College women’s hockey: It’s getting harder and harder to overlook Bulldogs’ Stalder
NCAA Division I women's hockey has produced a number of Olympians over the years, with many coming out of the WCHA. This being the United States, much of the attention goes to the Americans, followed by those who represent the neighbors north of ...
NCAA Division I women’s hockey has produced a number of Olympians over the years, with many coming out of the WCHA.
This being the United States, much of the attention goes to the Americans, followed by those who represent the neighbors north of the border in Canada, but this season the WCHA - and college hockey for that matter - is finding it hard to look past another one of its Olympians, Minnesota Duluth senior wing Lara Stalder.
The 2014 Olympic bronze medalist from Switzerland is leading the country in scoring with 12 points and her six goals in six games is tops in the WCHA heading into a pivotal series between the fourth-ranked Bulldogs (3-2-1 overall, 2-2 WCHA) and No. 10 Bemidji State (4-2, 2-2) at 7 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena.
“I think she is one of the top two or three in our whole league,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost told the media in Minneapolis a week ago following a pair one-goal wins for his team over the Bulldogs. “The things that she’s able to do with the puck, the extra confidence that she’s playing with, and you can see her offensive ability with that first goal and her creativity with the second. She’s at a different level than most.”
Frost isn’t the only one whose pegged Stalder, who began her career at UMD as a defenseman, as one of college hockey’s best this season. Kat Hasenauer, a writer for the Boston Herald who also covers college women’s hockey for SBNation, put Stalder on her short list of early candidates for the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Award , given to the top female player in college hockey.
Then there’s second-year Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell, who this week described Stalder as “creative, confident and crafty.”
Since taking over the Bulldogs last season, Crowell said she’s seen the Swiss national team player try fancy moves that most wouldn’t think of trying.
“What separates Stalder is her competitiveness and her willingness to try those different things,” Crowell said. “Against Harvard last year, she did a spin-o-rama around an Olympian to at least get a good look at net. I can’t remember if it went in. This week she’s flipping pucks over people’s sticks, making really good defenders look not so good.”
Stalder, who had a hat trick two weeks ago at home against Minnesota State-Mankato, is once again playing opposite of senior wing Ashleigh Brykaliuk, who has five goals and eight assists this year. Brykaliuk had a hat trick opening night against 2016 national runner-up Boston College.
Senior Katherine McGovern, who has three goals and five assists, is currently centering for Stalder and Brykaliuk after redshirt junior Katerina Mrazova - with a goal and four assists - was there the first three games.
A year ago, playing alongside now-graduated senior Michela Cava, Stalder and Brykaliuk combined for 35 goals in 27 games as juniors. That led to both players being drafted this summer by the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, the first women’s professional hockey league to pay its players.
Stalder told the News Tribune a year ago she’s planning on returning to Switzerland after earning her degree in marketing analytics to not only train for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but to find a good job.
That could still happen, especially if Stalder and the Swiss lock up a spot at the Winter Games during qualifying in February, but Stalder also has another option ahead of her and that’s continuing to play alongside Brykaliuk in Boston either next year or after the Olympics.
“I feel comfortable playing with Bryk. Our line was already together last year. We understand each other really well,” said Stalder, who went 20th overall in the four-team NWHL Draft. Brykaliuk went 12th. “It was a huge honor for me and lucky that Bryk is on the same team, too. We could go down the same path still. I’m really excited how the (NWHL) has evolved. It’s a really good start for (women’s) professional hockey.”
Stalder called the chemistry between her and Brykaliuk “on another level” in part because the two have become really good friends off the ice.
But it’s on the ice where they really click. Stalder credits Brykaliuk for her vision, set-up skills, shooting and work ethic. If one person isn’t scoring, the other person can pick up the slack, Stalder said.
Working hard is an important attribute to Stalder, who said if you have that, your line will have success.
Brykaliuk agreed with that, but added, that the Bulldogs’ coaching staff could put anyone on the team at center or wing with Stalder, and they’d do well.
“She is a phenomenal player,” Brykaliuk said. “She is quick and she has amazing skill. She also has good hockey sense. Somehow she always knows where I am on the ice and I think that helps a lot, too. She is aware out there and she knows how to put the puck on your stick. She also can shoot and score herself. She is a very well-rounded player.”
BEMIDJI STATE (4-2) AT UMD (3-2-1)
What: WCHA series
When: 7 p.m. Friday/4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Amsoil Arena