“I think that we’re really fortunate to have the opportunities that we have in the United States,” she continued. “And I thought that [joining] the military was a great way to defend them.”
Upon arriving on East Hill, Browning’s transition was not so smooth. With ROTC, hockey and the pursuit of an engineering degree, Browning found herself victim to many late nights as she attempted to balance three of the most time-consuming endeavors on campus.
“I didn’t sleep at all — you can ask the team,” she said. “I kind of walked around like a zombie all the time.”
But with experience came an improved ability to manage her time. She learned to portion off her days, giving her full attention to one activity at any given time. Now, Browning gets her sleep and has a daily routine down.
“Start with ROTC, then academics, then hockey, then go to sleep, repeat,” Browning said.
And not only does she sleep — she even has free time.
“Sundays are my happy days,” Browning said. “I go to the ASPCA animal shelter and volunteer there … It’s probably one of the best things I’ve done — it’s probably more for me than for the dogs I hang out with.”
Junior goaltender Ally Dalaya introduced Browning to volunteering at the shelter. Her mentor, though, was Marlène Boissonnault ’19, Cornell’s leading netminder for Browning’s first two years with the Red.
Boissonnault — The Sun’s 2019 Female Athlete of the Year — backstopped Cornell to its first Frozen Four since 2012 last year. Her other accomplishments include teaching Browning to braid her hair so that it wouldn’t get in her face during games and aiding the younger goalie in perfecting her juggling technique. The juggling helps Browning get her eyes “warmed up” before games.
Browning earned six starts over Boissonnault last season, getting a taste of the responsibility that comes with being the Red’s goaltender. But this year is the first time Browning is between the pipes for the playoffs.
And soon, Browning will see the national stage in the NCAA Tournament.
Cornell, which has boasted the No. 1 ranking in the nation for five weeks now, will be rewarded with home-ice advantage for the first round of the NCAAs when the Red hosts Mercyhurst at Lynah Rink.
For Browning, who hails from Penfield, New York, just outside of Rochester, having the chance to play postseason hockey within driving distance from her family is no small benefit.
“One of my teammates actually did a study, and she said I play better — like, my stats are better — when my parents are at the games,” Browning said.
Teammates conducting studies on the conditions potentially influencing one another’s performances is, without a doubt, quintessentially Cornell. And the results are good news for Browning, whose home is only about an hour and a half away.
What’s more — should the Red make the Frozen Four, her family’s drive would be fewer than six hours to Boston University’s Agganis Arena.
“My sister heckles me a lot,” Browning said. “But it’s in that loving kind of way that makes you want to be better.”
After all, it was Browning’s sister’s influence that led her to try hockey in the first place. Browning’s mother played hockey when she was growing up and one day took Browning and her older sister to an open skate. After that, the two were inspired.
“My sister decided to play hockey and, of course, I wanted to do everything that my older sister did,” Browning said. “She played goalie, so, naturally, I wanted to play goalie too. So she never got to have anything to herself.”
A Cornell team that is on its way to the national tournament should feel lucky that a classic case of sibling rivalry brought its goaltender to the sport of hockey.
Browning is set for her first-ever NCAA Tournament start in goal Saturday at 2 p.m. against Mercyhurst in Lynah Rink. While spectators will not be allowed in the stands amidst COVID-19 fears, the game will be free to stream online.