Unsung Sutton contributes under the radar

Women’s hockey junior Noelle Sutton finally got a chance to shine last weekend.

Noah Seligman

After missing a scoring chance in the second period last weekend against Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team, Minnesota junior forward Noelle Sutton turned to senior co-captain and linemate Kelsey Bills and said she was going to “get one for her.”

In the third period, Sutton delivered on her promise and delivered a game-winning goal for the Gophers that put Minnesota back into a tie for first in the WCHA.

“That goal that she scored against Wisconsin is one of the biggest you’re going to get,” coach Laura Halldorson said.

While opponents might not focus on shutting down Sutton, her teammates know that the Maple Grove, Minn., native brings plenty to the team.

“She’s got a great sense around the net and has really good hands,” junior forward Kelly Stephens said. “She’s one of our best centers on the team. She wins draws consistently, and I think she’s a great asset.”

As the center on her line, Sutton focuses on supporting the wings and playing strong in the defensive zone.

And when it comes to winning face-offs, Sutton has a simple approach.

“What I’m thinking is ‘don’t lose the draw,’ ” Sutton said. “My strength on the draw is my quickness.”

Sutton is also notorious for being quick on the draw away from the rink.

“Off the ice she’s known for her one-liners,” Stephens said. “She has a comment for everything and it’s kind of hilarious.”

And what the Gophers find hilarious is that opponents do not realize how important Sutton is to the team.

Sutton is currently tied for seventh on the team in scoring, with 15 points, and has tallied three game-winning goals.

“She doesn’t get a lot of credit for what she does,” assistant coach Brad Frost said. “She’s been shifted around in the lineup throughout the season and has handled her role pretty well.”

When sophomore forward Natalie Darwitz injured her elbow last month, it was Sutton who was called upon to replace the All-American on the first line of the power play.

When she learned of her new responsibilities, Sutton felt ready to answer the call of duty.

“I was happy and kind of surprised” Sutton said. “All of those players are better than me, and I just had to work hard to keep up with them, and I think it just helped me to play better, and hopefully it helped our whole team.”

The Gophers have nothing but praise for the new addition on the power play, and can appreciate the work Sutton does.

“She’s been doing a great job and it’s not an easy situation to be in, for her to step in there and play with the talented players around her,” Frost said. “I think she’s relished it, and she’s enjoyed it and learned from it. She’s scored some big goals for us on the power play already.”

Stephens found it to be a smooth transition as well.

“She’s kind of one of those sleeper players but she has great skill and it shows on the power play,” Stephens said. “She deserves a lot more credit than she gets. She brings a ton to the team and I think she can play with any line or with any player.”

Sutton has adjusted to her new role on the team, but had a harder time adjusting at the start of her athletic career, when basketball was her sport of choice.

“I just didn’t like the fact that you could barely touch someone and get a foul,” she said.

For Sutton, hockey has always been a family matter. Her father played and was there to offer advice.

“My dad was probably one of the bigger influences,” Sutton said. “He was always there to tell me what I was doing wrong and what I’m doing well.”

Now it is Sutton’s turn to take what she has learned and pass it along to her younger teammates.

Frost said Sutton has served as a quiet leader for the Gophers this year.

“We’ve always had confidence and trust in her,” Frost said. “We certainly expect a lot out of her as a junior and to lead in a positive way.”

What does it take to be Ö

After a three-week hiatus from the top spot in the national rankings, Minnesota regained the No. 1 spot.

The Gophers are currently ranked first in the USCHO and the American Hockey Magazine/USA Today polls.