Hopes of UMD women's hockey rest on the blueline
Before the 2013-14 season began, the Minnesota Duluth women's hockey program was dealt a bittersweet blow on the blueline, losing veteran defenseman Brigette Lacquette to the Canadian national team in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Before the 2013-14 season began, the Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey program was dealt a bittersweet blow on the blueline, losing veteran defenseman Brigette Lacquette to the Canadian national team in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The combination of losing Lacquette, as well as Lara Stalder for eight games to the Swiss national team and Tea Villila to the Finnish Olympic squad, left the Bulldogs vulnerable on defense.
That won’t be the case this season, with all three players back full-time.
“It was kind of last minute last year so that was unexpected, but we were all happy for (Lacquette),” UMD junior goaltender Kayla Black said. “She is a strong player so she’ll help us out offensively and defensively. She’ll have a big impact on us this year.”
The Bulldogs are anticipating Lacquette to have such a big impact this season, that two words - “national championship” - began popping up regularly Saturday morning after the team’s first official practice of 2014-15 at a foggy Amsoil Arena.
UMD wasn’t even in the NCAA Division I tournament a year ago after going .500 overall (15-15-6) and in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play (7-7-5) to finish behind Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, but coach Shannon Miller believes Lacquette and a strengthened defensive group is the key to the Bulldogs making a run at a sixth NCAA title.
“We can win a national championship with Brigette Lacquette on this team, there’s no question about it,” Miller said. “She’s probably the player with the most raw talent that has ever gone through this program.”
Lacquette spent five months with the Canadian national team in 2013 in preparation for the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but was one of three players released in November. The Canadians went on to defeat the United States 3-2 in overtime for the gold medal, and while Lacquette wasn’t part of that team, she still took a lot away from the pre-Sochi experience.
“I was pretty inexperienced going into camp and learned from Hayley Wickenheiser and (former UMD star Caroline) Ouellette,” said Lacquette, who is scheduled to leave today for an eight-day camp with the Canadian national team in Calgary, Alberta, and miss the team’s opening series at Connecticut. “I used to always float to pucks and I didn’t realize it. They made me realize to go 110 percent to every single puck, just never give up.”
The biggest difference between the Lacquette of 2011-13 compared to the Lacquette who has rejoined the Bulldogs this season is her attitude, according to her coach and teammates.
Miller said Lacquette is much more “dialed in” and focused this season compared to her freshman and sophomore seasons. Lacquette said she wants to be a leader on and off the ice like four-time gold medalist Wickenheiser was for Team Canada.
So far, Lacquette is accomplishing that, according to senior defenseman and captain Emma Stauber.
“Obviously we missed her last year, but that was a good opportunity for her. She has something to prove this year,” said Stauber, a Duluth Marshall graduate. “So far she has changed more into a team player. The team is coming first instead of just herself. I’m really proud of her for that.”
Stauber, an admitted defensive defenseman with just two career goals, said in addition to leadership, Lacquette also brings an offensive punch that the team lacked on the blueline a year ago when UMD defensemen were held to 14 goals, just four on the power play.
Miller said Lacquette, who scored 13 goals and totaled 31 assists her first two seasons, may be the Bulldogs’ top power-play threat and has the best shot on the team.
“She brings a lot of offense, even though she’s a defender,” Stauber said. “That’s going to help because we missed that last year.”
Stalder moving to forward
With Lacquette back on the blueline to not only provide defense, but an offensive boost, Miller is moving Stalder from defenseman to forward.
Stalder played 28 games a year ago on defense, recording four goals and 18 assists. Again as a defenseman for the Swiss in Sochi, Stalder had a goal and an assist en route to winning a bronze medal.
Miller believes Stalder can do more with the puck as a forward, though.
“I moved her up because her feet are so good, her hands are so good,” Miller said. “She is so aggressive taking the puck up to the net. She can roof it from her forehand, she can roof it from her backhand, so I don’t want her standing at the blueline. I want her going to the net. She’s going to be a goal-scorer.”
Miller is able to move Stalder to forward because of the depth at defense this year. Miller said as a group, these are the best defensemen she’s had in 15 years as head coach.
“If you have a solid core of ‘D’, not only are you good defensively, you’re good offensively,” Miller said. “They quarterback the break out, they quarterback the power play. Our defensemen are key this year.”
Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey 2014-15 schedule
(Home games in CAPS)
Sept. 26-27: Connecticut, 6/2 p.m.
Oct. 3-4: WISCONSIN, 6:07 p.m.
Oct. 10-11: MINNESOTA, 6:07 p.m.
Oct. 17-18: North Dakota, 7:07 p.m.
Oct. 25-26: LINDENWOOD, 3:07 p.m.
Nov. 1-2: MINNESOTA STATE-MANKATO, 3:07 p.m.
Nov. 14-15: St. Cloud State, 7:07 p.m./TBA
Nov. 21-22: CORNELL, 4:07 p.m./6:07 p.m.
Nov. 28-29: Bemidji State, 2:07 p.m.
Dec. 5-6: Ohio State, 5:07 p.m.
Jan. 10-11: BEMIDJI STATE, 3:07 p.m.
Jan. 17-18: ST. CLOUD STATE, 3:07 p.m.
Jan. 23-24: Minnesota State-Mankato, 7:07 p.m.
Jan. 30-31: NORTH DAKOTA, 6:07 p.m.
Feb. 6-7: Wisconsin, 7:07/7:37 p.m.
Feb. 13-14: Minnesota, 7:07/4:07 p.m.
Feb. 20-22: OHIO STATE, 6:07/3:07 p.m.
Feb. 27-March 1: WCHA first-round playoff series
March 6-7: WCHA Final Faceoff (Grand Forks, N.D.)
March 14: NCAA quarterfinals
March 20-22: NCAA Frozen Four (Minneapolis)