OSWEGO — Philomena Teggart has served admirably as the Oswego State women’s ice hockey captain for more than 18 months and finally gets the chance to lead her team onto the ice with the “C,” proudly imprinted on her jersey this weekend.

Teggart is one of two fifth-year seniors that wants to guide the Lakers toward Northeast Women’s Hockey League title contention in their return following a canceled season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Oswego State will host King’s College at 7 p.m. Friday at the Deborah F. Stanley Arena & Convocation Center to start a two-game exhibition slate for its first action since March 2020.

They will face Neumann at 3 p.m. Saturday in the same location before beginning the upcoming regular season with a road game at 3 p.m. Oct. 29 at Adrian College.

Teggart is back after being named captain by new head coach Mark Digby in spring 2020, and is joined by her best friend and roommate, Aislinn McAleer, who was named assistant captain at the same time.

“As soon as I heard that we got the fifth year of eligibility, I was like: ‘I’m back,’” Teggart said. “I wasn’t going to end my hockey career like that, I knew we could come back and win.”

Teggart said that throughout their time away, the tight-knit duo frequently spoke of avenging Oswego’s last game — a 6-1 setback to top-seeded Plattsburgh on March 7, 2020, in the NEWHL championship game — and then-assistant coach Digby stating: “That will be us next year,” as they watched the Cardinals celebrate.

They are also motivated to perform for two of their former classmates who moved on from the program after graduating as seniors last spring — Amber Thomas and Emma Morisette.

“We face-timed every day, and every conversation we would bring hockey up and we just talked a lot about how nice it would be to hold that (NEWHL) trophy over our heads together,” Teggart said.

Teggart returned home to Pickering, Ontario, Canada, after last fall semester and was not on campus last spring. She helped coordinate various virtual group activities along with coaches to keep the Lakers collectively engaged while they were scattered around the continent.

Digby lined up a series of guest speakers, Teggart and her teammates brainstormed and tracked solo workout competitions, and the squad formally spoke twice a week about hockey and various topics, occasionally participating in activities like a virtual escape room. Players also communicated frequently in a side group chat.

“It’s hard enough to be a captain during the hockey season but to be the captain during COVID, it’s a lot mentally, it’s a lot to handle,” Digby said. “So, to get them back after another whole summer of talking to them and their families has been great. … They’re both awesome people and deserve to finish out their hockey careers on their own terms.”

Teggart and McAleer called for a team gathering the moment players returned to campus this past August and said that she was hit with emotion when she saw equipment lined up in the locker room for the first voluntary player-only workouts earlier this month.

“It was honestly surreal, I don’t think I have any specific words I can say except surreal,” Teggart said. “Everyone was so excited and for me personally, I hadn’t been on the ice in over a year, so just to come back and get on the ice for the first time felt different, but all the nerves were out after the first little drill, and we were all good.”

The fifth-year senior leaders are two of nine players back from the 2019-20 unit that finished 16-7-4 overall and 10-4-4 in the NEWHL before falling to Plattsburgh in the conference title game.

Digby will begin his head coaching career by mixing 17 newcomers in between incoming freshmen, sophomores that started last fall and will maintain four years of eligibility, and a few transfer additions.

Digby and Teggart each pointed to team speed as a potential strength and area of improvement after placing an emphasis on increasing their pace of play in the past two recruiting cycles.

Regional ties are also a common theme among the incoming unit with 11 of 17 newcomers from within the state, with areas like Watertown, LaFargeville, Alexandria Bay, Lake Placid, and Rochester all represented.

Among the returning players is sophomore forward and Auburn product Megan Teachout, who led the Lakers with 13 goals and 16 assists en route to garnering NEWHL Rookie of the Year honors in March 2020.

“Everyone is pumped, there has been a conversation every day about when we’ll get to play,” Teachout said. “It’s really emotional for everybody and especially the returners who have been waiting for this for so long, to finally get ready for game day and just be with the team getting pumped up, I think there is going to be a lot of adrenaline on the ice.”

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