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O'Toole shining in the spotlight

Sara O'Toole always has been a productive player for Minnesota Duluth. The winger led the Bulldogs in game-winning goals as a freshman in 2005-06 and shuffled between the team's top two lines the next two seasons.

Sara O'Toole always has been a productive player for Minnesota Duluth. The winger led the Bulldogs in game-winning goals as a freshman in 2005-06 and shuffled between the team's top two lines the next two seasons.

UMD coach Shannon Miller wanted to see more from the Pembroke, Ontario, native midway through her junior season.

"We had a few talks about her stepping up and playing like a stallion -- was the word that I used -- instead of being in people's shadows," Miller said. "I basically said, 'You spent about 2½ years being a good playmaker and a quiet player, and you're always in everyone's shadow. It's time for you to start stepping up.' Because you could see it in practice, you could see the potential. You could see it was there, but she was so used to being a role player."

So, O'Toole quickly shed the supporting-cast label last season to help lead the Bulldogs to their first NCAA championship in five years, scoring goals in the national semifinal and final games.

"She has been an offensive force, a real threat, ever since," Miller said.

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The 21-year-old, who grew up in Burton, New Brunswick, is tied for second in team scoring with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 12 games entering the start of a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against North Dakota (7-4-1 overall, 4-3-1 WCHA), beginning at 3:07 p.m. today at the DECC. UMD (6-4-2, 4-4-2) is ranked seventh in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll.

A disciplined player, O'Toole has made only two trips to the penalty box this season -- but she said her hockey maturation wasn't instantaneous.

"It wasn't like one thing specifically that happened. It was a gradual process," said O'Toole, who has 77 points in 114 career games. She gives credit to the off-ice living she learned as a freshman. "I didn't know stuff I know now conditioning-wise. That helped a lot to understand how important that is. Eating right, being physically fit helped me on the ice."

With between 25-30 games left in her collegiate career, O'Toole is savoring her time left at UMD.

"Every game I talk to my dad; he never forgets to remind me that I only have 30 games left. Or he'll always tell me, 'Play like you only have this many games left,' because I really only do. So that's a good motivator."

ASSERHOLT OUT

Defender Jenni Asserholt is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion Nov. 14 against Ohio State, Miller said. The freshman from Orebro, Sweden, had one goal and two assists in 11 games before missing the series finale in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 15.

Another Swede, junior winger Elin Holmlov (back) will be in today's lineup after practicing once this week.

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JIMMY BELLAMY covers UMD women's hockey. He can be reached at (218) 723-5390 or by e-mail at jbellamy@duluthnews.com .

Related Topics: BULLDOG SPORTSHOCKEY
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