Patriot Ledger (Mass.): Tori Dinger '17 Returns Home to Lead Norwell Girls' Ice Hockey

Patriot Ledger (Mass.): Tori Dinger '17 Returns Home to Lead Norwell Girls' Ice Hockey

This story originally appeared in the Patriot Ledger (Mass.). Also view a PDF on SMCAthletics.com here.


By Jason Snow

The Norwell High girls hockey team has certainly come a long way since its inaugural season in 2011.

It's only fitting that one of the team's former players, Tori Dinger '17, returned 10 years later to lead the team she had an influence in establishing as a high school junior. The Clippers are off to a 3-3-1 start in Dinger's first season at the helm.

"It's truly been the best time of my life being back with the girls, especially back at Norwell," Dinger said.

In her junior and senior seasons, Norwell's first two varsity seasons as a program between 2011-2013, Dinger boasted career totals of 42 goals and 19 assists while leading the Clippers to a 17-17-5 overall record. After graduating, the two-time All-Scholastic went to Saint Michael's College in Vermont, where she played for four years at the Division 2 collegiate level.

It was at Saint Michael's College that the idea of coaching first sparked. Dinger, a player at the time, took part in a volunteer coaching program in which she instructed kids between the ages of 3 and 10 how to skate and the basics of the sport. After college, she was back living in Norwell and decided to reach out, expressing interest in coaching high school sports.

One of the contacts was Kara Connerty, Norwell High's soccer and lacrosse coach, who once coached Dinger in both sports.

"I was just asking if I could help out with the soccer team in the fall," said Dinger. "She emailed me back right away, she said 'Absolutely. Definitely get into coaching, you'll be great at it.'"

After helping out with the soccer team in 2017, Connerty recommended that Dinger apply for a spot on the girls hockey team's coaching staff as an assistant. That winter, she coached one of her three seasons under former head coach Frank Messina. She also spent one year under current assistant coach Mike Breen in 2020 before taking the reins herself this season.

"(Connerty) was the one who really encouraged me to get into it and I'm so glad she did," Dinger said.

Starting the program from scratch

Norwell has made impressive postseason strides in recent years, including a breakthrough victory over Notre Dame Academy in the state semifinals in the 2019-20 season. But the program certainly didn't start that way.

Dinger remembers the ups and downs of getting the team off the ground, such as fundraising for a potential program as an underclassman and struggling to find enough players to form a roster when the team finally came together during her junior year.

"Being one of the players, it was getting people on board," Dinger recalled the biggest challenge. "Finding those girls who were going to take a leap of faith so we'd have enough players." 

She has lasting memories of the early days. The team's practices split the rink in half to divide the players who were just learning to skate and others refining their baseline of skills.

The Clippers won seven of their 18 games in their inaugural season (7-10-1) – not bad for a first-year program – but coming back years later shows how much things have changed.

"That whole environment was such a cool thing because now I come back to see how much the program has grown," said Dinger. "Now we have a full team, everyone can skate and to see where we've come from to where we are now, it's truly an incredible thing." 

Where things stand now

There aren't any more split-rink practices anymore. Those are a thing of the past, but as much as high expectations creep into the mind of a program on the rise, building and maintaining the program's culture is high on Dinger's list of things to emphasize now as the team's head coach. She also hopes to establish a youth program in town.

"Being on a hockey team – especially at Norwell, where we now have that family atmosphere – it's fun. It's the best part, just being with each other," Dinger said. "Everything else will come: the competitiveness, the strength of the actual program skill-wise, it will come as long as we continue to foster this kind of environment with each other."

Norwell is coming off a competitive tie with Hanover which keeps the Clippers centered at the .500 mark (3-3-1) in the early going of Dinger's first season. For a coach who once sat on the same bench and laced up the same skates, Dinger can relate to, once again, leading a Norwell group on the come-up.

"I think that's the best way to get these girls engaged," she said, "to show them it's a really fun place to be."