Freshman Wacker a quick study in good company

Noah Seligman

Playing against Minnesota State-Mankato last month, Minnesota women’s hockey freshman forward Becky Wacker cradled a pass at the blue line and broke into the offensive zone. She did a nifty little deke move on a defender and fired a shot on goal.

Though Wacker came up empty on the play, it showed her potential. It also showed that the York, Maine, native had been learning from her linemates – something the Gophers coaching staff welcomed.

“She was thrown into the fire right away when we put her on a line with (sophomore forward) Krissy Wendell,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “It forced her to play at a high level, and I think she has responded well to that challenge and continues to ask questions and absorb information, and we’re happy with where she is now.”

Wacker has always been a student of the sport, and the learning process began for her at an early age.

“My mom was always a big hockey fan when I was younger,” Wacker said. “She used to make me watch a lot of hockey on the French channel.”

Growing up, Wacker had a makeshift rink in her backyard for two consecutive winters, and it gave her the opportunity to make use of her study sessions, some of which mimicked professional players such as Paul Kariya and Wayne Gretzky.

“When I was younger I’d watch some of (Kariya’s) moves,” Wacker said. “He did this ‘Gretzky turn,’ and I went out and practiced it. It was my move for the whole year.”

The Gophers now love the way she moves on the ice, as Wacker is sixth on the team in scoring with 16 points, tied for third in shot percentage at .185 percent and tied for fourth in the WCHA in freshman scoring.

Part of her early success can be attributed to lessons learned along the way. Wacker has played alongside Wendell, the leading scorer in the WCHA with 28 points, for the entire season, and was a linemate of junior forward Kelly Stephens, fourth in the conference in scoring with 25 points, last weekend.

The trio combined to post four goals on the weekend for the Gophers, and Wacker was one of two players named WCHA rookie of the week.

“It adds a lot of pressure trying to live up to what they’re doing,” Wacker said. “But I’ve got two great players to pass the puck to. When you’re with two really skilled players like that you can’t help but look good.”

But the gratitude goes both ways along the line, and Wendell appreciates what her younger linemate brings to the ice.

“She has really improved a lot over the year,” Wendell said. “She’s very feisty, very fast and likes to get into the middle of things. We complement each other very well.”

Wacker has nothing but compliments for her teammates and has made the most of practice time to time to pick up some pointers.

“You’re going to practice four times a week and play two games, so you spend more time playing against your teammates than against other players,” Wacker said. “I learn a lot from playing against them and watching what some of the best players in the country do out on the ice.”

The pedagogical persona of the team is something the coaching staff tries to foster.

“You would like the upperclassmen to help the younger players, and I think that has evolved over time where freshmen ask the older players a lot of questions,” Halldorson said. “It’s sort of a mentoring system in a way and it is just good for the continuity of the program.”

Though Wacker came to Minnesota in part to study engineering, it is her studious hockey nature that the Gophers are counting on for the rest of the season.