|Meet the New Gophers|
For many a rookie goaltender, the toughest adjustment to playing college hockey is not playing. A star on previous teams, she may struggle when forced to frequently sit and watch for perhaps the first time in her career.
Such was not the case for first year goaltender Alyssa Grogan, who had plenty of experience splitting time in the Eagan High School net with Alli Altmann, now a Division I goalie at Minnesota State University – Mankato.
“We had played together since U-12s,” Grogan said. “There were a couple of years when we weren’t on the same team, but pretty much every year since then we’ve played together. It was really hard not getting to play every game, but then again when I think back on it, I don’t think I’d be where I am today without having her there every day to push me.
“It was fun – it was tough at times, but I think it worked out for the best.”
Grogan did experience something unfamiliar when Altmann and the Mavericks visited Ridder in November, and the two former teammates started for their respective teams on opening night of the series.
“That was very different, I’ve never really played against her,” Grogan said. “It was definitely pressure, and I was hoping the girls would light her up, but it didn’t happen.”
Both goalies played well, with Grogan leading her team to a 2-1 win.
“I would have been pretty embarrassed if we’d lost,” she said.
In fact losing is something that Grogan has yet to experience in the Minnesota goal. She made her first collegiate start against defending NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth and earned a 4-3 OT win and hasn’t allowed more than a single goal in a game since.
Such steady play has her trailing only Badger fixture Jessie Vetter in the national statistics for save percentage, goals against average, and winning percentage. Her efforts have resulted in a strong start for the #2 ranked Gophers as well.
“She’s come in and competed, been a real rock for us,” Coach Frost said. “Gets whistles when we need them, is in position, competes hard, and just has a great personality and attitude.”
“It’s great, I love it here, and I’m so glad I made this choice,” Grogan said. “The girls are great, the team is a lot of fun, and we’re off to a great start. Hopefully, we can continue that in the second half.”
Grogan’s hockey success in 2008 began before she arrived at the U. Her Eagan team advanced to the state tournament, she was named the state’s top senior goaltender, and a year ago in January she was in goal as the United States Under-18 team won the world championship.
“That was incredible. It was kind of beyond my dreams to be able to start on that team and win a gold medal. I got to know a lot of the other freshmen here, and got to be pretty good friends. It was definitely a great experience, and I’m happy I could be a part of it.”
As with all of the Gophers, Grogan’s Minnesota career cannot be judged by hockey alone.
“I’m majoring in kinesiology, and hopefully getting into chiropractics,” she said. “We’ll see down the road if that happens. There’s no hockey really for me beyond college, so I’ve got to focus on my school too.”
As with many hockey players, the path that led Jocelyne Lamoureux and her twin sister Monique to the Gophers began early in life.
“I think my mom had us going to open skate when we were three,” Jocelyne said. “We’d all go together. Once my brothers could walk, my mom had them going to skates, and we kind of followed suit. As soon as we could play hockey, we were playing with little kids.”
Though her commitment to the sport began at a young age, Lamoureux still feels like it was her decision.
“My parents never really pushed us either way, they always wanted us to do what we enjoyed most. We all just kind of gravitated toward hockey, because that was what was most familiar. In Grand Forks, that’s the sport that everyone plays.”
Coming from a family with four hockey-playing brothers, Lamoureux didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
“All of my brothers – their work ethics – they are perfect role models of how I want to be, as a player, person. How hard they work off-season, in-season. It is really motivating to see that and to aspire to be like them.”
Her coach said Lamoureux “sees the ice extremely well, [has a] great shot, and is a real strong player and a competitor. She makes an impact every time she’s on the ice.”
“She’s been doing a great job penalty killing for us as well – getting a lot of blocked shots and winning some key faceoffs – playing well defensively,” Frost said.
“That’s a big part of the game is just playing defense,” the frosh center said. “I’ve been fortunate to get quite a few minutes on the penalty kill. You can’t determine someone’s value by the points they put up. To a certain extent, it is important, but if they’re not playing in the D-zone, they’re not going to be much help.”
Lamoureux is another first-year player who doesn’t perform like one.
“I think going to Shattuck-St. Mary’s prepared me for what was actually going to happen in college,” she said. “Nothing has really caught me off guard at all. [College hasn’t] been too much of an adjustment. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Jocelyne is not sure at this point of a major, what she’ll choose for a vocation, or if her post-college future involves hockey in some way.
“I could see that happening. I really don’t know what I want to do though.”
First year defenseman Anne Schleper comes to the Gophers via St. Cloud Cathedral, which combined with St. Cloud Apollo High School to form the St. Cloud Icebreakers, her high school team.
“We had, to say the least a rough season,” Schleper said. “It was hard, people from different schools – there wasn’t a lot of talent there.”
But despite playing for a team that struggled to win, she credits her coaches with making the experience a positive one.
“Four years were awesome. With everyone on the team and everything, I couldn’t have asked for a better team character-wise and player-wise.”
Schleper achieved success on a personal level.
“My freshman year I made the US development camp. I didn’t really see my potential until I started making the development camps and my coach started pushing me towards college hockey, and that’s when it really clicked. I was like, ‘I am going to make that a goal.’”
When the time came to pick a college, Minnesota seemed like a natural choice.
“How can you live in Minnesota and not want to play for the Gophers?” Schleper said. “Once I got offers, I kind of realized that I wanted to stay close to home, and this is where it brought me.”
Choosing the Gophers meant saying “no” to the hometown Huskies.
“I live about 5 minutes max from [the St. Cloud State University] campus,” Schleper said. “The programs that they had here compared to St. Cloud were second to none. It was really cool once I made that decision.”
Her presence has been really cool for the Gophers as well.
“[Schleper] stepped in right away and has been filling some big holes for us,” Frost said. “Great size, presence with the puck, very good vision.”
She has also enjoyed success with US national teams, first being a part of the U-18 team that won gold a year ago, then being named to the squad that won the Four Nations Cup in November.
“It’s just awesome to be able to play with those older girls, and to have them kind of take you under their wing and show you some things that you might not have thought of,” she said. “Going to these [events] and being selected is a great opportunity, and I’m just thankful that I’m able to have that ability to play with them and continue on.”
Schleper has already mapped out a plan for her career.
“I’m on the pre physical therapy track right now,” she said. “I will major in kinesiology. I want to eventually be a physical therapist.”
“I will probably end up applying here once I’m done with undergraduate studies. That would be my goal as of now.”
In contrast, Kelly Seeler came from an Eden Prairie High School team that won state championships twice in three years.
“We had a lot of talented people back on my high school team, so it wasn’t one star or one person, it was the whole team that contributed,” Seeler said. “I find a lot of similarities with this team – every single person on the team is talented and brings so much to the team, that there’s not just one star.”
What has improved is the caliber of the opposition that she faces.
“The speed on the ice and the talent of all the girls; it’s so different from high school, because you’d go out and play some teams that weren’t that talented. But here, you can expect a good game every game.”
She’s had to alter her own game accordingly.
“In high school it was easier to do the end-to-end,” Seeler said. “When you’re out here, every team that you come up against – no one is easy, and anything can happen. You just have to play defense, and when the time comes to rush the puck, you have that opportunity. But you obviously take care of your own net first.”
“[Seeler] has really come in and played really strong for us – is strong on the puck, plays good defensively, and has a great shot,” Frost said.
In the small world of women’s hockey, the same schools often appear on the short lists of recruits.
“I was looking at Mercyhurst and Wisconsin,” Seeler said. “It came down to those final three, and I just loved Minnesota. I grew up here, obviously, and just to be a Gopher. When you’re younger, everybody talks about how that’s just a great experience. I just knew it was the right fit for me.”
Now the schools that she considered attending sit atop the national rankings with Minnesota and potentially stand in the way of her team achieving its ultimate goal.
“That’s what everybody on the team is working for – in the end, it all comes down to the national championship,” Seeler said. “I think this team has what it takes to do that. And I think we can do it no matter what.”
While she pursues that goal, she adjusts to college life, where she admits to being surprised by how much more freedom there is on a college campus than in high school. Of course, student athletes have less free time than other students, between the demands of their sport and their course load, whatever their field may be.
“I’m studying something along the lines of communication right now; I’m sure it will change,” Seeler said.
Usually we title this piece, “Meet the Frosh”, but this season, one player who is new to the Gophers is not new to college hockey. Junior Chelsey Jones comes to the “U” having already scored 29 goals and assisting on 20 more for the Northeastern Huskies.
She explained why she did not choose her home state university right out of Stillwater High School.
“Obviously Minnesota was one of my top choices. It was in the top three, and I narrowed it down to three schools. And I decided to go out to Boston because of the experience out there, for academics as well as their culture. Boston is a really great town, and I still really love the city.”
After two years, Jones decided that the Gophers might be a better fit.
“I enjoyed my time in Boston, but hockey was better suited here for me,” she said. “I made the decision based on having a great coaching staff here, as well as a great team.”
So far, she feels right at home.
“The team is really cohesive, a very welcoming team. Obviously, I came from another program, a university that had a different set of rules, and guidelines, and social norms. But coming here, they are very welcoming, the coaches and the players, and it’s been a very nice transition.”
Jones is playing not only on a new team, but also in a new league, after moving from Hockey East to the WCHA.
“The WCHA is different – you know a lot more players, because coming from Minnesota, a lot of the Minnesotans stay in the area, so it is very nice to play some people that you’ve already played against all your life. Let alone play with them on your same team.”
She has had to adapt to a new role, joining a team that already had a full complement of stars.
“In other circumstances, I was more of a go-to player, but coming into this situation, I knew my role, and I’m just going to come and fulfill that,” Jones said. “If goals come, they do, but if not, I’m just going to be part of the team and help them in what way they need me.”
“[Jones is a] real strong player, strong on the puck and is a smart player for us, and is really complementing our third line well,” Coach Frost said. “That whole line, they are kind of grinders. She’s got probably one of the best shots on the team. She just needs to start getting that off instead of passing up some good opportunities.”
Northeastern numbers closer to 15,000 undergraduates, so the size of the Minnesota campus is another difference for Jones, along with a new major.
“I was in criminal justice there. Switching here to political science and sociology, but I haven’t had any problems with any too-large classes. There’s nothing over 100 students; it’s pretty much the same school structure.”
She has some ambitious plans for the day when her undergraduate work and hockey career are done.
“I’d like to be a corporate defense attorney,” Jones said. “I’d rather be a legal advisor than a trial attorney.”
“It’s still the early stages. I hope to apply to law school in the next year and see where that ends up.”
Walking onto a Division I athletic team is never easy. When the team is a perennial power with one of its deepest rosters ever, the challenge increases.
Adding to the Gophers’ depth this season is Eden Prairie High School graduate Nikki Ludwigson. She arrives as a 13th forward in a sport where 12 forwards typically dress for each game.
“It’s hard to crack our lineup right now,” Coach Frost said. “So [Ludwigson] will get her opportunities, but when she gets them, she needs to make the most of them.”
So far, so good. Ludwigson scored a goal in an exhibition versus the University of Saskatchewan in her Minnesota debut, and then notched her first official goal in a victory over Ohio State.
“It’s always nice at least to get to play one night, so it means a lot,” Ludwigson said. “It makes me want to work as hard as I can.”
Before transferring to Eden Prairie, Ludwigson played for former Gopher assistant coach Laura Slominski at Bloomington Kennedy.
“I liked her a lot as a coach. She just kind of helped me make my decision to come here. Just growing up in Minnesota, I always wanted to come play for the Gophers.”
“Coming here, I knew I probably wouldn’t get a lot of playing time. I think just knowing that makes me work harder and get better each year to actually earn my playing time, other than going to a school where I would have just started on the first couple lines.”
“Slomo always talked to me about how Whit [Graft] was a walk-on and she worked her way up, and you can do it.”
As fate would have it, Slominski had left the Gopher staff by the time Ludwigson arrived on campus; her position coach is now another former Gopher player, Olympian Natalie Darwitz.
“She knows so much about the game, and she’s so good at relating to all the girls, so it’s nice having her,” Ludwigson said.
Frost sees a future for her under such tutelage.
“The thing that Nikki does really well is skate. If you can skate in our league, you can do some things. And she’s got some good size; she’s got a good base. It’s just a matter for her of picking up the game speed and picking her game speed up each and every day in practice and in the games, but she’s been doing well for us.”
As with many freshman, Ludwigson is still narrowing down her field of study.
“Right now I’m undecided, but I have a wide range of things I like to do. I like history and math, but then also maybe something in sports medicine. So I’m looking in those areas.”
As she sorts it out, she’s been impressed by what she has seen both on and off the ice.
“I knew we’d be treated well here, but we get a lot of stuff that I don’t think other schools get. They treat us well and keep us healthy. We get everything we need for school and hockey.”
Growing up in Grand Forks in a family where their father and two of their brothers have played hockey for the University of North Dakota, there was naturally some pressure on Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux to enroll at UND. Another option on the short list of just about every top prospect is Wisconsin, where playing for Mark Johnson, who figures prominently in the US national team coaching picture, might enhance the chance of being named to a future Olympic team. Thus, it was a happy day when the Gopher staff received word that the sisters had chosen Minnesota.
“We took all three schools into great consideration,” Monique Lamoureux said. “After going to all of our visits and just meeting with all of the coaches, we felt that Minnesota was the best fit for us – academically, and to become the best hockey players that we wanted, we felt that Minnesota would be the best way to do that.”
“Tremendously strong on the puck, great shot, good vision,” Frost said in listing her traits on the ice. “And she’s gritty. I haven’t seen a difference in them necessarily in their play. They both communicate very well on the ice, they’re both real presences on the ice, and Monique is just a warrior.”
As well as they communicate with their teammates as whole, the ability of the sisters to communicate with each other is almost uncanny. Obviously the two have skated many, many shifts together, but they seem to also possess their own form of telepathy.
“I guess it’s a mixture of both, since we’ve always played on the same teams growing up,” Lamoureux said. “We didn’t always play together, but we know where each other are going to be, so we don’t have to necessarily look to make the pass. We know how to read off of each other, more so than anybody else, just because we’ve lived together 24/7 for the past 19 years.”
Her familiarity with her Gopher teammates doesn’t end with sister Jocelyne. Jen Schoullis was a teammate on three national championship-winning teams at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault, MN, and the twins played with current line mate Sarah Erickson before high school.
“It’s not hard at all playing with Sarah; she’s very similar player to us,” Monique Lamoureux said. “We talk all the time between shifts and in practice, and we’re always working together for the three of us to play better together every day. It’s actually a good fit playing with her.”
Although they often look interchangeable on the ice, Monique does think that there are subtle differences in her style of play, versus that of her sister.
“I play defense [in addition to forward], where [Jocelyne] used to play goalie, as well as forward. I guess you’d say that I’m more defensive-minded. And she’s more of a playmaker and I shoot more.”
Though still in her first semester at Minnesota, Monique has some idea as to what she will be studying.
“I’m probably going to major in kinesiology, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.”
For eight straight years from 1998 through 2005, the winner of the “Let’s Play Hockey” Ms. Hockey award as the top senior high school player in Minnesota wound up playing for the Gophers. Now after a break of a couple of years, Sarah Erickson renews that tradition, something that is important to the Bemidji High School product.
“The tradition – obviously, Minnesota is a hockey state, but you walk into this arena, and everything is about hockey, all the traditions,” she said. “You look up at the banners, and it’s just a great hockey atmosphere.”
Already she has seen how different Division I college hockey can be from high school.
“We were talking about that yesterday in the locker room, and how in high school you could have a bad day and still be the best one on the ice,” Erickson said. “Here you always have to bring your best game, no matter (if it is) practice, off ice (workouts), or especially games. I think that the transition, I think that I’ve got the hang of it now, because we’ve had quite a few practices and now our games including our exhibitions.”
Like other members of her class, Erickson is making the transition look easy.
“She’s played at a high level before and is a great leader for us,” Coach Frost said. “She’s very vocal, confident in her abilities, and I think she complements that line with the Lamoureux very, very well. She brings some good speed and poise with the puck as well as a great shot.”
Given her coach describes her as vocal, her current likely choice for a major seems appropriate.
“It changes from month to month, but this month it’s communications, so we’ll see,” Erickson said. “Maybe something like business – I want to say something in the hockey field, like a Nike-Bauer or something like that.”
For now, she is happy with what she has seen, both from school and hockey.
“I knew coming into it that everything was going to be great, but the only thing different is that it’s better than I expected. Whether it is campus life, the team, or even my classes, (it has been) everything that I expected and more.”