Holmes making history on the ice
UVM hockey alumna becomes first top female assistant in St. Michael’s men’s hockey history
COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Lilly Holmes has spent plenty of time in Vermont since she was a kid, traveling over the state line from New York to play hockey for the Vermont Shamrocks during the spring season. There was no local spring team in her hometown, so she had to venture east. That’s when one of her dreams was born.
“I tried out, and I made it, and that’s when I started coming to Burlington,” she said. “Honestly, Vermont was my dream school because of all the tournaments I’d do here.”
Her dream came true when she committed to play for head coach Jim Plumer and UVM beginning in the 2018-19 season - almost five years after the two met.
“I first met Lilly when she was in eighth grade at a player development camp, and you could see the passion for the game right then,” Plumer said. “She had this big smile, you knew that being on the ice was the most important thing to her.”
Having spent years playing in the state growing up, Holmes has been connected within the Vermont hockey community. The head coach of the St. Michael’s men’s hockey team, Damian DiGiulian, knew her dad through the game, and helped her get her start in coaching.
“I just made connections when I was little,” Holmes said. “Damian asked me if I would help coach his daughter’s spring team one year, and I said ‘yeah, let’s do it.’”
“She was a natural, she just kind of took over the team after the first day. I became the assistant kind of, and she became the head coach,” DiGiulian recalled with a smile. “The girls loved her, it was a natural fit.”
Such a natural fit, that this past year, DiGiulian asked her to coach again. Only this time, it wasn’t for his daughter’s team. It was to be an assistant coach for the St. Michael’s men’s team. When he reached out to her, Lilly was on the ice, coaching for Elev802 - one of three youth hockey organizations she’s worked with in the Burlington area.
“When I was working at Elevate, he called me and offered me the job from there,” Holmes said. “It was really cool.”
This upcoming season, Holmes will become the first top female assistant in program history. She’ll handle the penalty kill, work with the defensemen on the bench, do work with the forwards in practice, and be the team’s lead recruiter.
“I want to hire the best coach. I don’t care if they’re a man or a woman. In my opinion, for us, Lilly is that person. For years, men have been coaching women’s sports. It’s about time for women to be coaching men’s sports,” DiGiulian said.
“We got to talking, and she expressed how interested she was going to be in coaching after she got done with college,” he continued. “I always kept that in mind, and when the opportunity arose to hire her, I jumped at the chance. The idea was to hire her this past year just so I wouldn’t lose her.”
While Holmes was helping lead UVM to consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in program history, she was also student-teaching at Edmunds Elementary school, and working on her Master’s degree. But in between all that, she still found time to get acclimated to her new stomping grounds.
“I went [to St. Michael’s practice] a couple times. We worked on the penalty kill, I worked with the guys and it was great, I loved it,” she said. “Damian and I said, we’re doing it for the full thing next year. Nothing else.”
While her time spent with the St. Michael’s team this past season was limited, she made an impact from the moment she arrived.
“She walked right into the locker room, diagrammed what she wanted to see, confident, high-volume, high-energy, and took the room over right away. I’ve had four or five assistants come in here prior, who haven’t come in with the presence she had,” DiGiulian said. “We got into the penalty kill on ice and she jumped right in, and her expertise shined through. I knew we had a really good coach on our hands right away.”
Transitioning from player to coach is an adjustment in itself, but this particular change for Holmes also comes with adjusting to a different style of play.
“There are so many differences [between the men’s and women’s games], it’s honestly like a different game,” Holmes said. “The women’s side, there’s more seams, there’s more openings, there’s more time and space to make those pretty plays that look really nice. Men don’t have that advantage. Everything is fast, everything is quick, they’re hitting, it’s physical. There’s a lot of small details you wouldn’t notice. That’s something, as a coach, I really had to shift gears from.”
Those coaching gears started turning when she was still playing for UVM. She was an assistant captain during the 2020-21 season, stepping into a leadership role in the fall of her junior year. Starting from the moment she arrived on campus, she was one of the cogs of the Catamount penalty kill.
“She embraced that role right from the beginning. Freshman year, she was one of our top penalty killers. First game, she scored a short-handed goal,” Plumer said. “I think the best coaches come from players who really had to work at certain aspects of the game. She’s a great example of that. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m sure she’s got a notebook somewhere of situations that she’s learned from, or sayings that she’s heard.”
Perhaps by way of coach’s intuition, Plumer’s hunch was right.
“When I do something, I want to do it to the best of my ability,” Holmes said. “I have a little hockey notebook, I’ve started jotting down my ideas of things I want to do, or things I want to teach and try out. I’m so excited to just be a coach. Like, that’s my job, I’m a hockey coach. That’s awesome.”
Holmes and Plumer being on the same page makes sense. As her interest in coaching grew, so did her attention to what Plumer and his staff did on a daily basis.
“I’m very thankful for UVM and everybody that supported me and made this last year work, they really supported me with the coaching aspect,” Holmes said. “They would help me recruit, I would practice recruiting with Jim and [associate head coach] Jess Koizumi, so I really appreciate them.”
“She would look at me as I was about to say something to the team, and there were times afterwards where I would ask what she was doing,” Plumer recalled. “She’d say, ‘I was just trying to predict what you were going to say in this situation,’ as if she is thinking about, ‘if I’m in this situation, what am I going to say?’ I thought that was pretty cool.”
She didn’t grow up in Vermont, but has spent a great deal of her hockey life in the Green Mountain State. She was part of a class responsible for the two winningest seasons in program history. Now, she makes history at St. Michael’s, continuing to leave a mark in a state that’s now her new home.
“Growing up in my area, there weren’t girls playing college hockey. There weren’t even professional women’s hockey leagues at that time, you either played in college and then you were done, or on the Olympic team,” Holmes said. “To be that girl that young girls can look up to, and even if they’re older, to see they can do this, and say ‘we can be from this area and make something of ourselves.’ I don’t know if I’m necessarily that, I try to be that role model, and I think I probably am, but I think showing up with kindness and respect, and showing you can be this athlete and really kind person who loves what they’re doing is super important.”
Holmes originally saw herself as a prep hockey coach, so she could teach as well. But she’s already pretty happy starting her college coaching career.
“I think I could see this riding out. I think I’m going to really enjoy it, I already have,” she said. “I can see myself staying around St. Mike’s for a couple more years, or trying to get another men’s college hockey job, or coach men’s prep.”
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