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NU hockey standout sets sights on higher goal

Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.
NU hockey standout sets sights on higher goal
On the ice for Northeastern University’s women’s hockey team, Missy Elumba was a “digger,” responsible for banging in the corners and getting the puck out of tight spots. Off the ice, the 23-year-old Minnesota native has earned accolades for her volunteer and humanitarian work, and plans to enter missionary training this fall. (Photo: Top: Missy Elumba; Below: Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.)

Missy Elumba hardly looks the part of a hockey player. She stands 5 feet 5 inches tall, with a petite build and a welcoming smile set against coffee-colored skin. Her chestnut brown hair falls to her neck, despite being pinned back with small butterfly clips. She even wears pink nail polish, for goodness’ sake.

On the ice, though, the Northeastern University forward dials up the intensity.

“Hockey is fast and creative — it’s different every time,” said Elumba, who also wears a small metal stud in her right nostril and a small wood-carved cross hanging from a rope necklace.

She also plays clean, which sometimes makes her job difficult. As a “digger,” Elumba is responsible for getting the puck out of the corners of the rink, and often finds herself working against other players in tight spots.

“I challenge myself to play hard, but fair,” she explained. “I try to play without receiving any penalties.”

The 23-year-old Elumba, whose full name is Melissa Grace, graduated from Northeastern this year with a degree in health sciences and was a four-year starter on the university’s women’s hockey team. This past season, in her final year, she set a career high in goals scored and tied a career high in assists.

“Missy is a blue-collar player,” said Northeastern women’s hockey coach Dave Flint. “She gets in and works hard.”

In his first year as coach, Flint used Elumba on the Huskies’ first, second and third lines, depending on the various matchups he saw on the ice. No matter what, she always did her job.

“She is the kind of kid you need because of her work ethic,” Flint said. “Whatever I asked her to do, she did without batting an eye.”

Elumba has also recently received recognition for her work off the ice. Last month, she received the Bank of New York Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, which is given annually to the player regarded as college hockey’s finest citizen. She was also honored with the Jeanne Rowlands Award as Northeastern’s top female senior scholar-athlete.

A native of Cottage Grove, Minn., Elumba is of mixed heritage. Her father is Filipino and Chinese with “a little Spanish,” she says, while her mother is Irish and Swedish. Despite her ethnically diverse background, Elumba never felt her race was an issue growing up.

“I never felt like a minority,” Elumba said. “I feel even less like one in Boston.”

Coming from the suburbs, Elumba admits that it took her some time to get used to living and going to school in a city like Boston.

“It’s different living in a city — people are different,” she said.

Her parents were always supportive of her athletic career, getting her involved in softball, soccer and hockey at an early age. Her father, a project manager for Minnesota Mining and Management, and her mother, a nurse, cultivated an environment that allowed Elumba to try many different sports before choosing to focus on hockey in third grade.

After playing for five years on the girls’ ice hockey team at Park High School in Cottage Grove, serving as captain for three years, Elumba came to Northeastern. As a freshman in the 2004-2005 season, she was the only person on the team from Minnesota.

“I felt that I had to prove myself, since I was from a ‘hockey town,’” she said.

Her freshman year would be short-lived.

During an early September practice, Elumba caught her left skate in the rink’s Zamboni door and tore both the medial retinaculum and the meniscus in her left knee. The retinaculum tear dislocated her kneecap, causing it to slide into her femur, which created fractures in both the femur and patella.

Elumba underwent surgery two days later to clean out bone fragments in her knee and straighten the meniscus. After the surgery was completed, she was cleared to play and made an attempt to come back in January. But getting back on the ice so soon after the injury proved to be a mistake. Elumba tore her knee again, requiring a second surgery that created a new retinaculum out of grafted hamstring tendons to keep her kneecap in place.

She was forced to miss the rest of the season and “redshirt” her sophomore year as well to maintain her eligibility.

“Redshirting was hard because you still have to show up to practices and games, but you can’t play,” said Elumba.

During that year away from hockey, Elumba found a new purpose.

“Up to that point, hockey had been my life,” she explained. “Suddenly I was without it and I felt a bit lost.”

Raised Catholic, Elumba has less-than-fond memories of going to mass with her family: “I hated church.” While sitting in Northeastern’s Stetson East Cafeteria one day during the 2005-2006 season, Elumba was approached by a group of girls who asked an interesting question.

“Kate Craft and her friends sit down and start talking with me, and Kate says to me, ‘This might be kind of weird, but do you want to come to church with me?’” Elumba recalled.

Elumba accepted the offer to attend Community of Faith Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational worship group in Brighton. She says she was enthralled by the worship service.

“I thought it was like a concert,” Elumba said. “There was a guitar and drum set, and people were singing and praising God. I had never seen that before.”

 With a newfound source of faith, Elumba rededicated herself to helping others experience what she calls “Holy Spirit connections” through faith-based encounters. On campus, she spearheaded a number of initiatives to encourage Northeastern students to act and think philanthropically, including starting Northeastern Students for Giving, a student group dedicated to charitable efforts.

Through her role with the university’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC), of which she has been a member for three years and president for the past two, Elumba has helped lead an initiative to spend surplus SAAC funds on sports-based philanthropic efforts in the Boston area rather than on Northeastern’s own teams. This group, the Husky Wish Gift, delivered gifts in person to community groups like the Sportsman’s Tennis Club in Dorchester.

“It’s rewarding because you see how the work you’ve done impacts the community,” said Elumba.

Last summer, Elumba went to Calcutta, India, where she volunteered with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. There, she provided medical care as well as spiritual and emotional therapy to poor and disabled residents in the area. The time in India has led Elumba to seriously consider missionary work.

Coach Flint said he was impressed by Elumba’s volunteer spirit.

“It’s amazing how she can give so much to the community and balance hockey as well as her academics,” Flint said.

All of the volunteer work and community service led to Elumba winning the 2009 Hockey Humanitarian Award. She had also been a finalist in 2008. Elumba said she was happy to be nominated again, but never thought she would win.

“When I heard that I was nominated, I prayed about the award and asked that the nomination not go to my head,” Elumba said.

While on spring break in Florida, she received a phone call from Peter Thompson, a member of the award committee, who informed her that she had won the award.

“I was stunned by Peter’s call,” said Elumba.

Four days later, Elumba also received Northeastern’s Jeanne Rowlands Award as the school’s top female senior scholar-athlete. Rowlands, Northeastern’s first female athletic director and first varsity women’s basketball coach, died in 2008.

“[The award] was unexpected and very surprising,” Elumba said. “I looked up Jeanne Rowlands to see what she did, and it’s really an honor to receive the award because everything I’ve accomplished, I’ve done it by standing on her shoulders.”

While she has set herself up to go to medical school with her health sciences degree, Elumba has also been accepted into Community of Faith Training School in Brighton. After a visit home to Minnesota to see her family, she will begin missionary training in September.

“The missionary school is to help me figure out who God is,” she said, adding with a smile: “I’m excited about the prospect of missionary work and where God wants to send me.”