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Bulldog Insider Q&A: Brykaliuk ready for life's next chapter after seven seasons at UMD

Ashleigh Brykaliuk is returning to school to become a science teacher after four years of playing and three years of coaching at UMD.

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Minnesota Duluth assistant coach Ashleigh Brykaliuk looks on from the bench against St. Cloud State on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Tyler Schank / File / News Tribune)

After four years playing at the University of Minnesota Duluth and three seasons as an assistant coach, Ashleigh Brykaliuk is moving on to the next chapter in her life.

For the 26-year-old former Bulldogs captain, that is a career in teaching. Brykaliuk earned a bachelor's degree from UMD in 2017 in biology, and now she’s returning to school to get her teaching license. Ideally, Brykaliuk said she’d like to teach middle or high school science either in Minnesota or back home in Brandon, Manitoba.

Brykaliuk averaged nearly a point per game from 2013-17, scoring 62 goals and 83 assists in 146 career games at UMD. She led the team to the NCAA tournament as a senior captain in 2016-17, and then helped coach the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four this past season.

Brykaliuk caught up with the News Tribune and The Rink Live this week for a Q&A while walking her dog, Barrington, who is reportedly quite pleased to have Brykaliuk around this summer instead of out recruiting.

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Minnesota Duluth assistant women's hockey coach Ashleigh Brykaliuk works with the team during a team practice in October 2018 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com

Take us through your decision to step away from coaching to pursue a career in teaching. How long have you been thinking about this path and what led to your final decision?

We had a great, great year as a team and a good run to the Frozen Four. It was awesome to be a part of ... it was a phenomenal year. So I’m taking the opportunity to leave on a high note, I guess you could say.

Was teaching the original career path you were targeting after college before the coaching opportunity at UMD came along?

When I graduated in 2017, I had a really strong interest to get into coaching. I was coming off a good collegiate career and hockey had always been my life. Coaching is something that's come natural to me, so when the opportunity came up at UMD, I jumped on it. I'm very grateful it came up and I'm happy that I did it. I told (Laura Bellamy), “If I hadn't taken it then and it opened up now, I'd be jumping at it again.

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Minnesota Duluth head coach Maura Crowell, center, and assistant coach Ashleigh Brykaliuk, right, talk to the Bulldogs during a timeout of an NCAA Women's National Collegiate Ice Hockey Championship quarterfinal game on Monday, March 15, 2021, at Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania. (Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com)

What have the last three years been like to be in your early 20s coaching and recruiting at the NCAA Division I level?

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It's been a lot of work, a lot of time put in, a lot of growth, a lot of development for me. I appreciate the experiences that I've had and the opportunities I've been thrown into as such a young professional. I credit (Maura Crowell and Bellamy) to a lot of that — providing me with opportunities to grow and figure out who I am. They pushed me along the way, supported me along the way. It's been awesome. I’ve really enjoyed my experience.

Were you more comfortable being a coach, or a recruiter?

I think coach, but the whole recruiting aspect of the job was fun too. Getting out on the road, working events and camps and getting on the ice with high school kids, that was fun. But at the end of the day, it's tough having to come back and the future of your program is riding on basically what you see and the notes you take and how you're seeing different players on the ice. That part of it, you shoulder a lot in that aspect. You’re thinking about the next few recruiting classes, who is coming in. These decisions are the ones that I'm making right now, so that was definitely tough and challenging.

This past year was the first year I had someone come in who I actually recruited. Seeing them now in a Bulldog jersey, that was pretty cool, pretty special, and rewarding to see that whole process unfold.

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Minnesota Duluth’s Ashleigh Brykaliuk prepares to shoot the puck during a November 2016 game against Wisconsin at Amsoil Arena as Wisconsin’s Sam Cogan follows the play. Steve Kuchera / File / skuchera@duluthnews.com

You walked away from a playing career after just one season in the CWHL. You’re still young. Have you considered returning to the ice with the NWHL or PWHPA?

With some time off this summer, I've thought about it. It's definitely not my top priority moving forward. I would like to kind of get going with what I want to do in my next chapter, but if something came up and an opportunity arose, I would consider it. It feels like the women's game is starting to trend in that right direction and it's getting a little more momentum right now, so if something came up, I'd be open to it, but it's not necessarily my first priority right now.”

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Do you see yourself returning to the coaching ranks someday if the opportunity arose, whether its in the NCAA or maybe even the high school level?

Yeah, I think the side of coaching that I really do enjoy is more so the development side — the on ice, working with players, skills development. That's the side of coaching that I have really enjoyed and I would say thrived in. So moving forward, I think once I kind of settle into what comes next, that's the area I would be the most interested in — whether it's high school kids, U15s — just a more moldable age where you can work with kids and kind of have more of an impact on their trajectory as kids and as players. So definitely, if I'm a high school teacher down the road, I'd be looking at those types of opportunities.

What advice would you give another former player in your shoes who wants to get into coaching?

It's a lot of fun. It's rewarding. It's an opportunity to learn a lot about the game itself that you probably haven't seen and have an appreciation for — the coaches’ side of it. At the same time, it's a demanding job. It's a hard working job. You got to commit yourself and be ready to show up every day and go to work. It's fun, but it's also not all rainbows and butterflies in the coaching world.

What former teammate do you think would be best equipped to step in and take your spot? Who is the next young Bulldog to be a coach in the NCAA?

I have two in mind that I would say are both awesome people. I'd say Sydney Brodt and also Jalyn Elmes. I played with Syd in college, I played with Jalyn in college and also grew up with her and her brothers back home. Both are really great people who care more about their teammates than themselves. That's a big part about coaching, in general. It’s a pretty selfless job and you have to be ready to help others. I think those two both jump to the front of my mind as alums who are passionate and love the maroon and gold, and would fit well in that coaching role.

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Minnesota Duluth senior co-captain Sydney Brodt celebrates after scoring a goal during against Minnesota State-Mankato on Oct. 11 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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