By Patrick Anglin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every university wants to build an elite coaching staff for its varsity sports. The administration wants to bring in the best, and choose individuals who will make their teams better. One would hope that each coach on staff has a unique skill-set and perspective, that when combined with other coaches, will create a force to be reckoned with. An ideal coach will push their student-athletes to be the best they can be, and then some. That's why hiring Celeste Brown as an assistant coach was a no-brainer for Penn State and women's hockey head coach Jeff Kampersal.
"I remember coaching against her when she played at RIT," Kampersal said. "She's super competitive, and we wanted somebody who had moxie and grit. Somebody who would instill toughness into the players. She's a tireless worker, she was that as a player and is now that as a coach."
Kampersal was impressed with what Brown was able to do on the ice, and for good reason. During her playing career at RIT, Brown tallied a 15-2 postseason record including a Division III National Championship in 2012 and consecutive CHA titles in 2014-15. She was a two-time captain with 42 goals and 28 assists, with nine of her goals coming as game-winners. After graduating, Brown spent a year playing professional hockey in the NWHL with the New York Riveters. Then, the next year, she played professionally for the Connecticut Whale while serving as an assistant coach at Connecticut College. Brown emphasizes that her success as a player wasn't due to talent, but to her mindset and attitude.
"I wasn't an amazing player, but I figured out how to get where I needed to be," Brown said. "I outworked people, and that's my main thing. Yeah you can be super talented, but if you don't have the work ethic, grit, determination, and the willingness to sacrifice as a player, I don't think you'll get to level you can be."
Brown enjoyed her time playing professionally and coaching at Connecticut, but was ready to take the next step in her career by joining a top program. It just so happened that a school at the top of her list had an opening.
"What drew me to Penn State was its unbelievable potential," Brown said. "I played in the CHA, as Penn State joined the same time that RIT did. I remember being here as a player, and even back then, we all knew this place was special. I knew this place could provide excellent support for not just athletes but also students. Seeing that drew me in from the get-go."
It wasn't just the school that caught Brown's attention, but the team itself. Specifically, it was the top-tier coaches that had already joined the staff.
"PSU hired two top-notch coaches in Kampersal and Coomey," Brown said. "Coming here was like finding a golden ticket. Working with those two has been extraordinary, has been wonderful. I'm very fortunate, and what I like about them most is that they value my opinion just as much as if I was a long-tenured coach."
Since joining Penn State in July, Brown has certainly established herself as a key component of the team's success. She's received high praise from everybody in Pegula Arena, from the other coaches to the players.
"Our players respect her," Kampersal said. "She certainly has the clout in the CHA for our players to respect her, but they also respect her for her work ethic that she brings every single day. The energy, the passion. Her being young is a positive because she can relate to them well. They can relate on a lot of things and the players can go to her and talk about personal things."
This year is Brown's second year of coaching overall, but she doesn't think being young puts her at a disadvantage. In fact, she's certain that it gives her a unique perspective and helps her communicate with her players.
"The landscape of women's hockey has changed, and me being a recent graduate and recently playing pro for two years gives me a different outlook than other coaches might have," Brown said. "I have walked through these girl's shoes, so I feel like I can relate with them."
The players agree that Brown is extremely approachable, and that her youth and energy, and the balance between being a coach and being friendly are all what makes her coaching so effective.
"During practice she has a fun side," freshman Sophie Slattery said. "She'll participate in our shootouts and give tips. When it gets to game time she's very serious about what she's doing."
It's not just her attitude that makes her a great assistant coach for the team, but also her mental and physical gifts when it comes to the game of hockey.
"She's a great coach and we love working with her," sophomore Brooke Madsen said. "She was a pretty good player a couple of years ago, so she has a lot of knowledge on the talent part of the game. Stick-handling, skills, playing off the zone, being creative, creating chemistry with our lines, she knows it all and does it all."
The players also noted that they admired her competitive nature, and how she takes the time to focus on everyone equally.
"You can definitely tell how much she genuinely wants to be here and how much she wants to develop each individual player," Slattery said. "She has a ton of tips for everyone, on how to develop our individual game."
Brown has already seen a lot in her young hockey career, before as a player and now as a coach, and she's excited for the future. She lives by a mantra that she hopes she can instill upon each and every player she coaches.
"You just have to do it," Brown said. "Follow your dreams. Which sounds cliche, but you just can't take no for an answer. If the road changes, you just have to change with it. You'll never know where you are going to end up until you are there, so it's all about the journey. Once you're on top of the mountain, you can look back and see, and then you'll understand it."
The women of the ice hockey team will continue on their journey, and can feel confident that they have a great guide in Brown. Her competitive nature and love for the game, along with a broad number of life experiences already piled up, have her ready to take on any challenge that comes.