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Bulldogs, Buckeyes share what it’s like to welcome back an Olympic gold medalist

Minnesota Duluth and Ohio State battled in the NCAA title game last spring at Penn State, with the Buckeyes edging the Bulldogs for the national championship. Now both teams welcome back Olympic gold medalists Ashton Bell and Emma Maltais from Canada who have a different perspective on the game of hockey.

Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group A - United States v Canada
Ashton Bell of Canada in action with Dani Cameranesi of the United States during the 2022 Olympics at Wukesong Sports Centre in Beijing, China on February 8, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst / File / Reuters
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DULUTH — When Minnesota Duluth drops the puck on the 2022-23 season at 6:45 p.m. Saturday against Long Island University in East Meadow, New York, Ashton Bell will be back in the Bulldogs' lineup for the first time since March 18, 2021.

An All-American defenseman who two years ago advanced UMD to the NCAA Frozen Four in Erie, Pennsylvania, with an overtime goal, Bell spent the past year-plus with the Canadian national and Olympic hockey teams winning gold medal after gold medal in tournament finals against the Americans.

Bell’s return restores an offensive presence that was missing from the Bulldogs' blue line a year ago when they made the run to the NCAA championship game, however, that’s not the most important attribute she brings according to her coach and teammates.

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Minnesota Duluth defenseman Ashton Bell (26) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal against Colgate during 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

It’s an inclusive form of leadership that stretches beyond the rink, locker room and confines of Amsoil Arena.

“She gets along with everybody and makes sure that everybody is included,” said Gabbie Hughes, who will serve with Bell and Kylie Hanley as a co-captain this season. “She's always rallying people to go for bonfires on the on the beach, on the rocks, whatever. So to have that energy back and to have somebody that really gets that kind of stuff going is obviously super huge for the team aspect.”

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Bell is one of two Olympic gold medalists from Team Canada back in the WCHA this season along with Ohio State fifth-year senior forward Emma Maltais. There are three total in NCAA Division I women’s hockey team year, as forward Sarah Fillier has returned to Princeton for her true-senior season.

Hear from Bulldogs fifth-year senior defenseman, co-captain and Olympic gold medalist Ashton Bell as she joins the News Tribune's Matt Wellens and My9 Sports' Zach Schneider on the Season 5 premiere of the Bulldog Insider Podcast, which posts on Thursday, Sept. 22. The Bulldog Insider Podcast can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and everywhere you get podcasts.

Like the Bulldogs, the Buckeyes are most excited about the leadership qualities Maltais gained from her time centralized with Canada.

Compared to their college program, where both were leaders and major contributors on the stat sheet, Maltais and Bell took on entirely different roles with Team Canada. Neither had a guaranteed spot in the lineup, and when they were dressed, ice time often came at a premium.

“Emma is going to bring something that this program has never seen in her leadership,” said coach Nadine Muzerall, whose Buckeyes edged UMD in the final of the Frozen Four at Penn State last season for the program’s first national championship. “And what I mean by that is, Emma has always been ranked No. 1 on our team in terms of offense and point production. She was centralized and sitting in a locker room where she was a fourth-line center, sometimes not dressing in games. She now can understand and relate to the other players on our team that might not get a lot of ice time.”

Ice Hockey - Preview
Ashton Bell and Emma Maltais of Canada are seen during a team photo session on Feb. 2, 2022, ar Wukesong Sports Centre in Beijing, China, prior to the start of the 2022 Olympic women's hockey tournament. Bell and Maltais won gold with Canada in Beijing last winter and are now both back in the WCHA. Bell returns to Minnesota Duluth and Maltais is with Ohio State.
David W. Cerny / File / Reuters

Maltais or Bell — both 22, turning 23 this winter — were both centralization rookies with Canada last season, appearing in their first IIHF Women’s World Championship last August in Calgary and their first Olympics in Beijing. So they took on new roles in the locker room as well.

“She was very vocal when she was here, and then when she's in a locker room surrounded with (Marie-Philip) Poulin and (Natalie) Spooner — your ears are open and your mouth shut,” Muzerall said of Maltais. “She's learning a lot and I think she's going to bring a great amount of knowledge of culture and locker room experience. Her talent on ice speaks for itself of course.”

Maltais — who had a goal and an assist in seven Olympic games in Beijing — had five goals and 11 assists in 20 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season after posting 19 goals and 40 assists in 38 games during her last full season of 2019-20.

Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group A - United States v Canada
Lee Stecklein of the United States and Emma Maltais of Canada fight for the puck in the third period during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 8, 2022, at Wukesong Sports Centre.
Jonathan Ernst / File / Reuters

Bell — with a goal and four assists at the Olympics — had four goals and 10 assists in the COVID-19 season of 2020-21 and 11 goals, plus 21 assists, in 36 games in 2019-20.

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The 11 goals Bell scored during her last full season with the Bulldogs was the number of goals UMD’s defensemen combined for a year ago, even after converting Hanley from forward to defense (she’s back at forward this year).

UMD brings back five of its seven full-time defensemen from last season’s Frozen Four team, including fifth-year senior Maggie Flaherty, who missed the final 15 games due to injury. In addition to Bell, UMD welcomes in defenseman Tova Henderson, who helped Canada win gold at the recent IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship.

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Minnesota Duluth forward Ashton Bell (26) shoots the puck against Wisconsin forward Lacey Eden (6) on Feb. 27, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Both Hughes and Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said Bell’s confidence inspires UMD’s blue liner to be more offensive and confident in their play. The hope is that leads to more points from the defensemen, and not just from those who have won Olympic gold.

“I love to see her out there with her speed on the back end and her offensive ability,” Crowell said. “It's just so fun to watch. I really think she inspires that defensive group around her to play a little more freely, a little more offensively, and to try new things.”

MORE BULLDOGS HOCKEY COVERAGE:
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Minnesota Duluth got 10 of its 12 new players on the ice against Arizona State last weekend, including eight of the 10 freshmen. A number of those newcomers made immediate impacts in their first games as Bulldogs, leading to a pair of wins over the Sun Devils.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA DULUTH BULLDOGS
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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