Ashleigh Brykaliuk didn’t know what to expect when she joined the NCAA’s University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs women’s hockey team this season, but it didn’t take long to established herself as a young player that the team can rely on for four years.
In her freshman year in Duluth, the 18-year-old Brandonite spent most of the first semester centring the top line for the Bulldogs, a line that included team captain Jamie Kenyon, a senior, and Jenna McParland, who’s in her junior season. Brykaliuk, who was named the Manitoba Female Hockey League’s MVP last season while playing for the Westman Wildcats, admitted it was a bit of shock be part of the top trio so soon, but she quickly adapted and is fourth in team scoring and is trying to learn as much as she can from her linemates.
"Especially playing with our captain, in practices and stuff I’m sitting with her and she’s pointing stuff out to me, which is good and helpful," said Brykaliuk, who has five goals and 13 points in 20 games overall, with three of those goals and seven points coming in 16 conference contests. "They’re both really experienced in the league, so I look up to them quite a bit and look at what they’re doing and try to put it in my game, too."
Brykaliuk came to Duluth with an impressive resumé. In addition to being league MVP, she was also on the Canadian team that won the 2013 world under-18 female hockey championship in Finland, where she led Canada with five goals in five games.
Before joining the Bulldogs, who offered her a full-ride scholarship, Brykaliuk took part in the under-22 women’s national team development camp in August. The 5-foot-8 centre feels her time with the national team, and especially at that camp, helped prepare her for university life.
"Going to August camp there, they’re mostly all college girls," she said. "I was there a week before I came to Duluth. Just playing with them and getting used to the pace of the game really helped me before coming down and playing in the WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association)."
Brykaliuk’s first semester has been a real learning experience. In addition to adjusting her game on the ice, the biology student has had to get used to being away from home.
Going to Duluth has also opened up the world to the Brandonite as she has teammates from all over the U.S. and Canada, as well as Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Finland. The international flavour on the squad is part of what attracted Brykaliuk to MDU, and something she is really enjoying.
"Honestly, every day something will happen and I’ll be in an elevator in the hotel with a girl from Finland or Australia. It’s actually pretty cool when you step back and look at it," she said. "Getting to meet people from all over the world and just having connections, it’s so cool. It’s something that UMD has that not a lot of other women’s teams have, which is something that I was excited about going into the program, too. It’s really neat."
The Bulldogs currently sit in the middle of the conference with a 7-6-3 record, but Brykaliuk feels they are starting to get on track. They won three of their last four league games before the Christmas break and Brykaliuk said an appearance in the Frozen Four is never far from the players’ minds.
Brykaliuk will do everything she can to get the Bulldogs as far as they can this season and, while she would like help Minnesota Duluth win its sixth NCAA title, she’s focused on improving her play as well.
"I think it would be really cool to win a championship, but I just want to keep on getting better," she said. "My coach (Shannon Miller) is awesome and she’s teaching me so much. I think I’m learning a lot about the game. For the rest of the year, (my goal is) just keeping learning and getting better with my teammates and linemates and hopefully become a better player, too."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 23, 2013