skip navigation

The Mass Mentality

By Jamie MacDonald, 01/26/24, 8:30AM EST


Braintree's Liz Keady Norton on what it means to be a Mass Hockey player

"Big dogs got to eat. Hey, if there’s one steak left on the table, who’s getting it?”

Players douse head coach Liz Keady Norton after winning the 2024 U-18 Women's World Championship gold medal in Zug, Switzerland. Credit: Summer Dutton, USA Hockey

In a viral USA Hockey video shot in Zug, Switzerland, we see head coach Liz Keady Norton enter a locker room, all eyes on her as she walks softly and claps rhythmically for effect, an impossible-to-hide wry smile on her face. Drama builds with each of her claps, and, by the time she can say much of anything, the team, still in full gear, is already cheering and screaming.

Even if you can’t tell what Keady Norton said, as a couple of her U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team players crashed in to douse her with a victory ice water shower, you sure knew something special had just happened.


After a bronze-medal showing at the event a year earlier, Team USA won gold at the 2024 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship on Jan. 14, with Braintree native Keady Norton at the helm and seven more Massachusetts-born players on the roster. 

“I’m Mass-born and raised, and I couldn’t be more proud we had that many [Massachusetts-born] kids on the team,” says Keady Norton. “I’m all about it. I’m proud to be part of Mass Hockey. I’ve always been grateful for the opportunities they provided for me, for what Mass Hockey is and what it represents, and how proud people are here of it. It’s really nice that it turned into a result like it did.”

Of course, picking international teams at any level, let alone at some of the youngest ages for international play, is never, ever easy, and seven players from the same state on a team is an honor that state can celebrate even before the golden result.

“Every single one of those players earned their spot, every inch of the way, and then some,” Keady Norton says. “What’s distinct about the Mass players is they 100 hundred percent own their roles. They are incredibly hard-working.”

And the Massachusetts-born players for Team USA in Switzerland did not disappoint.

“Mass people are really loyal, and, when you get them on your side, they’re going to go through a wall for you,” says Keady Norton. “For me, that personality and that character – and the soft skills that go along with it – for these players, aside from what they show you on the ice, are a really big deal in a short tournament. They have to handle pressure. They have to be able to be coached. They have to be very comfortable in a role that they may never have been in. A part of it is how you handle that. And I think the Mass kids did Mass proud.

“They showed up and they scored goals and they blocked shots. They were PP kids and they were PK kids. They were first-line kids and they were fourth-line kids. And they did it in a hard-nosed, we-are-determined-to-win way. It worked out for them. I’m really proud of them.”

Some of the traits that appealed to Keady Norton are absolutely wired into her own hockey and coaching DNA. A star player in her own right, Keady Norton, after her earliest youth hockey years in Braintree, played for Assabet Valley (yes, almost too many wins to count, including a handful of USA Hockey National Championships), then Milton Academy and at Princeton University, where she was a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist, and she has played on USA Hockey National Teams. 

Now the head coach at Dartmouth College, Keady Norton has also coached at Boston University and high school hockey in Andover. No matter where Keady Norton goes, however, from Andover to Zug, a Massachusetts mentality goes with her.

“For me, what that means, is that I am a dirt dog,” she says. “I’m going to outwork anyone – and I’m really proud of that. Hard-nosed. Going to own my role and commit to the extra one percent. It’s how I was raised and I feel like my parents taught me that. If it could be better, then it wasn’t good enough. Be an overachiever and not an underachiever. It’s how I lived my life and it’s how I coach. It’s kind of ingrained in me.”

As a standout player who herself could have played at any number of colleges, and, with so many outstanding programs in New England, when it came time to choose a college … 

Why New Jersey? Well, you may notice a trend in her affinities.

“I went and played for a guy from Mass is what happened,” says Keady Norton, a first-generation college student from a family who put a significant emphasis on her and her brother’s education. “I ultimately chose between Harvard and Princeton. Going to college in the Ivy League was a big deal and it meant a lot to me and my family. What made me choose Princeton was Jeff Kampersal. He’s a Beverly, Mass., guy and a St. John’s Prep guy. Princeton speaks for itself, but Jeff went the extra mile in recruiting me. And he was Massachusetts through and through. From the time I met him, even to now as we’re very good friends, he’s a mentor and he’s someone who changed my life. He was as invested in my hockey development as I was at any point, if not more. He believed in me more than I believed in myself.”

Playing for Kampersal and at Princeton, where she served as captain in 2007-08, further set in place what would become a love for giving back that has manifested itself now as a hockey coach with an IIHF world championship to her credit.

“[Coaching started with] having excellent coaches, my whole way up,” Keady Norton says. “Whether it was a national team or at Milton Academy or Princeton, hockey gave me so much. It’s a sport I love and, for me, it’s the way to teach young women and the next generation to believe in themselves and be capable of more while also competing at the highest level. After Princeton, I started working out at the gym that my husband and I now own in North Reading, and I started coaching athletes of all ages and all settings. I started coaching a U12 team locally. Then I ended up coaching a couple of high school teams at Andover High and I just never got away from it.”

Princeton, I started working out at the gym that my husband and I now own in North Reading, and I started coaching athletes of all ages and all settings. I started coaching a U12 team locally. Then I ended up coaching a couple of high school teams at Andover High and I just never got away from it.”

In terms of giving back, Keady Norton wants not only to pay it forward, but also to honor some of those who helped her along the way.

“The people in Mass Hockey gave me so much, just in terms of opportunities, things my parents couldn’t afford,” she says. “People like Paul Kennedy. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He invited me to things and I played for Greg Carter at Assabet, to this day one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. Bob Cusack and former Bruin Billy O’Dwyer from Braintree Youth Hockey were excellent and they supported me when I was the only girl on the team for years. Mass Hockey and Assabet and, ultimately, Milton Academy, took really good care of me.”

If a coach is looking for more motivation than what comes from teaching young players, they could also think about how their impact may just inspire not only better hockey players in the present, but also more young players who grow up interested in being good coaches in the future.

“I worked really hard to become a college coach and I think that was rooted in wanting to be able to make as big an impact as somebody like Jeff Kampersal made in my life,” she says. “If I can do 50 percent of that, I’ll feel pretty good about the work I’ve done. I saw how transformative coaches were for me and my hope is that what I can do on the next level.”

As of earlier this month, there are a few dozen teenage hockey players from Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, North Carolina, Nebraska and New York, not to mention a support staff, who all shared in the indelible experience of leaving a Swiss winter holiday season with six straight wins, a gold medal and a lifetime of memories.

“It was awesome,” says Keady Norton. “Our staff worked incredibly hard. And the players, for me, I was really proud of their efforts and execution. We went over there with the goal to win gold, period, end of story. But I would have been really proud of that group regardless of the result – how they pushed each other and how they took care of each other. They were chasing excellence the whole time. We kept saying we need everybody, whether you’re getting one shift or 22. And, for that age group, they did a remarkable job of that. I know our staff had a blast. It was one of the most fun trips I’ve been on in my life.”

In some ways, these trips are player development trips, too. This age group, made up of players born in ‘06, ‘07 and ‘08, are clearly on a national radar and, if they weren’t already, will be part of conversations about future Olympic teams. It’s no small consideration.

“There’s the national program and there’s an element of this exposure at the U18 level on the world stage that you find out, very quickly, what people are made of with that pressure and in that elite environment,” Keady Norton says. “And then there’s the piece that there’s a tremendous amount of development that happens now and when they might be put on a senior national team. So, it’s not a direct route, but it’s a really good indicator and learning opportunity for those kids. But I’d also say that when you’re going to a World Championship, you’re not just picking the most talented. It’s a puzzle and you’re picking who can play what role the best. Who can come together as a team the best? There are plenty of kids who could have been on that roster, but I felt we had the group with the talent, the logo-over-ego mentality and the willingness to be a part of something special before being there for themselves.”

Still, when picking the team, there are some things that will always catch the eye.

“I think skating is a nonnegotiable, almost at any elite level,” says Keady Norton. “It helps get you in the ballpark and it gives you more time for any other skill that might be deficient. And I think two big ones are hockey IQ, like the ability to play with your head up, play with pace and make decisions in the moment, and to be able to read things very quickly. I think you can be a slower player who makes really great reads and it gets you looked at. Then it’s complete. It’s a willingness to, no matter what, you are going to come out with the puck. It’s really hard to teach. And you want people who have that naturally. Competitors always give themselves a chance. They take pride in winning battles and they make everyone around them better.”

There’s a message from Keady Norton in there for parents, too.

“For parents, A, the passion has to come from the player,” she says. “If they’re going to be doing anything elite, they have to love the game. They have to love being on the ice. And love competing. If the parents are the ones always driving that, there’s going to be a ceiling that they’ll hit probably sooner than you’d like. The other thing that I would say [to parents] is that when skill development is hyper-focused on some things that look good, like fancy stickhandling, I would say to take a step back and ask yourselves how it applies to the game. Is it helping them make better decisions? Is it helping them play with others? Or make reads? How translatable is it to a high-stakes game where they can play with other people?”

For Keady Norton, it’s now back to her day job with the Big Green, whose regular season will conclude in February, and where her platform may be a little more acute than it is with Team USA – but where the impact is likely to have the lasting effect she’s aimed for all these years.

“Hockey is a game that will give back to you what you put into it,” says Keady Norton. “In women’s hockey, regardless of your age, there is so much room for growth. Upward mobility. Development. And opportunity. I would say to players to own your development. Play with passion. Make sure you’re having fun. But if it’s your dream, keep putting your energy into it. It will give back in a variety of ways. And you want to be proud of your process regardless of the result for you. There are so many opportunities. Leave no doubt. Chase your dream and at the end you’ll be happy to with what you get.”

Speaking of results ... What was it she said in that postgame video from Zug?

“I think I said, ‘Big dogs got to eat,” Keady Norton says. “It was a thing we were saying over there. We talked about, ‘Hey, if there’s one steak left on the table, who’s getting it?”

Keady Norton and her team left no doubt.