Freshmen forward Nikola Holmes doesn't play hockey because it's in her blood. She and her family are originally from California. Individual accolades and triumphs aren't important to her either.
Holmes plays simply because she is completely devoted to the concept of team.
Her selflessness is best exemplified in her description of one of the most dramatic moments of her hockey career. Dec. 15, Princeton was defeated by the United States National Team at Baker Rink, 6-1. In that matchup with the sport's national elite, the lone Tiger goal came off the stick of Holmes, but she remembers that play for surprising reasons.
"It was amazing because so many people were involved in setting up that goal," Holmes says. "I just happened to be the last one to touch it."
A former high school track runner, Holmes has always preferred the camaraderie and cooperation that comes with a team over the solitude of individual competition. This new team at Princeton has been no exception.
"The biggest surprise this year has been how close and tight the team is," Holmes says. "Everyone has a ton of heart and is just great to hang out with."
The game against the National Team wasn't the only time this season that Holmes has come through for the Tigers. She is currently the third-leading scorer for Princeton with eight goals, behind only her sister, junior defender Annamarie Holmes and sophomore forward Andrea Kilbourne. The impact of Holmes' performances so far has not been overlooked by her coach or teammates.
"Nikola has tremendous speed up and down the ice and a long reach," head coach Jeff Kampersal '92 says. "Just like her sister, she's an all-around player who works extremely hard."
Holmes' hard work has been enhanced by her inherent talent on the ice, and she has used this talent to accommodate her teammates as well, doling out 12 assists on the year. But most of Holmes' teammates see her good-natured disposition as her most valuable strength.
"Nikola has amazing speed, agility, and stick-handling skills that make her a serious and all-around offensive threat," freshman forward Laura Korn-hauser says. "But I really love that her incredible talent hasn't kept her from staying humble and being a great team player. She's fun to be around both on and off the ice."
The opportunity to play college hockey with her sister Annamarie was a significant lure for Holmes that no other Division I team could offer. Princeton became her choice as she carefully took notice of her sister's overwhelmingly positive experience.
"I absolutely knew from Annamarie that I would be happy here too," Holmes says. "It's been awesome because she knows my potential better than anyone and she pushes me to play better game after game."
Improvement over the long-term is one of Holmes' chief goals for the next four years. One of her ultimate dreams is to play for the National Team, and she hopes to keep this in sight, even as she becomes a leader of the Tigers.
"Nikola can blow by just about anyone in the league. She also has a quick release on her shot, which is extremely effective," Annamarie Holmes says. "As she matures, her role will be more and more to utilize these skills and be a scoring power on the team. She already has stepped up, but I know she has more potential."
Her performance has made her an admired leader, and her laid-back personality and unassuming ego has already made her the consummate team player for the Tigers, both on and off the ice.
"Nikola is a tremendous skater with a scorer's touch," sophomore defender Aviva Grumet-Morris says. "But what is more unique is how she's a leader on and off the ice. She gets it done without letting the pressure get to her."
The pressure this season on Holmes and her teammates is to make the playoffs after narrowly missing that mark last season. The Tigers are currently tied for the eighth spot in the Eastern College Athletic Conference with St. Lawrence. Princeton (8-7-4 overall, 6-6-2 Eastern College Athletic Conference) hosts Division I rival Niagara (15-8-1, 8-8-1) Saturday at Baker Rink.
Holmes insists that she has learned an important lesson that she will take to every game from now on. Holmes will always take her own hopes out on the ice, but she never stops thinking in terms of her team.
"Nobody and certainly no team is perfect," Holmes said. "Therefore, they're all beatable and our goal is simply to win every game from here on out. We know that we can do it."