Newcomers provide defensive depth for women’s hockey

Brett Angel

The Minnesota women’s hockey media guide will tell you that freshmen Ashley Albrecht and Chelsey Brodt were recruited out of high school as defenders, but it wasn’t until they got to college that they learned what it was like to truly play defense.

“We didn’t really ever have to play defense,” Albrecht said of her role on the South St. Paul high school team a year ago. “The puck was hardly ever in our zone.”

But when you’re busy scoring 200-plus career points (Albrecht – 260, Brodt – 207) and leading your team to a state championship, it’s hard to find the time.

“We were both more offensive players,” said Brodt, who played her prep hockey at Roseville.

While Gophers head coach Laura Halldorson is certainly intrigued by her rookies’ scoring ability, she knows it’s the play of her young recruits on the defensive end that might determine how far this team goes in the postseason.

As 2002 Minnesota Ms. Hockey finalists (Albrecht won the award) both players expected to contribute to the Gophers’ success immediately, and are finding out it will be on the defensive end of the ice.

Albrecht has tallied only five points, Brodt two.

“It was difficult at first,” Brodt admitted. “Here, it’s much more defensive-minded. There are a lot more systems involved.”

Watching young players make the transition to defense at the collegiate level is nothing new to Halldorson.

“Until you go through it you don’t realize what a big adjustment it is going from high school to college,” Halldorson said. “Especially when you’re talking about one of the top teams in the country.”

But her 2003 freshman class has taken the adjustment in stride.

Along with fellow freshmen Allie Sanchez and Krista Johnson, Albrecht and Brodt have helped hold Minnesota opponents to an average of just 1.83 goals per game.

The Gophers defense has also successfully killed off nearly 90 percent of their penalties this season. Those numbers rank the team second in the WCHA behind Minnesota-Duluth in both categories.

Albrecht credits much of her development to working with senior defenders Ronda Curtin and Winny Brodt on a daily basis.

“They’re great role models,” Albrecht said. “They’ve really helped teach me how to play and show me the role I have on this team.”

And being able to practice against Patty Kazmaier Award finalists Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz four times a week doesn’t hurt either.

“That just makes practice a lot more intense, a lot more physical,” Chelsey Brodt said.

Halldorson said Albrecht, who played sparingly during the first month of the season due to a hip flexor injury, played better than she had all year last weekend against Bemidji State. Albrecht recorded two assists in Minnesota’s two wins.

Halldorson doesn’t think twice when asked if her freshmen defenders will continue to play big minutes down the stretch.

“They’re still young and I expect them to make young mistakes,” she said. “They all need to contribute on the ice and hopefully they’re learning from the experiences they’ve had.”

Brodt said she isn’t surprised she’s been able to play such an integral part on the nation’s third-ranked team as a freshman, but knows she’s got plenty more to prove.

The best part for Minnesota is that Brodt, Albrecht, and Sanchez will have three more years to contribute offensively while playing solid defense.