Lindsay Eastwood’s Syracuse career defined by appreciation for every shift

Syracuse captain and defender Lindsay Eastwood skates up to the bench to celebrate a goal with her teammates skating behind. (Syracuse University Athletics Department)

Syracuse captain Lindsay Eastwood is one of the best defenders to pass through the Orange’s program. (Syracuse University Athletics Department)

You might not know this judging by her stellar play on Syracuse’s blue line, but Lindsay Eastwood almost ended up a rower instead of a college hockey player.

She came to the Orange in 2015 to play hockey. Fresh off a silver-medal finish with Canada’s Under-18 Team, she was a highly-touted player poised to make an impact right away. With the Nepean Jr. Wildcats, she was one of the PWHL’s highest scoring defenders in league history and helped the team to a championship in 2013-14; there was no reason to think she couldn’t leave the same mark at Syracuse.

Right when her freshman season was supposed to start, though, Eastwood was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that made her susceptible to blood clots without treatment. She was told she’d have to be on blood thinners for the rest of her life.

She had a less than 5% chance of ever playing hockey again.

“For me then, I felt like my world was ending because hockey’s my whole life and that’s all I knew,” Eastwood said. “I’m in a new country at a new school going through a whole new experience, and hockey’s the only consistent thing at that time, and it was taken from me.”

It all started with a pain in her side, which Eastwood just attributed to a pulled muscle. She started to have trouble breathing because of back spasms, though, and after three different doctors and a couple of nights of sleeping on a lawn chair, she was diagnosed with a blood clot.

Initially, she was told she’d have to stay on blood thinners for about three to six months to get rid of the clot. She was eager to stick to the shorter end of that timeline to get back on the ice.

“My goal was three months,” Eastwood said. “Looking ahead, I’m like, ‘I’m not sitting out for six months, I want to play. I’m going to school for hockey and I want to play hockey.'”

She went through another round of tests after three months and tested positive for lupus anticoagulant. She was officially diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called antiphospholipid syndrome, and she’d have to stay on blood thinners for the rest of her life to manage it. Contact sports would be out of the question.

Eastwood knew at that point she’d have to stop playing hockey, but that didn’t mean she was ready to stop being an athlete—which is where rowing came in.

“I’m six feet tall and athletic, so that’s exactly the model they look for in a rower,” she said.

She tried out for Syracuse’s rowing team and made it, but couldn’t continue competing with them because it conflicted with her scholarship. She also started rowing with Row To Podium, a program in Canada that trains athletes from other sports and helps them become Olympic rowers.

“I went home during the summer and continued to row and that was going to be my next path, my next journey,” Eastwood said.

At that point, she’d come to peace with her fate and was ready to dedicate herself to a new sport. But one day that summer, following her freshman year, her mom came home and sat her down for some big news: her latest round of test results revealed that her condition had reversed itself.

Eastwood could hardly believe it was true, but the first thing she did was call Syracuse head coach Paul Flanagan to share the news with him. She says he was thrilled, but cautioned her to wait until she knew with 100% certainty before getting her hopes up. She stayed even-keeled until she found out for sure that she could go off the blood thinners and play hockey again.

Her first week back on the ice at Syracuse, she lined up with her teammates for a preseason bag skate. Those grueling skates are usually a source of dread for any hockey player. Not for Eastwood. Not that time.

“I remember saying, ‘I’ve never been so happy to bag skate in my life. I will do this every day, any day,'” she said.

She was just as appreciative as she continued to work her way back, and eventually started playing games for the Orange for the very first time, during the 2016-17 season.

“I didn’t take anything, any shifts, anything for granted,” Eastwood said. “It definitely changed my perspective that things can be taken from you so fast and without warning. It definitely taught me to enjoy the moment and live in the moment.”

After a full year away from the ice, Eastwood says she struggled to get back to top speed. But that’s been an area of marked improvement for her since then.

“I think that’s a big part, is I don’t feel slow out there anymore, where I know my first two years I felt so slow, especially after not playing hockey for a year,” she said. “But I think my speed’s really improved. And I like to think that my decision-making on the ice and my confidence grew throughout the years.”

Eastwood has steadily built up a resume that puts her in the upper echelon of defenders that have passed through Syracuse’s program. She was the recipient of the Syracuse 8 Courage Award in 2018, and was a Second Team All-CHA selection as a sophomore in 2017-18. Now as a senior captain, she’s four points away from entering the program’s top-10 list in scoring all-time, with 72 in her career. This season, she’s set a new career high with 25 points from the blue line, off of six goals and 19 points.

The Orange have had some very good teams over the years, but were still searching for their first-ever College Hockey America title as Eastwood entered her junior season. As a captain and leader, she longed to help Syracuse set a new standard for the program by becoming a championship team.

They went into the CHA Tournament as the third seed. Overall, they’d had a sub-.500 season, but they carried a 10-8-2 conference record into the postseason. They missed out on a bye and had to face off against Lindenwood in the quarterfinals.

“We had to play in the quarterfinals, and that’s not ideal if you’re making a run to the championship game,” Eastwood said of last year’s squad. “But going into that tournament, we just said, ‘Playoffs are a new season. Let’s forget everything.’ We didn’t have a very good season before that.

“I think you could say that we looked like a new team out there when we got to CHAs, and we just totally forgot about all the bad things that happened and grew from there.”

After defeating Lindenwood, Syracuse moved on to play Mercyhurst in the semifinals.

Today, Eastwood officially owns the program record for career goals scored by a defender (21). Perhaps no other goal, though, is as important as the three she put up in last year’s CHA semifinal game. She netted a hat trick from the blue line and scored the game-winning goal with eight minutes left to lead her team to a 4-3 win and earn a spot in the title game.

The following afternoon, Eastwood and her teammates achieved something that had never been done before at Syracuse. They knocked off top-seeded Robert Morris, 6-2, and took home the CHA Tournament crown, earning their first-ever bid into the NCAA Tournament.

With the season winding down, Syracuse will look to defend their title when playoffs commence in two weeks. The Orange currently sit in third place with one series left against the Colonials. They can overtake RMU and earn the second seed with a sweep this weekend.

No matter where they stand going into the CHA Tournament, though, Eastwood wants to make sure they leave no doubt about what’s expected from Syracuse’s program from now on.

“Our team has made it to the championship game I think five or six times, and we’ve only won it once,” Eastwood said. “We’re making it there, but winning it now has to be the standard and I think we set that standard last year. Maybe before, the standard was, alright, make it to the final, and now the standard is, we have to win that and make the NCAA Tournament. I think that started with last year and now, in order to make it a standard, you have to do it twice.”

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