Hockey Humanitarian Award Finalist Feature: After launching Merrimack College Women’s Hockey Community Service Committee, Szott continuing with other volunteer, fundraising opportunities in Merrimack Valley

By Nicole Haase

Raice Szott has led a number of volunteer and fundraising initiatives at Merrimack (photo: Merrimack Athletics).

Merrimack senior defender Raice Szott has been named a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award.

The award, which is celebrating its 29th season, is presented annually to college hockey’s finest citizen – a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to her team but also to the community through leadership in volunteerism. This is the second consecutive season in which Szott has been nominated for the award and her first time named as a finalist.

Growing up on a farm 140 km outside of Edmonton, Szott learned the importance of community early and had that lesson reinforced again and again as she grew up. Neighbors support each other, family lends a helping hand and the whole town pitches in. There’s no other way for a farm to survive. You help someone else knowing you’re going to need help in the future. There’s a connectedness and a knowledge that success is collective and all that more enjoyable when shared. Her dad and uncles all farm connected land and they shared a camaraderie.

“It’s not just that they were family, but it’s learning how working together and building each other up was so important. I was fortunate to grow up learning that lesson and I still carry it with me today,” Szott said.

It’s been many years since Szott was a full-time resident of the farm, but she’s always looked for a similar feeling of community wherever she’s gone. She picked up hockey because she wanted to be like her older brother, Chance, who she said pushed and encouraged her. As she followed in his skate tracks, it was the fellowship she found on a hockey team that created a love so great that she hopes to work in hockey when her playing career finishes.

“Your team is your family, and you have to be willing to do whatever you can for each other, not just on the ice but in life, as well. You’re one. You’re united as a family. It’s the same as the community. You have to be willing to give some and take some. It all ties together,” Szott said.

She chose to attend Merrimack because she saw an interconnectedness and closeness among the student body and staff that felt comfortable and familiar and said she would not be the person she is today who was nominated for a service award without the support of everyone on campus at Merrimack.

“Giving back was a way to make Merrimack feel more like my home – creating those connections with people. It was a great way to bring my values here,” she said.

When she got to North Andover, Mass., she started off volunteering with groups and events on campus until she learned the area better. Then she started getting involved with projects that carried import to her, like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in honor of a grandpa who has the disease. The list of her involvements continued to grow.

Szott launched the Merrimack College Women’s Hockey Community Service Committee, which has led to several volunteer and fundraising opportunities in the Merrimack Valley. She has coordinated fundraisers to support local nonprofits, including first responders and the Ellie Fund, a local foundation that assists men and women suffering from breast cancer. Szott has coordinated volunteers for Merrimack’s Relay For Life, local girls’ hockey programs and after-school programs at local elementary schools.

Raice Szott has been an impact player during her time at Merrimack (photo: Jim Stankiewicz).

In addition, Szott oversaw logistics for a number of events, including: a teddy bear toss at a Merrimack College women’s ice hockey home game to benefit Toys for Tots; multiple Skating Strides games for the Ellie Fund; and a team event for the school’s “Relay for Life Walk” this coming April. Szott also created a program dedicated to teaching and mentoring young girls to help them build confidence through ice skating and hockey.

“She makes time for everything. She really understands that it’s not about just showing up, it’s about really dedicating whatever time she has to get things done. She’s so eager and willing and excited about helping people and putting people in a situation where they feel loved and cared about,” said coach Erin Hamlen.

Szott, who is a captain for the Warriors this year, is not necessarily a talkative leader, said Hamlen. She leads by example on and off the ice and demonstrates how to be more than just a student or an athlete. There’s no way to teach the kind of selflessness, care, leadership and humility Szott embodies. Having a captain like her for younger players to look up to and emulate is invaluable.

“She initiated all sorts of projects and got the team on board with really being a part of the greater community outside of our locker room. That has not only connected us to the Andover and North Andover community, but it also connected our team to each other. It brought teammates together doing something that wasn’t just playing hockey for themselves, it was doing something for somebody else. Connecting our teammates to each other by bringing them into service has been a unique and really cool experience for our players,” said Hamlen.

“That’s leadership. That’s showing the way. That’s influence.”

Szott has found the attention she’s received as a finalist a bit unnerving because she’s never thought of any of the things she’s done as hers alone.

“You see the nomination, you see my name, but honestly, part of what makes this so special is just the people that I can share it with and who have been a part of this whole journey. It has definitely not just been me doing all of this. It is such a special honor to be a finalist. I’ve always been proud to represent something bigger than myself. Merrimack. Hockey East. Everyone back home. My teammates. It’s being able to represent everyone on a bigger stage and make everyone else who’s been a part of this work proud,” Szott said.

Hamlen said that she’s glad Szott is being recognized, but she wants to emphasize that though there have been many projects on campus and around Andover, they are by no means the extent of what her captain has done and will continue to do.

“This is who she has been her entire life, not who she’s just been becoming. Now she’s taking more charge of where she spends her time, but she’s always been this giving, caring person who’s able to think of other people before she thinks of herself more often than not,” said Hamlen.

Szott credits her parents, Bev and Tim, with putting her on this path and helping her become the person she is today. They instilled her values and supported her in hockey at every opportunity. Some 4000 km from home, Szott is a campus and team leader and a role model, but she has also never stopped being a farm girl from rural Alberta. She just has a whole lot more perspective on life now.

Volunteer and fundraising initiatives have taken up much of Szott’s time off the ice at Merrimack (photo: Merrimack Athletics).

“My parents always remind me of who I am, my beliefs and encourage me. That’s who I am here (at Merrimack). I moved to the city and then to Ontario and to Merrimack and I tried to remain the same person with the same values and that’s because of them. My parents just always made sure that I’m staying true to myself and my values. They were willing to go to great lengths to help me branch out as a person and branch out as a player,” Szott said.

Szott plans to return to Merrimack for her fifth year of eligibility and continue studying sports management and management. She also plans to keep building on the foundation of giving she has already established.

“Hockey is a part of who I am and brought things like confidence, learning the value of hard work, supporting others and lifelong friends,” said Szott. “We’re so fortunate to be in this position where we can give back by utilizing our sport as the stage. I plan to continue to build and expand on all of this. There are always more ideas. There’s always more you can do.”