By Jessica Lockerby
Anyone who has watched Lisa Berreman and Sasha Nanji play on the same defensive line knows that the two have a certain rapport and chemistry on the ice that's hard to find in hockey players.
Nanji is the epitome of an "offensive defenseman", constantly playing up in the zone and sometimes taking risks that might make some coaches cringe. Berreman, on the other hand, is a stereotypical defender - always reliable, always predictable, and rock solid behind the blue line.
Put the two together and you have the perfect balance of performance, one that for the past four years has allowed the Dartmouth women's hockey team to both shut down opponents' offenses and also put points on the scoreboard, making it a perennial ECAC Hockey threat.
But what really makes these two stand out beyond the ice is the clear connection they have, as teammates and as friends, even when they aren't side-by-side in the defensive zone.
"We grew close sophomore year when we started playing together," Nanji remembers. "We just clicked as people and it showed on the ice, too. Last year, when we didn't play together, our friendship remained strong and we continued to be there for each other."
"When we weren't playing on the same line," adds Berreman, "we'd ask the coaches to put us together. Even Sasha's mom asked the coaches to put us together," she admits as the two exchange smiles. "We just complement each other well."
The pair has other similarities that drew them together as well. Although from different geographic areas — Nanji hails from Ontario while Berreman adores her home state of Minnesota — both grew up in places that valued hockey above all other sports, and both fell in love with the craft at an early age.
"I started off as a figure skater," Nanji explains. "But after the figure skaters leave the ice, the hockey players go on, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, that looks cool. I want to try that.'"
While Nanji made the switch around age nine, Berreman has aspired to play hockey for as long as she can remember.
"I started skating around age three," she recalls. "In Minnesota, that's just what you do. All I wanted for Christmas that year was a hockey helmet. So, there's this picture of me as a little girl, in a little dress and a big hockey helmet. It's all I wanted to do growing up."
For both women, the passion for the sport continued to grow as they got older and began playing organized hockey. As is common for most female players, both played on boys' teams before transitioning into girls' hockey around the time high school hit.
Then, as the two were first recruited, their dreams to continue playing began to be realized.
"No one had ever talked about playing for a university before," Nanji explains. "Growing up and playing with the boys, it was all about getting to the NHL and the big leagues for them. When I got to girls' hockey and saw that other girls on the team were looking at university, I realized that was the next step for me, too."
Dartmouth College was one of the schools recruiting both players. Unfortunately, neither Berreman nor Nanji had ever heard of Dartmouth or Hanover, N.H. before, so the decision to come here wasn't immediate by any means.
"I hadn't heard of Dartmouth until one of the coaches came to a tournament during my sophomore year," Berreman says. "At first, there was no way I'd think of leaving the Midwest; but then finally coming out here and being on campus, I realized this was exactly where I wanted to be."
As many know, the Dartmouth campus often has that "love at first sight" effect, and Nanji's experience was similar.
"I fell in love immediately," she describes of her first visit to Hanover. "And I just got the sense that the coaches really wanted me here and that I wanted to be here."
Soon after, both the Midwestern girl and the Ontario native decided on Dartmouth. Now, after four years here, both are certain they made the right choice and can't believe how fast their time here has gone by.
As they continue their final season in the Green and White sweater and prepare to graduate in May —fittingly, both will earn degrees in psychological and brain sciences — the two blue liners are of the same mind on another subject, too.
"Being at Dartmouth has just been so special," Berreman summarizes. "I've never seen a place so rich in culture and tradition. It's been an excellent opportunity that's molded me into the person I'm supposed to be going forward."
"She said it all," Nanji adds her approval. "We've grown so much here, through hockey, academics and friends. The people we've been surrounded by have helped us be the best we can be."
It's clear that for these two young women, their presence in each other's lives — and on each other's D-lines — has undoubtedly helped push them to their potential.