“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
It is a safe bet that poet John Milton wasn’t thinking of women’s hockey when he penned that line. There are many roles on a hockey team, and some involve standing on the bench for entire periods or even games, being ready for a summons that may or may not come.
Ashley Stenerson has been assigned such a mission, and although it wouldn’t be her first choice, she’s not complaining.
“Everybody who is here obviously wants to play every shift, but coming in, I kind of knew that I wouldn’t get much playing time,” she said. “So I guess for me, my games are practice, and I just have to make myself better everyday. When I’m surrounded by a team who is just amazing, it makes it a little less hard.”
Stenerson is currently skating on a line with junior Nikki Ludwigson and sophomore Katie Frischmann, who have had to patiently wait for their shifts on the ice in past seasons.
“Nikki and Frisch are great – always smiles on their faces, which obviously makes it for me as a younger one just to keep that smile on my face and stay positive,” Stenerson said.
For a time, it appeared that her collegiate hockey future would lie somewhere other than Minnesota.
“When we were going through the recruiting process, I told her that we weren’t going to have room for her,” Coach Frost said. “But then Katie Frischmann had her shoulder surgery this summer, and I just thought, boy, we’d better have one more player that can maybe play forward and D. She really came in as a player that I told she may not dress all year if everybody stays healthy, but she said, ‘Coach, that is the most exciting news I have ever heard. I have wanted to be a Gopher all my life, and I would be willing to do anything.’ For her, it’s an even better situation than she thought coming in. She’s at least on the bench and getting a shift here and there. But she is just a selfless player and would do anything for our team. We need players like that.”
Stenerson was glad the recruiting situation developed as it did.
“I was thinking about going out east. I took a visit out there, and I came home and I just realized how much I love Minnesota. That’s what I’ve wanted since I was five years old.”
Which is right around the time Stenerson first started playing hockey.
“I had two older brothers who played. I think when I was like 3 or 4 months old I went to my first hockey game, all bundled up. Growing up I always wanted to be like my oldest brother Matt and play hockey. I was 5 or 6 years old and Matt and my dad took me out to the rink and it just started there.”
Dreams of maroon and gold become more tangible when one sees another person turn them into reality. In Stenerson’s case, the one blazing the trail was former Moorhead Spud and Golden Gopher Maggie Souba.
“I grew up watching her play,” Stenerson said. “In our youth rink, there are pictures of all the D-I people, and there’s a big picture of her in her jersey, and I always wanted to be just like her. It’s pretty cool. I’ve talked to her a little bit since I’ve been here, just seeing how everything is going, and she’s just been great.”
Stenerson got additional exposure to the Gopher program when she played with the Junior Whitecaps during the summers.
“Just making those friends when there are countless girls from that team coming here now and Bethany. Being able to play at that pace and that skill level just makes you be on your best every game, so it’s really fun.”
Even with all of the preparation, she’s found that there are adjustments to be made for a D-I student athlete.
“The speed is a lot different, more talent,” Stenerson said. “There’s more practice, more lifting, video. And school is about the same for me, but it’s really nice to have that athletic academic help, just making sure we’re staying good on all of our homework and stuff.”
Stenerson is studying chemistry and taking pre-pharmacy requirements with the hope of gaining admission to pharmacy school.
“I think I want to stay down here when I’m older,” she said. “Just be like a local pharmacist in a little shop somewhere down here.”