After being hotly recruited by more than 30 NCAA schools, Brandon’s Ashleigh Brykaliuk has finally whittled her choice down to one.
The 17-year-old centre with the Westman Wildcats midget girls hockey team has verbally committed to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in 2013-14 on a full-ride NCAA scholarship.
For the Canadian under-18 women’s hockey team member, it’s a decision that has taken a huge weight off her shoulders.
"It’s kind of nice because I know I am set and I don’t have to worry about next year and stuff, so I can actually enjoy my last year of hockey here and Grade 12 and everything that comes along with it," Brykaliuk said.
"Over the past year it has been pretty overwhelming. There has been a lot of really, really good schools that have been talking to me, so it has been kind of a hard decision. But I went down there (to Minnesota-Duluth) in the summer on an unofficial visit and I got to know the coaches and saw the rink and saw the city and where the girls live and stuff and it just felt right ... So I just wanted to kind of get the whole process over with."
Officially, Brykaliuk will sign her national letter of intent on Nov. 14 when the NCAA’s early signing period begins, but she will get a head start on preparing for next season when she makes a campus visit to Minnesota-Duluth this weekend when the Bulldogs face the Wisconsin Badgers in Western Collegiate Hockey Association action.
"I am just going to spend a couple of days there and watch the team and stuff and get to know the girls a little bit," she said. "It will nice to go see them play and actually meet the whole team and see the coaches again."
Brykaliuk is committing to one of the strongest women’s hockey programs in the United States, with Wisconsin-Duluth having won five national titles in the past 14 years under head coach Shannon Miller, who previously coached Canada’s national women’s hockey team.
Also on the Bulldogs’ coaching staff is Steve Macdonald, the former girls hockey coach at Winnipeg’s Balmoral Hall where Brykaliuk spent Grade 10 and Grade 11.
"We kept in touch, obviously, and I knew all along it was a really good hockey school with a really successful program," Brykaliuk said. "And I have been in touch with the head coach. She was the first to call me last year in July when coaches were allowed to call (recruits). They have a really good team and a really good coaching staff and it’s a really nice city, so I am excited ... "It’s nice for my parents, too, because they have paid a lot of money over the years (for hockey), so it’s nice to get everything paid for."
Brykaliuk, who helped lead Canada to a gold medal at the 2012 world women’s U-18 hockey championship in the Czech Republic, also considered schools like Harvard and Ohio State before choosing Minnesota-Duluth, where she will study science. The 5-foot-8, 135-pound Brykaliuk, who will miss the Wildcats’ home opener Saturday night in Hartney while she makes her campus visit, leads the Westman team with 11 goals, 14 points and a +20 plus/minus rating in 15 games this season.
Brykaliuk said committing early to a school will help her enjoy her senior year at Vincent Massey High School and her last year of midget hockey with the Wildcats.
"They have both been really good," she said. "I am back with my old friends and stuff, so school has been good ... And my team is awesome. They are a lot of fun and we’ll do pretty good this year, so it’s exciting."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 10, 2012